Take the Scenic Route

Saturday, September 10, 2005

A bit Wonka-y....

Caution: Spoiler (Charlie and the Chocolate Factory) and Rant below

It's a little while since I've had a rant. I would strongly discourage anyone who has yet to see Charlie and the Chocolate Factory from reading further. It has had numerous excellent reviews, and the person I went with really liked it. As you might guess, I really didn't. Which was odd, as I'm not usually overly critical of movies or books.

To me, there were two big things wrong with this movie. Firstly, although the '71 classic is called Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory, this is the one that is all about Willy Wonka. Worse, Willy Wonka is all about the Edward Scissorhands and not about the Roald Dahl. Which brings me to my second point: while technically this version is more true to the book, it is completely not true to the Dahl essence.

The essence of much of Dahl's work was the ordinary/unfortunate/sometimes ostracised child finding out that they possessed a special talent or meeting someone extraordinary who saw their internal goodness in a way others did not (e.g., Charlie & the C.F., Danny the Champion of the World, Matilda, The B.F.G.). Overcoming the odds and triumphing (see also The Witches, Fantastic Mr Fox) is also often a key element, and the success/revenge is frequently macarbely satisfying (sort of the ideal revenge fantasy). This is a formula which Ms. Rowling uses to excellent effect. Burton's first failure is imbuing the movie with a fairytale feel. I suspect Dahl would rather approve of Christopher Lee's character, and Willy's childhood appliance, but to have Wonka Snr.'s house disappear in a movie with no ostensibly actual magic elements was just wrong. Further, the bucket house is just a ridiculous misplaced fairytale element in a brutal city of terraced houses (although strangely remniscent of the inventor's house nestled in suburbia in that other Burton movie). Overall I loved the aesthetic of the city: dark, grim, industrial. I also thought (partly just in the colouring) that the Factory was very reminscent of metropolis. Actually, the bucket house reminds me a bit of Rotwang's Laboratory (shapewise, plus the discord with surroundings). I'm also deeply confused by the description of the movie as "dark". It is neither as dark as Dahl or the Wilder's Willy (heh). Rather than being deliciously implied, the misfortune's that befell the other children were fairly obviously under Willy's control. I think it also goes completely against the grain to have made it so obvious that the other children were alright. We did not need to know that the furnace was in fact broken, and seeing the other children leave the factory little worse for wear seems to defeat the whole point. Hrumph.

In some ways, I think I was rather disadvantaged. I had never seen Edward Scissorhands until a couple of years ago, so it is perhaps fresher for me than most. However, I was disarmed about how alike the two were. I won't go into too much detail, but I found the personality of Willy Wonka deeply inconsistent, alternating between smart-aleccy elements (ala Wilder) and a Scissorhands-like uncertainty.

That's it in a nutshell. There was some truly great stuff. I loved a lot of the visual imagery, the Bedford Wonka Lorries, and the re-characterisation of the children. Charlie was great. There was just a little too much of Tim Burton.


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