Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Review: Where The Wild Things Are

...and that's the expression that parents and some critics thought would be on the kids' faces whilst watching this film. I went to a showing of the film that was positively brimming with kids with their parents. No kid left the theater crying, but they weren't positively elated either. To be honest, I didn't have either of those reactions either.

This movie was originally supposed to be released last year, but after some test screenings involving kids running out of the theater or some such rumpus, Warner Bros had director Spike Jonze (Being John Malkovich, Adaptation) reshoot some things. After a huge marketing blitz starting back in July or so, the movie has finally come out. It cost $80 million dollars to make, not to mention the amount of money they have spent on marketing the thing. Was it worth it?

Let's get this out front. I'm very glad this movie was made. It was one of my favorite books as a kindergartener/first grader. To have this and Cloudy With A Chance of Meatballs released in the same year as movies should have made this year fantastic for me. Well, Chance of Meatballs just stole the name of the book, not the full plot. Where The Wild Things Are went the other way. It took the minimal plot of the book and ran with it. The book was about a boy sent to bed without dinner. In his room, whilst pouting, the kid dreamed up this imaginary land where he became king of the wild things until he got homesick. The movie sticks to that, but instead of going to his room, Max (Max Records) runs away from home due to his mom (Katherine Keener) bringing home a guy (Mark Ruffalo). No one seems to understand him, so he goes and becomes king of group of emo creatures...

This movie has thus far been a love it or hate it movie with viewers. Most of the hate comes from people who are made simply for that fact that hipsters like the movie and other people do as well. For evidence of this, simply go to the movie's message board on IMDB. On the other hand, a lot of people are praising it, and giving it the best review possible. These people are mainly hipsters and fans of the original book who were predisposed to give the movie a glowing recommendation. Now, sure, some people of both persuasions do have their points, I'm sure. I just haven't seen any.

I thought the movie was good. I didn't think it was great. In fact, it's my least favorite Spike Jonze movie so far. He's only done three of them. His cinematography here just isn't up to par with the beauty of Being John Malkovich (the chase scene through Malkovich's mind) and not to the zaniness of Adaptation (the birth of the world sequence). Now I do understand he had to keep this somewhat kid friendly and understandable... but at the expense of experimentation? Not to say the movie isn't experimental at all. In fact, I sat there wondering what the kids would think of the first 20 minutes of the movie. The first twenty minutes is Max going through many many emotions throughout a lonely day at home. It's not quite montage, the camera work is eratic, and it's kinda confusing. It was a brilliant 20 minutes of acting from Max Records, but also a great emotional journey though. It's pretty telling when a snow fort being trampled and going from laughing to crying in under five seconds almost brings a tear to your eye. It's hard to bring an audience reaction like that from a few seconds of film.

The constant changing and rawness of emotions throughout the whole movie is also the film's downfall. It leaves you just DRAINED after the movie. You have nothing left. This perhaps explains the sheer silence after the movie was over. No one said it sucked, no one said they loved it. People just left. Even the little kids were silent.

As to the potential scariness of the film, all I have to say is over-analyzed. I saw nothing in this film that would scare a child over 7 or 8. The movie is PG, which means that should be about the starting age to watch the movie with a parent without the parent having seen it first, I suppose. There are far scarier PG films out there. Anyone seen Return To Oz? Now THAT will give an eight year old nightmares... I know from personal experience. Now for a little soapbox moment... Parents, just chill okay? Kids can handle things more than you think. I saw Jurassic Park for my eighth birthday. It didn't negatively affect me, and this is miles more tame than that movie.

The movie was about what I thought it would be. It featured great acting from Max Records, who should have a promising career from here out. It was a heartfelt adaptation of the book, sticking to theme, plot, and feel. It was a bit too long, and a bit too heady for the average viewer. It seemed to be tailor made to hipsters, the Hot Topic shoppers, and film critics. It was a very good adaptation... One of the best I've seen of a book, but it was not the second coming of the mythical Film Genie either. We all still wait for that.

***1/2 out of *****, and that ain't bad.

1 comment:

  1. I did finally see Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs. Judging from your review of WTWTA, the two films could not be more different. As you say, WTWTA is faithful to the book while expanding on it's thematic material. CWCM represents the book in name only. There's not much of a premise there anyway, so it actually works to their advantage to have to invent an actual story. There are a couple of good emotional moments, but CWCM is largely just an experiment in absurdist humor.

    So I guess you could call the two films opposite sides of the same coin, if the coin were "Ways to adapt kids books into feature films"