Monday, July 25, 2005

Strike that, Reverse It.

Forgive me if I put on my Roger Ebert hat and warm up my thumbs for imminent voting, but I saw the new Charlie and the Chocolate Factory this weekend. Since it's generally frowned upon to throw your cherry Icee at the screen and pitch a fit during a feature presentation, I have no choice but to vent my frustrations here and now:

Thumbs down, man! Two big, emphatic thumbs down (and maybe even a certain other finger pointed skyward) for Charlie and the Chocolate Factory.

In the interest of full disclosure, I am a Willy Wonka devotee from way back. The Gene Wilder original is one of my all-time favorite movies, so when I heard it was being remade my thumbs were already inching groundward. Then, though, I heard that Tim Burton was directing it and decided to reserve my judgment until I had actually seen the film, or at least a preview, or even just until they had actually filmed some of it.

I suppose that meeting my expectations would've been near impossible, what with my investing my childhood, two hours on the train, and $10.25 in this film. I am sad to report that Charlie and the Chocolate Factory didn't simply fail to meet my expectations. My expectations arrived at the theater twenty minutes before showtime, found a prime seat, and kicked back waiting for the film to show up. Charlie and the Chocolate Factory sauntered in, kicked my expectations in the balls, laughed, hawked an hour-long gob of phlegm, and then rolled the credits.

It's difficult to know where to begin with what I disliked about this film. Some of it, I'm sure, is just preference; I prefer Mike Teavee's shrill mother in the original to his combed-over nerdy father in the update. I prefer the original Veruca's musical tantrum to the squirrel attack that does her in in the remake. I prefer the longer lead-up to Charlie's finally finding a golden ticket; in the remake, we're barely rooting for him and he's already walking through the gates.

But there are a number of shortcomings I don't think are just personal. One would think given Tim Burton's fascination with all things mechanical, the chocolate factory would be a feast for both the tastebuds and the eyes. What we got, though, were an assortment of computer rendered machines and boring bubbling containers that could've been in any Tim Burton movie. His factory looked less like a different sugary dimension and more like an exterior stolen from his Batman set and filled with props from Vincent Price's Edward Scissorhands workshop. Though the effects in the original were objectively more primitive, they were so much more mouthwatering. In the Gene Wilder version, the machine that produced the three-course gum actually smashed tomatoes to pulp and had a compartment full of live bees making honey. In the remake, a big gray machine spits some (maybe real, maybe computer generated) fog and out squirts a stick of gum. The fun of the original Willie Wonka was in knowing that none of his machines could possibly work without some kind of magic. In the remake, there's little joy to be found in a machine whose parts look like they could actually produce gum.

For all the talk that Johnny Depp's Willy Wonka is darker and scarier than Gene Wilder's, I found him to be (I'm foregoing any attempt at a mature description) stupid and annoying. His appearance aside, Depp's Willy was less a menacing recluse and more a tantrum-throwing child who never grew up. Throw in a ridiculous backstory about an estranged dentist father and the audience understands all of Willy's seeming nastiness, from why he comically stutters over the word "parents," and to why he picks off the factory visitors one by one. There's nothing dark or scary about a pale, toothy loser with an Anna Wintour haircut who just wants to make nice with Daddy. By giving Charlie the upper hand--allowing him to refuse the prize of the factory unless his family can come along, and then orchestrating the Wonka family reunion--Tim Burton has given the kids in the audience the power to dismiss Willy as less smart, since he's in need of a kid's guidance. How's he scary after that?

Gene Wilder never let his whole hand show. From the moment he exits the factory with his fake limp and somersault, there's no telling what he's got up his sleeve. His Wonka was darker, not only because his factory was scarier, but because he was consistently in control of the contest, his visitors, the plot, and therefore the movie.

And speaking of scary--when did it stop being okay to scare the bejeezus out of kids? The original Willy Wonka was creepy, and not just because of the Oompa Loompas and their dirges. Willy Wonka intentionally inflicted fear, but it was necessary and enjoyable for the movie to make its candy wonderland all the more heavenly by incorporating a dark undercurrent as a balance. The Wonkatania's trip through the factory's psychedelic tunnel of terror, for example, is every bit as delicious as Wonka's edible meadow. How can you possibly compare the awful footage that flashes in that tunnel (the eyeball! the chicken decapitation!) to the boat in the new version, which just, y'know, goes kind of fast?

This is why kids today are stupid. They aren't allowed to be scared. I'm all for sitting down the entire population of children under the age of ten and forcing them to watch not only the original Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory, but also underwear-soiling children's classics like Return to Oz.

Then we'll see who's got time to be afraid of clowns.


Blogger What'sHerFace said...

Although, for all that, I did like Freddie Highmore as Charlie. That kid is friggin' cute.

2:24 PM  
Blogger katy said...

You are absolutely right! Kids need a couple of safe scares now and again. Even fairytales are watered down now, for pete's sake red riding hood gets EATEN, not locked in a closet!!!

On the other hand you just ruined the whole dang movie for me. I was certain that if anyone could pull off a Gene Wilder-stamped role in this day and age it would be Johnny Depp. I mean who else would they have gotten...Brad Pitt? I was so excited.

Sad now :(

3:54 PM  
Blogger What'sHerFace said...

Well, I mean, if you've seen any Johnny Depp movie in the last 10 years, you know exactly how he was going to play Willy Wonka. He's always the same. This Willy Wonka = Jack Sparrow + Edward Scissorhands.

Marilyn Manson was actually up for the role. I think that would've been AMAZING.

5:33 PM  
Blogger Kunaxa said...

I had never seen the original Willy Wonka :(

As a child, I remember being afraid of those flying monkeys from Wizard of Oz. But that was nothing...

At age 7, I secretly watched THE EXORCIST alone while my parents were asleep. I've been terribly scarred ever since but it still remains one of my 'favortie' movies, ever (after watching it as an adult and growing to appreciate it).

11:00 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Um, didn't you post your theory about what The Killers album a while back? what did you say again?

Did you ever visit this website? I think you will like it

and lastly...

did you hear the new Gorillaz cd?

just wondering...

7:34 AM  
Blogger joslik said...

Holy jeez a Return to Oz reference!
I haven't seen it in a long time but I used to be terrifyingly attracted to it as a youngster.

Although I'm a huge fan of the Gene Wilder version, I rather enjoyed the new Chocolate Factory. I dunno. Maybe I was just in for some escapist fantasy. I get tired of picking apart every shitty movie that hits the screen (and there are a TON lately - don't believe me? Go see The Island and tell me THAT didn't suck).
I'm learning to take movies at face value lately. Especially major studio releases. The dumbing down of America starts in Hollywood, y'know...

12:02 PM  
Blogger What'sHerFace said...

Dear Anonymous,

I did post the Killers article; you can find it at JUNK ( or I think it's back in the October archives somewhere. I think. I'm not sure. Feel free to poke around. Make yourself at home.

I have seen Post Secret, and I do like it a lot. I've always wanted to send one in, but the fact that my handwriting is so recognizable would out my secret in two seconds flat.

And thirdly, I have heard the Gorillaz album, and I really liked it, but then I lost it when my computer crashed. So, while I don't recall the specifics of the album, I do remember thinking "hey, this is good, and I'm glad I'm listening to this instead of the photocopier."

1:16 PM  
Blogger What'sHerFace said...

I hadn't seen Return to Oz as a kid--Brad showed it to me in college and it scared the poop out of me even then. Still, I maintain that this is the kind of thing we should be showing our children with some regularity.

I'm not anti-stupid-Hollywood-movies, on the whole. I don't mind if the movie industry produces a real stinkeroo now and then, and besides, I have been known to enjoy the clunkers myself. What pisses me off is when Hollywood is so inept that it rewrites good movies, movies that I love, and then craps them all up.

I mean, at least according to me, which really doesn't mean much. I'm glad you enjoyed it, because someone should enjoy these movies. We spend enough to go see them that we should never have to sit through something we dont like.

1:20 PM  

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