Tommy: the Album vs. the Movie

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Tommy the album was a groundbreaking record put out by The Who in 1969. It was groundbreaking because it was a concept album that was dubbed the first "rock opera" which followed the story of a deaf dumb and blind man from childhood to adulthood. His life is met with many strange occurrences from being shocked as a small child into a psychosomatic state, becoming a master of all things pinball and finally becoming a Christ-esque figure of a new age cult. The album was met with two completely different camps. The first of which said that the album was a masterpiece, and haled it as an ushering in of a completely new genre of music. Others felt that it was sick and exploitive, and many people were outraged at the Who for bringing out such a dark and twisted album. The album was evened banned from the air by the BBC. But despite the controversy, the album was a hug success and in 1975, some six years later, someone thought it to be a good idea to turn the rock opus into a feature film. It is interesting to note that George Lucas was originally approached to direct the film, but he turned it down because he was in the middle of pre-production for American Graffiti. Instead, the project was handed over to the flamboyant British filmmaker Ken Russell. The film version managed to keep the same overall story as the album, but was different in almost all other aspects, for better or for worse, in which I'll be discussing and outlining in this comparison.

The first major difference when they adapted the album to the movie is that they changed the time the story takes place from 1921 (which was the setting for the album) to 1951 for the film version. From what I read, Russell did not want to make a "period"piece, and by changing it to 1951, Russell was then able to film more modern images for when Tommy is an adult. The next major difference from album to movie is the fact that in the album, Tommy's father comes back to kill the mother's new lover. In the film version, Tommy's dad, thought to be dead, comes back and is then killed by the lover. This totally changed the plot of the film, and also the catalyst for Tommy's journey of discovery. In the album, the track Amazing Journey alludes to the fact that Tommy is peering inside himself and he sees a magical wise being inside himself that will eventually lead to enlightenment. In the film, his fallen father now serves as the sought out being, taking Tommy on a journey to self discovery but also to come full circle to find the part of himself that was left by his father. This was a good choice I think. Not only for the reason just mentioned, but it also makes the lover (played by Oliver Reed) into a villainous figure, and helps the viewer cope with the fact that when this funny looking man starts to sing, it's ok…because he's an asshole that killed Tommy's pops. It also makes more sense that Tommy would be affected that much more by seeing his biological dad die. He already lost his father once when they thought his plane was shot down by the krauts. Then he comes back, and before Tommy can even be all happy and excited, he looses his dad again. Had his real father killed the lover it would just be another movie of the week. Tommy would just be an angry teen. Maybe shoot up a high school. He certainly would not have been deaf dumb and blind. So that was a good adaptation choice in my humble opinion.

Another very obvious difference lies within the music itself. The album is composed by Pete Townshend and performed entirely by The Who. The soundtrack of the movie is totally overdubbed and while Pete Townshend also composed the music, all of the singing was done completely by the actors, including Oliver Reed and Jack Nicholson. Ann-Margret actually won a Golden Globe Award for her performance, and Pete Townshend was also nominated for an Oscar for his scoring of the film.

This also drastically changed the mood and style of the film from that of the album. Listening to the...
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