Thursday, June 23, 2005

I saw Charlie and the Chocolate Factory 

A couple nights ago, a friend popped over and surprised us with an advanced copy. It's all right, funny at parts and often unsettling to the point of creepy (which is pretty fun), but once again prompts the question, "Why do we need remakes?" I have to say that given the trailer, I probably would not have seen Charlie and the Chocolate Factory in the theater and having now seen it, I feel a little justified. It certainly is newer and the character of Wonka is flushed out, but its not better than the 70s entry.

Tim Burton definitely puts his stamp on this film. The photography and set design are fantastic. The look and feel of the chocolate factory and Willy Wonka, himself, are batshit crazy. The darker, creepier take on the tale is definitely an interesting one (the opening credits make it seem like I'm in for an action/adventure movie) though the I had problems with this version. There were simply no small surprises or treats or idiosynchracies like there are in Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory (that's an inherrent flaw) -- no anti-gravity burping, no shrinking hallways, nothing. The Oompa Loompas are certainly there (and improved, mind you), but then, you already knew they would be, didn't you? While you're waiting for something new to happen, the story that you've seen before just trots along until it finally comes to an end. I know that this version is more faithful to Roald Dahl's original novel, but half the fun of going into the Chocolate Factory is the mystery of it all. "What wackiness awaits us? Oh, I see. It's just the same rooms and trappings with less of the charm. Hmm..."

Again, I know this version is more faithful to the novel, but hear me out. There's a reason for film adaptation. Remember how in Willy Wonka... finding the final golden ticket was an actual plot point? In this version, it's glossed over incredibly quickly. So much so, that I'm not even sure if Charlie is really dying for it like he claims to be. Freddie Highmore (who some will remember as the little boy from Finding Neverland) isn't so much a character as he is an innocent little boy who extols the virtues of morality and selflessness almost as if he was programmed to do so. That's not a knock on the performance, it's on the writing. Charlie is just this empty shell with warm-hearted soundbytes. It's a little off-putting. At least 70s Charlie has some enthusiasm.

Something odd is that Willy Wonka... treats Charlie as the main character (which, to me, is correct - after all, you're embarking on this journey through his eyes), while Wonka is the titular character. Charlie..., however, does the inverse of that and focuses on Wonka, flushing out his backstory and psyche, attempting to show reason behind his madness. Within the film, this is consistent and credible. However, by injecting this psycho-therapy, they ruin the mystique of Wonka -- something illuminated marvelously by Gene Wilder. Depp's Wonka seems a lot more methodical and pre-meditated in his actions. The scene leading to Veruca Salt's demise is a particularly fantastic example of this (and probably the best scene in the movie). I never thought that darker would yield less mystery, but it does. It is definitely more ominous, though. The delivery of Willy Wonka's proclamation that he will allow five children into the factory envokes images of Michael Jackson at Neverland Ranch (or even J.M. Barre in Finding Neverland - wink).

The casting of the children mostly fails with the exception of one: Violet. New Violet is awesome! Certainly an improvement on the prior film entry and her mother, played by Missy Pyle, is hysterical as an unblinking, determined Stepford wife. These two are real scene-stealers and pretty much demand your focus every time at least one of them are on screen. Charlie, as I've mentioned, is quite inferior. Veruca isn't even close to being as bratty which is something that I thought would be a given. After all, "newer" usually means "bigger" and New Veruca is definitely in Old Veruca's shadow. Augustus has his moment and then is forgotten. Mike Teavee? Well, no one's ever really cared about that character anyway. I will say that he was curiously far more bratty and annoying than Veruca, which is bizarre. But I'm telling you all, Violet and her mom are the MVPs of this movie.

Final verdict: No need to run to see this one. Walking is just fine. It's a solid film, but overall, does not equal it's predecessor. That's the problem with remakes. They come in with expectations that automatically put them behind the 8-ball. You already know what happens. This time, it just happens to be a shade darker.

One last thing I have to say on this is that Roald Dahl is a genius. He got everything pitch perfect in writing a children's story with the moral clarity that an innocent child can expertly perceive. How you get rewarded for being good, loving your family, the vice of chocolate, etc. It's all perfect.

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