FILM REVIEW AND TRAILER: Where The Wild Things Are (Cert PG)
Where The Wild Things Are (Cert PG) IT S been a long wait for this beautiful-looking adaptation of the classic children s story Where The Wild Things Are. Maurice Sendak s touching tale, with few words per page, was one of the books in primary school t
Where The Wild Things Are (Cert PG)
IT'S been a long wait for this beautiful-looking adaptation of the classic children's story Where The Wild Things Are.
Maurice Sendak's touching tale, with few words per page, was one of the books in primary school that was tattered from so much use and seemed to perfectly encapsulate the wonders of children at a young age.
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I rebelliously walked into Waterstones again recently, sat on an over-small chair in the children's section and read through the story again - and was struck at how much depth there is in so few pages. I ended up reading through a couple more times and my excitement for this film grew even more.
I did wonder though - how will Spike Jonze translate an illustration heavy 48 pages into a feature-length big-screen adaptation?
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The director - best known for Being John Malkovich and a slew of music videos (including some classics like Fatboy Slim - Weapon Of Choice and Beastie Boys - Sabotage) - has proven himself to be a brilliant contemporary film-maker and has an industry wide respect across Hollywood.
But can he transfer this 'genius' to one of the world's most loved books? It's a risky project, and has already created some one of the most beautiful trailers and marketing material ever.
So I'm positively glowing as I get to finally see this; it's been out nearly three months in America and my growing jealousy of this continuing trend of releasing the better films there first (see: Pixar's Up) is increasingly annoying.
THE pure essence of being a child is both perfectly and not-at-all captured by director Spike Jonze, all depending on who you are and how you were brought up.
Where The Wild Things Are is a surprisingly dark film and explores those inner turmoil's younger children experience at a time when they are trying to understand the world, their world and themselves.
The darkness comes from the troubled upbringing, unspoken but hinted, of Max - a typically adventurous boy who has grown older enough to question but he's not quite older to grasp some of the bigger answers. You'll feel for him if you've experienced what he has and perhaps find him slightly annoying if you've not.
If you've read the (tiny) book then you'll pretty much know the rest, though Jonze and co-writer Dave Eggers have obviously expanded on key points in the plot and avoided (to my surprise) adding on overlong, tacky subplots. As a whole it sticks pretty well to the source material and I definitely heard children shout at familiar lines in the movie.
But although kids definitely recognised parts of the film from the book it doesn't mean it's a children's movie at all.
The dark undertones and metaphors are much more complex than, say, Disney or Pixar movies and the marketers have been correct to, basically, target this to an older audience.
It's rating as a PG is just about correct, as there's nothing too in your face that a parent can't control, but I still don't believe that anyone over the age of about 12 will understand the metaphors - and to be honest I think I'm being kind saying anyone 'that' young will get some of the less obvious ones.
So I wondered whether, for instance (and giving a slight spoiler away, so beware), kids needed to know that the 'Wild Thing' called KW was a pretty obvious metaphor for his mother. Do they still get as much enjoyment thinking they're all these mysterious creatures on a desert island in the sea?
I felt that there were some plotlines that didn't cater enough for the younger audience (of which about half the cinema was comprised), so yes - I'd think twice, possibly, before considering this as a cinema film for the sprogs; it may be best to wait for the DVD release so they can do something else during the 'boring emotional bits'.
So does it work as a grown-up movie then?
The answer to that definitely depends on your mindset before you enter the cinema. This is an adaptation of a book with little more than one hundred words (if that) so for a movie that's over 100 minutes long it could seem tedious or boring as you witness the ways that the director has used to stretch this to feature length.
But for those that expect a beautiful re-telling of this tale will definitely be pleased. The cinematography is outstanding, with amazing shots of deserts and jungles and oceans littering the reel, and it's one of those films that you could pause at any point and get a great poster or photograph from. It'll definitely be on future 'must have' lists for Blu-Ray owners sometime soon.
The choice to film this life-action was a Godsend, as I know reading previews months ago that they almost shot this as fully animated, and I believe that all spirit of the film would have been lost - the magic comes from seeing these Wild Things come to life. These eight-foot costumes too are really quite brilliant; they add this odd surreal quality to the whole thing. In a world of completely computer animated characters (Gollum, Dobby The House Elf etc) it's a brave move to have gone this route.
There's pretty much one role in the film that can be judged, and that's of course 'King' Max. He's played by the similarly named Max Records, and although not quite a performance I'd definitely predict a star of the future from (just yet) it was charming, solid and believable. The latter minutes of the movie definitely marked the performance up a few notches, as there were few dry eyes in the cinema thanks to the emotion that was evoked from his acting.
The voices of the Wild Things were generally well suited but took a bit of getting used to (namely Sopranos star James Gandolfini as the main critter is a little odd at first).
As the end crept near I realised I had a feeling in my chest that the original book didn't give me - that tragic feeling that one's childhood is long gone and the terrifying world of adulthood has arrived. I yearn for those days of making 'dens' around the Cambridgeshire countryside, constructing intricate lego models, making massive 'traffic jams' around the lounge with toy cars... the wonder of life back then is captured really well and my honest conviction that the toys in my room did come to life (years before Toy Story) is repeated here and a welcome reminder that I wasn't a weird kid.
All-in-all though Where The Wild Things Are is a double-sided coin.
There's the side that will admire how such a tender short story has been transferred onto the big screen so faithfully but add so many brilliant metaphors of Max's very psyche that were only hinted at in the original source material. They're the side who will love the lingering landscape shots, the adult-talking but child-like acting Wild Things and the occasionally samey (but really lovely) soundtrack by Karen-O. They'd definitely give this a solid five stars.
Then there's the side that will find this overlong and tedious, shallow explanation and with forced material added into to appeal to the kids (and with not enough material to appeal to adults). They'll see Max as a problem child and the Wild Things as annoying. Hopefully still admire the beauty on screen and the performance from Max Records that is well beyond his twelve years. They'd probably give this three stars.
And, to be honest, I'm stuck in the middle. I talked about the metaphors afterwards and thought it was one of the best-looking films of the year (and possibly ever, though noticed the similarities to The Fall as a little glaring at points). I did though feel it's length a little and it didn't quite have the depth I'd hoped for (though maybe that will come after further viewings). So, to be fair, I've given it the four stars my middle-ground opinion believes is just about right.