Wednesday, June 8, 2011

Where The Wild Things Are (2009)

The Cinematic Equivalent Of
Going To Bed Without Supper

- I am not going to sugarcoat anything: I found Where The Wild Things Are to be a pretentious slug of a film; a thoroughly unlikable, improperly new-aged, and bong-watered down attempt at a moral family tale. One would think that the film was put together by junior community college kids who won a generous gift certificate to the Jim Henson Creature Shop but successful director Spike Jonze's name can be clearly seen in the credits, so there is no excuse for the My Chemical Romance style of filmmaking. When it comes to telling a good story and making a good film out of Where The Wild Things Are, writer/director Jonze and co-writer Dave Eggers fail harder than Conrad Murray does when it comes to prescribing medication. But when it comes to bashing the viewer over the head again and again with the blatantly obvious themes and lessons of the story and making their attempt at complete audience manipulation abundantly clear, the duo succeeds tremendously.

Millions of people all around the world have grown up reading Maurice Sendak's classic children's book "Where The Wild Things Are" and are familiar with the story: after acting out at his mother, Max the mischievous little boy is sent to his room without supper where he enters into an imaginative world filled with monsters, becomes King of the Wild Things, and engages full-on in a great wild rumpus. Unlike Sendak's famous 1963 book that is creative and enjoyable, Jonze's Where The Wild Things Are is an overrated East Coast indie not-so-subtly cinematically waxing eloquent about what turns out to be absolutely nothing at all.

Do not expect a great book-to-screen adaptation out of Where The Wild Things Are. Sendak's book is a one-of-a-kind odyssey through a child's imagination where the exact themes and lessons of the story are left up to the decisions and imaginations of the reader; Jonze and Eggers, however, do not leave anything in Where The Wild Things Are up to the imagination and they do not do it all that uniquely either.

The Max characters from the book and film could not be more different: likable in the book and unlikable in the film. Max (played admirably by the young Max Records) is supposed to be some kind of unique, special mind - an imaginative young man. But one gets the impression that this kid, rather than growing up to be some kind of brilliant mind, will end up in the loony bin or shooting his arm up in Greenwich Village. He is a weird, weird kid and not particularly likable or relatable.

Probably the most easily recognizable difference between the book and film is the fact Jonze and Eggers added a whole bunch of story to the plot - which they ultimately cannot be faulted for because they had to make a feature-length film out a short book. Sendak's book is definitely for kids but Jonze's film is for ages 13 and up (and your more mature younger kid), dealing with more added-in mature subject matters and having an inaccessible indie-style look and feel. The final thoughts and lessons offered in the film compared to the book also reflect staunch differences. The book reflects the quantum of responsibility and compassion in family love but chooses to leave the final events of the story out, leaving the reader to come to their own conclusions. On the flipside, the 2009 film reflects its emo caveman themes of "life sucks" through a simple paralleling of the real and the imaginative where the supposed lessons are learned but the consequences are not experienced, which makes one wonder if the lessons will be truly learned.

Apparently, the studio begged and pressured Jonze to make a more kid-friendly film out of Where The Wild Things Are. According to a September 2, 2009 New Times article by Saki Knafo, Warner Brothers studio "had deemed an early cut of the film "too weird and 'too scary' " and were now contemplating extensive personnel changes and reshoots." I applaud Jonze for making his own film his way and not bending over backwards for "the man" or for the sake of selling out. However, I cannot ultimately applaud his boring and self-indulgent film. Much like Max and the monsters in Where The Wild Things Are, howling in the name of fun, film critics everywhere seem to be howling the praises of Jonze's awful film. After watching the film myself, I just howled in pain.

CBC Rating: 3/10

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