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Sunday, October 25, 2009

Cody's Film Review: Where The Wild Things Are

Where The Wild Things Are has been one of my most anticipated films since I heard Spike Jonze was attached way back in 2005. Jonze is a director of many talents and I have been a fan of his since his early music video days. I also loved Maurice Sendak's book since I was a little kid, and this book and this director were a perfect fit. I was very disturbed when Universal Studios was unhappy with Jonze version in 2007 and it looked like they were going to shelve it. Luckily Warner Brothers saved it, but after some "disturbing to children" previews it was held for another year until they could "fix" it. When the first trailer was released all of my dreams came true, and this film promised to be everything I wanted. Maybe I built this film up too much, but I was disappointed in the finished product. I am not saying I didn't like it, I just didn't love it like I thought I would. Technically this film is perfect in every way. Lance Acord's cinematography is beautiful and along with the Art Department, this is one of the best looking and imaginative films I have seen in a long time. Karen O and Carter Burwell's music is haunting and fit's perfectly with the subject matter. The most impressive part of the film is the amazing talents of the Jim Henson Creature Shop. In this day and age where ILM and other CGI companies (with the exception of Pixar) have gotten lazy and unimaginative with their special effects it is nice to see that the name Jim Henson is still producing quality work. Henson's Creature Shop have outdone themselves, and along with The Hitchhiker's Guide To The Galaxy(2005) they are responsible for two of the best looking SFX films of the decade. They add realism and character to their puppets and you never get the feeling you are watching a cartoon. It's amazing this film cost 100 million dollars less than the last Indiana Jones crapfest, because the quality doesn't even compare. The marriage of old and new technology is the direction Hollywood should go,but unfortunately we seem to be stuck with high cost and low quality gems like Wolverine.For the first time in a long time I had that Jim Henson feeling I felt growing up and, finally twenty year old hipsters have a taste too. The problem I had with WTWTA was mainly the characters and the story. I didn't find anything desirable about the Wild Things land or it's inhabitants. When I was a kid most fantasy films showed a place I wanted to escape to and people/creatures I wanted to be friends with. The Wild Things are negative, surly, and depressing creatures that would cause anyone to want off the island after a hour. Max himself is a daring and selfish person, but he is a kid and that was understandable and exactly like his character from the book. When it was time for Max to leave I felt no sadness that he was leaving friends or a magical world behind. I was relieved when he was leaving, because I feared for his life the moment he set foot on the island. The other problem I had was the voices chosen for the Wild Things. James Gandolfini has a great voice that sadly will always be linked to Tony Soprano, a iconic character that I personally couldn't see past. Lauren Ambrose's voice just didn't seem to fit the character KW and Catherine O'Hara's Judith was also out of place. Chris Cooper,Paul Dano, and Forrest Whitaker at least tried to disguise their voices a little, and attempted to do a character voice. The story was simple and a nice extension of the book. I wouldn't mind a story about Max and the Wild Things hanging out and building forts if I had a invested interest in the characters, but I didn't. Worth seeing, but not the classic it could have been. 3 out of 5 stars


  1. I agree with you 100% about the island. Thanks, divorce, you've now made every man a selfish pussy whose imaginations are so depressing they make me want to commit suicide (and this is just a little boy). My biggest issue is that I think instead of adapting the book, Spike Jonze and Eggers put their own view point on it and I just didn't agree with their viewpoint at all. I can totally understand people digging this film, but I just thought it was like a 40 year old emo shit head's diary.

  2. Cody and are both WAY off on this one. The Wild Things represent confusing childhood emotions, in this case, Max's. He's a child of divorce, he's angry/sad and is confused by his feelings. He doesn't have the maturity to deal with them yet, so he acts like a little shit. The Wild Things are of his creation. They are in his imagination. They are a representation of Max's ID. I really feel like this is the first 'kid's' movie that has the balls not to talk down to children. It is a masterpiece.

  3. 3 out of 5 huh.... am i supposed to wait for video? or is this just too hyped and that's why it didn't make 3.5 or more...

  4. Ah damn..... I can't believe I agree with Jerf.... but I will admit it anyway. I really enjoyed Spike's take on the classic children's book. I thought it was inventive, creative, and right on point. I was immediately worried about Max from the film's embark, well before we get to the island. Spike captured the essence of a childhood damaged and.... Jerf is right, the island represents Max's mental landscape, the Wild Things being the emotional peices of Max..... I would venture to argue that KW is the perceived maternal third-party by Max.... though I feel that I need to see it again before I try and make this point. All in all, I felt the film resonates long after it's over and it is so sound on all fronts that I feel it is one of the top three films this year.... if not the best so far.

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  6. I agree w/Jerf and Jugo- I really like the Jugo's term "mental landscape". I often see the healing powers of fantasy/imagination through children's play and was glad that the movie was able to capture that feeling of strength and power. I agree, Cody, that the characters could have had more endearing qualities, however, the creator of the creatures (Max) was not feeling all that optimistic....I like the way the movie showed how relationships can be damaged, but then can also be repaired again. I was intrigued that someone who worked with the Beastie Boys was the director, and had already heard and enjoyed the soundtrack so I too I went into this movie expecting all my childhood dreams to be brought back to life again. Dreams can be great escape, but they can also be dark and unpleasant.

  7. Jonze said he was inspired by Cassavetes with this, which sounds like a great idea on paper. Jonze’s aim clearly seems to be to capture Max’s tumultous & spazzy worldview and make it come to life in every way. And to be honest, who else but Cassavetes are you going to go to for the blueprint of how to capture neurotic, emotional rambling & temper tantrums.

    But I guess that sucks for me since I think Cassavetes blows. The only movie he ever made that was worth a damn was Minnie & Moskowitz, and the only reason that one works is because with all the actors workshop-y screaming matches and batshit energy, it still has a structure, something close to a 30’s screwball comedy. If you don’t have structure with something like this, you just have emo whine-fest.

    Sendak’s book is fucking magical because the sense of danger & weird power-issues is subtle and indistinct, something hanging over the book, which, you know, is what it feels like when you’re a kid -- things are abstract and unexplained. As opposed to the whiny group therapy session you have here.

    The main reason this movie fails is because you never have a sense of Max from the very beginning, outside of broken family clichés. Mom doesn’t have time for him, sis ignores him, he acts out—-it’s all very generalized, never made specific. You never get a sense of him as a unique character, unlike say the oddball misfits from the best kids movies we had when we were growing up—-Black Stallion, Return to Oz, Explorers, etc.

    The other reason is doesn’t work is because the second Max arrives on the island, Carol is having already having a batshit temper tantrum. So there’s literally nowhere for the movie to go that it hasn’t gone before, but to just wait for Carol to lose his shit again. Off that, I think Cody was right about it being goofy for Max to invent a place in his mind to escape to that’s mostly not a fun place to be, and have no real reason to stick around.

    That said, Jonze deserves props for trying to bring the weird surreal logic of being a kid to life, and he knew enough to have Lance Acord & the Jim Henson guys along to help, who do the best they can to salvage the most self-serious, pouty & emo script this side of The Dark Knight.

  8. Andrew, I agree with you a hundred percent about the film, but John Cassavettes is a genius.

  9. Just wondering- If the aim is for Max and Carol to relate on a basic level of immature and undeveloped emotional psyches that result in destructive and neurotic behavior.... then how else do you introduce Carol?

    And isn't that the idea? We start the entire film off with Max being a 'Wild Thing', which enables this sense of tension as we wait for Max to go 'Wild' again.

    It's the same thing with Carol. The entire film is 'waiting for the other shoe to drop'. We all know somebody/have been 'okay' while something is lying beneath the surface.

    If anything, I consider this quality of the film rather honest and endearing. At the end, I am not waiting for M.Night to jump out of the shadows with Mickey Mouse ears on... It's just a staight-forward story with beautiful imagery and rather serious undertones.

    And the 'generalization' of the 'fringe' chartacters that open the film is pertinent considering this is a story about Max that is perfectly setup with said 'generalizations'. We don't need to spend much more time with them, aside from the time spent with Max and his Mother. Which was handled 'just right'... not too much, not too little. The real story is Max's 'Wild Things', which everyone gets without spending an incredible amount of time doting on the expository from the onset of the film.

    I think 'group therapy session' is pretty offbase considering things unfold here in a much more linear and causal manner....

    And 'Emo'? Considering the implied 'negative connotation'... It's not even close. Furthermore, while this movie is great... it isn't the 'Dark Knight'... which is equally as far from 'Emo'.

    It's almost like you're saying heartfelt psychological/socialogical examinations are a bad thing when dealing with children(or adults, for that matter) who have emotional issues.

    Of course, I guess that's why you don't like Cassavetes.

    I completely agree with you on Acord and the Henson Studio. Not to mention, I am glad Burwell had his part. To me, his score was much more impressive than Karen O's music. Don't get me wrong, I like O's stuff, but if Karen O is the utility/set-up hitter here, Burwell is the Barry Bonds for this film's musical accompaniment.

    I also agree with your Cassavetes take, just not quite to the same degree.

  10. Wild Things the book is about a rumpus. Throwing a party. Dancing around. There’s almost none of that in the movie. Almost all the characters seem like they just need meds. And they definitely don’t know how to party.

    That shit is not in the book. Max & the monsters in this movie are all way too somber, sensitive, with crushing low self-esteem and low expectations, making it kind of monotonous, almost by definition. I mean, throughout almost all the pictures in the book they’re smiling ear to ear and it looks like they’re having a fucking rager.

    There’s nothing wrong with emotion in movies. But EMO is something different. United 93 is emotional, so devastatingly that I dare someone to watch it more than once. But obviously that movie’s not emo. From Alice Doesn’t Live Here Anymore to Empire of the Sun to Fat City to fucking Dumbo.

    Those movies are bursting with emotion, but the difference is that if/when characters are sitting around feeling bad for themselves and being neurotic and all too aware that they’re damaged goods, there’s another character in the general hemisphere to represent the opposite. Like say Dignan in Bottle Rocket, there needs to be someone, anyone to offset the main character being a total wuss.

    The problem with Wild Things is that all the characters are hopelessly anxious and neurotic, which gives the film no dynamic, again, by definition making it monotonous. And Emo. An insiduous toxic strain that’s made its way into popular entertainment as of late, maybe as a backlash against 90s irony, who knows. It’s the difference between Bottle Rocket and Darjeeling, which has no Dignan character. And as far as TDK being emo, same thing, all the characters are positively roiling with issues, they’re either pouting or batshit, not to mention it takes itself way too seriously and has no sense of fun, thus it’s emo.

  11. Great!!!!! Love the feed back and discussions, this what I hope for on every post. I want to hear everyone's opinions, it helps to soak in a film at all angles.