George Balanchine's The Nutcracker

1993, G, 92 min. Directed by Emile Ardolino. Narrated by Kevin Kline. Starring Macaulay Culkin, Darci Kistler, Damian Woetzel, Kyra Nichols, Bart Robinson Cook, Jessica Lynn Cohen, The New York City Ballet.

REVIEWED By Pamela Bruce, Fri., Nov. 26, 1993

Since its debut as a collaborative effort between Tchaikovsky and the architect of the Russian Ballet, Marius Petipa, just over 100 years ago, The Nutcracker has remained an enduring Yuletide classic. Despite the countless live performances and television productions of this ballet over the years, very few attempts have been made to bring it to the silver screen. Now, with the release of a new film version that showcases the late ballet master George Balanchine's well-known interpretation of the E.T.A. Hoffman tale, (featuring the New York City Ballet, plus the original costumes and sets from the first staged production in 1954), one would have high hopes for a dazzling cinematic rendition of this ballet masterpiece. Well, let's just say Ardolino's film falls into the category of passable but not very impressionable family entertainment. The story's clarity is greatly aided in this version by the invaluable narration of Kevin Kline that was left intact despite Kit Culkin's -- Macaulay's controversial stage father -- demands that it be removed from the final print of the film. As for the ballet performances, they are, for the most part superb, and coupled with the glorious score by Tchaikovsky, both aspects make up for the flaws in the film. Amongst them are the near-stationary camera technique and heavy use of long shots that Ardolino opts for -- these methods only make for a stagnant mise-en-scene that gives the impression of watching a filmed stage performance instead of being totally engrossed into a magical fantasy land experience. Another is the near-wooden, preoccupied performance of Culkin, who despite the fact that he was a former student at the American School of Ballet, makes very little attempt at dancing. He just sort of shuffles across the stage wearing (along with a tad too much lip rouge) a look suggesting that his appearance in this film was entirely his dad's idea. Sadly, the death of director Ardolino (Sister Act, Dirty Dancing) this past week may serve as the beleaguered film's final epitaph.

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George Balanchine's The Nutcracker, Emile Ardolino, Macaulay Culkin, Darci Kistler, Damian Woetzel, Kyra Nichols, Bart Robinson Cook, Jessica Lynn Cohen, The New York City Ballet

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