Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Charlie and the Childhood Molestation Factory

Movie adaptations of books (especially those the various cognoscenti deem as "classics") are always a difficult enterprise.

Take Lord of the Rings. Beautiful, harmonious, taking the best elements from Tolkien's seminal work and combining it with elegant acting, state of the art CGI and one of the most compelling issues of our time, notably whether someone who does motion capture and voiceover work deserves an Academy Award nomination for Best "Virtual" Actor/Actress. Andy Serkis, you were sorely insulted, my friend. Regardless of how well received it was (despite the 22 endings of the 3rd film), Tolkien purists lambasted it in many cases. You will never make everyone happy, and as one Talkbacker once said on Ain't-It-Cool-News, The reason Jesus Christ hasn't had his Second Coming is that even HE can't live up to the fanboy hype.

Regardless, the topic of this rant is Willy Wonka, specifically the adaptation that Tim Burton made. About 8 months ago, drugged with medication for kidney stones, I watched about oh, 50 minutes of this film. At the time it sounded interesting, and having listened to the audio book of Dahl's original (read pleasantly by Eric Idle), I was pleased that many elements of the original story were in the film. The wiki article and others are quite vociferous in their assessment that Dahl hated the original film and his estate worked closely with Burton on this remake. So, in essence, I guess you have to say that for the film to be better adapted to the book is a good thing, right?

Not exactly. As usual, Burton puts his goofy artist spin on the tale, dragging out yet again his apparent issues with father-son relationships. It was in Edward Scissorhands, in Big Fish and now it's in this one, with Christopher Lee playing Wonka Senior, a humorless dentist obsessed with encasing young Willy's head in gear out of some orthodontical nightmare and at the same time completely opposed to any sweets. Hence we get the impetus of why Willy did what he did growing up. I just got really tired of seeing this storyline brought out yet again.

Secondly, I prefer the original Ooompa-Loompas. In the remake a diminutive Indian named Deep Roy does all the parts, supplanted with various special effects. I was also rather sad to see Geoffrey Holder, he of the amazing "crisp and clean" voice narrating the film, only to find at the end it was just another goddamn Oompa Loompa with a deep voice.

The Elfman songs were catchy, but overall it just got annoying. I missed my old music. To me walking into the Chocolate Waterfall scene and not having Wonka sing "Pure Imagination" was just a letdown. It defined the original film in my opinion and framed the entire character perfectly; Wonka was part morality tale, part magic act, but in the end it was all about the FUN. I never got that clearly with Depp's portrayal, and maybe it's me who misinterpreted the point of the book.

Regardless of the apparently minimalist approach to special effects, I thought the character designs were irritating. Maybe it was the HD video I saw, but everything looked overly made up, overexposed, painted. Wonka looked so fake, like at any moment he'd peel his face back to reveal some hideous visage, and the big chompers made him look more like a predator. I understand each actor does what they can with the character, but even aside from Depp's portrayal none of the child actors had the same impact. Veruca Salt will always be that spoiled little girl with the lovely singing voice, even though they did a solid to Dahl's original with the remake in the squirrel nutcracking scene (one which wasn't possible in the original film).

The musical elements themselves were lacking, and I just felt the heart of the original movie carried it further along. Wilder's singsong Wonka was just unpredictable, and throughout the whole thing, even up to his end-film trickery with Charlie ("I said good DAY, sir!"), you can't help but wonder that the guy is batshit crazy. The Depp Wonka from the outset is just this neurotic, germphobic, anti-child weirdo with daddy issues.

I am sure those who never saw the original (My boys--six and three--LOVE the 1971 film and watch it often) will glom onto Burton's adaptation with glee, but as someone who would look upon something like Sound of Music 2 - Maria's Reichstag Revenge with absolute disgust (and you know some asshole producer somewhere wants to remake Sound of Music with someone like Miley Cyrus or some shit like that, placing it in Torrance instead of Germany), I'll stick to the classic.

Then again, at least it wasn't Marky Mark and the Funky Planet of the Monkey Dudes.


  1. Yeah, well at least Marky Mark is hot ;-)

  2. Maybe, but you gotta know that some girl, somewhere, is tired of taking his crap ;-)

    Feel it, feel it...


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