Kitsch-22 — Siegfried and Roy: The Magic Box

There are very few things in this world cooler than a good 3-D movie. Even a bad 3-D movie has its merits, and Siegfried and Roy: The Magic Box is a more than a little of each.

As magnificently overblown a piece of Uber Kitsch as you could ever want to find, the Siggy and Roy 3-D movie is a guilty pleasure for the whole family. It's a big, gaudy, non-stop assault on the eyeballs, and probably the most appropriate application yet (outside a porn flick) of long, phallic objects jutting out of the screen at us in glorious 3-D.

Siegfried and Roy know what their audience wants.

For the handful of you who might be unfamiliar with them, Siegfried and Roy are the popular German-born entertainers who've been in the news lately as the lucky A-list confidants to whom Michael Jackson officially "unveiled" his new baby clone. The connection between the King of Pop and Siegfried and Roy makes sense on all sorts of levels, even overlooking the fact that all are hugely successful and highly eccentric public figures who've been accused more than once of liking little boys a bit more than is generally considered socially acceptable.

The MJ/S-R connection is never far from the surface, from the movie's rapturously uttered opening line, "Magic brings back the child in us," to the shots of Roy literally flying over the heads of a packed Vegas audience, arms extended and leg arched just like Peter Pan. Siegfried and Roy even have their own equivalent to Jackson's Neverland ranch. It's a massive and immaculately appointed estate dubbed Little Bavaria, a fairy tale fortress in which scads of swans, wild tigers and other exotic beasties roam free among the sprawling, perfectly manicured lawns, and where, amazingly enough, not a single drop of animal poop is to be found anywhere.

That may not be as unusual as it sounds, considering that Siegfried and Roy are magicians. And watching the middle-aged pair frolicking like overgrown toddlers with their enormous, unpredictable "pets," apparently oblivious to any sense of danger, they just might be a little bit stupid as well.

Stupid like a fox is probably more like it. Like Madonna and so many other master manipulators of contemporary pop culture, Siegfried and Roy's enormous success owes as much to the duo's image manufacturing and managing abilities than to any real talent. S&R want us to believe it's all about "the magic," but what it's really all about is the marketing of the magic — the costumes, the camp, the dry ice, the amazingly elaborate sets and the most unambiguously ambiguous sexuality since Liberace. It's all perfectly in keeping with the notion of magic as illusion, and Siggy and Roy have the flashiest, most flamboyant smoke and mirrors in town.

Those mirrors and smoke effects are displayed to grand effect in Siegfried and Roy: The Magic Box, a wonderfully stylized, thoroughly over-the-top 3-D IMAX movie that looks at the popular entertainers' act, origins and, for lack of a better term, worldview. The 45-minute film opens with what appears to be a sepia flashback of Siegfried and Roy as androgynously beautiful youths, gazing in doe-eyed wonder at a backstage area crammed with gigantic odds and ends (including a mechanical dragon's head) all of which seem designed for some mysterious, Wagnerian production.

The beautiful boys are soon confronted by the adult versions of themselves in the first of the movie's gloriously ham-fisted attempts at symbolism. "Boys!" exclaims Roy (the dark one), a fabulously expensive sweater draped around his neck and stroking an exotic baby tiger. "Looking for something?" leers Siegfried, the aging chicken hawk's invitation made even kinkier because he's essentially coming on to himself.

OK. Maybe I'm reading a little too much between the lines here, but what's undeniable is that the Sigster and his partner, like their pal Jacko, are some very strange birds trying hard to pass themselves off to the world as just your average, everyday dream merchants. The Magic Box gives us huge chunks of Siegfried's and Roy's personal histories, re-creating pivotal scenes from the lives of each in an effort to show us who they are and why they've devoted their lives to doing what they do.

We get moments of way overheated high drama in which young Siegfried, a perfect blond Hitler Youth in lederhosen and knee socks, discovers magic tricks as a way of dealing with an emotionally distant father. These scenes segue into a deliciously corny Lassie-like episode in which young Roy's love of animals blossoms when the family pooch rescues him from being sucked into a quicksand pit.

Like pretty much everything else in the movie, the sets here make no attempt to pass themselves off as real. Ironically enough, the most realistic environments in The Magic Box are the Vegas showrooms where we see S&R performing their magic act. Everything else in the movie is deliberately unnatural and gloriously artificial, like overly colorful images from decades-old propaganda posters for the Chinese Communist Party.

The flamboyantly fake CGI imagery is a perfect complement to the movie's sensibility. When young Siegfried climbs a misty, snow-capped mountain to take stock of his life, the scene looks absolutely surreal, almost psychedelic, like a Leni Riefenstahl mountain movie mixed with a little Ken Russell hysteria. Likewise, when Roy's out there in that field sinking in the quicksand, it looks for all the world like a computer-generated reproduction of an Andrew Wyeth painting. Other scenes recall Terry Gilliam's Monty Python work, Harry Smith's cut-out animation, Edward Gorey's illustrations and even a little Maxfield Parrish.

What makes everything in this fantasy-cum-documentary even more fun, and what pushes it all way up into the stratosphere, of course, is that everything in the movie's intricately ersatz world is rendered in state-of-the-art 3-D. Brett Leonard, who's no novice at this sort of thing (having directed the CGI-heavy Lawnmower Man), fills the screen with all manner of computer-generated bric-a-brac and objects that seem to hover directly in front of our faces. We get abstract beams of lights whizzing past our eyes, baroque shapes of all sorts seemingly floating in the seat next to us, elephants rearing up on their hindquarters just above our heads and, finally, Roy himself with one of his beloved tigers, levitating heavenward on a disco ball.

The movie takes pains to dress up its more ridiculous excesses in a cloak of respectability, even going so far as to recruit class act Sir Anthony Hopkins to provide the narration (mostly a lot of noble gobbledygook about pursuing dreams, padded with the occasional quote from Blake).

The respectability ruse is only partially successful, thank goodness, and the movie remains an awful lot of fun to watch. At the root of it all, natch, are Siegfried and Roy, capped teeth gleaming, poofed-up hair just saying No to gravity, the perpetually tan skin on their chiseled faces stretched to the max. Always ones to recognize what makes for a good show, they're space-age messiahs for the children of MTV, adorned in an endless variety of leather, studs, sequins, capes, platform-soled boots, big-shouldered vests and accentuated cod-pieces from which the source of all their great magic apparently flows.

The problem with magic, though, at least in the movies, is that in this age of rampant digital technology, when it's possible to create virtually anything in a motion picture, it becomes all but impossible to tell real magic from fake magic when it's up on the screen. That may take away just the slightest bit of pleasure from viewing Siegfried and Roy: The Magic Box, but the movie is still probably almost as good as (and in some ways better than) catching the team's live act. In any event, it's certainly a whole lot cheaper than a plane ticket to Vegas.

Lance Goldenberg can be reached at [email protected] or 813-248-8888, ext. 157.