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It's a fine line between living for the moment and being a sociopath.

Patricia B McConnell: For The Love Of A Dog.

Pema Chodron: The Places That Scare You

Daniel Wallace: Mr Sebastian & the Negro Magician



All paths lead to the same goal: to convey to others what we are. --Pablo Neruda

Saturday, July 23, 2005

Charlie and the Chocolate Factory

Being big fans of His Deppness, and minor fans of Tim Burton, Geri and I trucked ourselves off last night to see their new confection, Charlie and the Chocolate Factory.

For better or worse, we had recently seen the original, with Gene Wilder. It's one of the many DVDs that came from China to France in our shipping container when we moved. We pulled it out, recently, while my nephews, Spencer and Mitchell, were visiting. I think we enjoyed it more than they did but, then, I've loved the film for a long while. Every time I see it, I end up singing the Oompa-Loompa song for days, an annoying habit that Geri lovingly fails to quash. (Click here for all the lyrics if you, too, would like to drive your lover Wonka-ly bonkers.)

The single best thing about the original is Gene Wilder's performance. Forget all that pap he did with Richard Pryor. There are only three roles you need to see to embrace Gene Wilder as a great performer, and two of them were brought to us by Mel Brooks. The third is Willy Wonka.

That's why I would have been suspicious of any remake of Charlie. There just aren't many actors I can think of who would have a shot at equaling, much less besting, Wilder's performance. That said, the original is terribly dated: especially the art direction and special effects, not to mention some ill-conceived musical numbers that would seem more at home in Oklahoma or The Music Man. (Grandpa Joe's "I've Got a Golden Ticket" springs to mind.)

So, it was cause for anticipation when I heard that the movie was being remade with visual master Tim Burton at the helm, and, in the lead role, one of the great kooky character actors of our time: His Deppness. This was a formula that had a shot at displacing the original from my pedestal. The first two reviews of the film I read were even more encouraging.

It was not to be, however. The film is visually stunning. And His Deppness has achieved a different, sometimes mesmerizing Wonka. Yet, while things move along very well, there's a sterility about the film that stands in contrast to the gooeyness of the original, which stuck to you. The original was sugary, but that was the point: it was a candy shop.

What's missing in the update is anything to attach your emotions to. While Wilder's Wonka bordered on creepy, Depp's is detached and other-worldly. He's interesting to watch, but he doesn't connect with the children. He barely even talks to them. As a result, we miss connecting with Wonka, ourselves, and we don't get much of a sense of the children, either. They are even thinner caricatures than in the original, set up like dominoes for the delightful tragedies that knock them off, one by one.

There's also some plot revisionism that doesn't quite work. It's been too many year's since I've read the Roald Dahl novel (on which the film is based) to identify which is the more faithful film, but a couple of the plot changes weaken the new film markedly. The narrative of the original takes our nominal protagonist, Charlie, down the path of transgression and redemption. In the update, no transgression, no redemption. He's just a lucky little boy who gets the prize by default after all the other children meet their nasty ends. There's a bit of a paean to family that's supposed to tug on your heartstrings, but it doesn't quite work, because all Charlie has had to do is walk through the film innocently and wait for the end. And since the plot didn't require a transgression, it also didn't require a Slugworth, the wonderful embodiment of evil in the first film, who so effectively made Wonka look benevolent by comparison, even if he was odd.

The film is visually stunning. But, then, that's what you get when you combine Tim Burton and a big budget. The chocolate factory, from the outside, will remind you of Gotham City, and there are cute internal references to Edward Scissorhands. Still, with such a legendary imagination, and every art director in the world wanting to work with you, there are fewer visual surprises than you might expect. With a canvas as large and fantastical as the Wonka factory to play with, it's a little surprising that Burton riffed so consistently on the original art direction. There are some scenes whose sets look like mildly updated versions of the original (the Wonka-vision room, for example). Even the fantastical chocolate mixing room, in which everything is edible, is quite faithful to the original.

The minor quibbles of the reviewers I read before seeing the movie seemed unimportant to me. They made much of the new film providing Wonka with an unnecessary backstory: a "how did he get that way" explanation in flash-backs. It may be unnecessary, but it's also not distracting. A backstory I did find both distracting and cheap centered on Wonka's discovery of the Oompa-Loompas.

...of whom a great deal more is made in the new film. The Oompa-Loompas are the Greek chorus of the chocolate factory in both films. And if you think I'm being high-falootin', check it out. If you know the function of the chorus in Greek drama, and if you've seen either Wonka film, you know I ain't makin' this up. But because they're a Greek chorus, you have to be able to understand what they're saying. And in the new film you often can't. The big Oompa-Loompa production numbers are wonderful, but the cautionary tales of the lyrics aren't, because you can't hear half of them.

The music, itself, shows Danny Elfman doing his usual great job writing original stuff. He has abandoned, however, any clear recurring musical theme. In the original, the Oompa-Loompa music was inescapable. Like the theme from Jaws, you knew that when you heard that music, the little orange guys were on their way with some old-style skoolin'.

If you read anything else about this film, some of it's bound to be about Deep Roy: the single actor who plays ALL the Oompa-Loompas. The attention is deserved. He's fantastic. And he's integral to the single biggest, most successful gag in the movie, which comes right before the credits roll.

In the end, Geri and I asked ourselves if we would have liked the film more had we not seen the original. We both said yes quite quickly. The film does stand-up well on its own merits. But that's not a high enough bar for a re-make of what is, to us, a classic.

Go see it for fun. It's a visual spectacle with lots of panache and plenty of surprises. Go see it, especially, if you've never seen the original. Then, go get the Gene Wilder version out on DVD.

Comments on "Charlie and the Chocolate Factory"

 

Blogger Nicole said ... (10:38 AM) : 

I agree with you - Gene Wilder is a genius!

I heard a story that he made the choice when we first meet him to act like a decrepit old man and then break into the acrobatics so that the audience would know that he was not a man to be completely trusted.

 

Blogger Sandy said ... (2:40 AM) : 

If you want a real movie thrill, you've got to go see Batman Begins. It's fantastic!

 

Blogger bea said ... (4:51 AM) : 

It looks too freaky....Batman is more my style....not Charlie

 

Blogger bea said ... (4:51 AM) : 

It looks too freaky....Batman is more my style....not Charlie

 

Blogger LoveDisMovie said ... (3:03 AM) : 

I LOVE CHARLIE AND THE CHOCOLATE FACTORY SO MUCH!!!!!!! I LOVE IT MORE THAN ANY OTHER MOVIE, SHOW, OR SONG! I HAVE POSTERS, ALL THE SONGS, 3 DVD'S AND TRADING CARDS AND THE 3 BOOKS AND I EVEN MAKE MODELS OF ALL THE ROOMS! GAHHH I WANNA VISIT THIS FACTORY SOMETIME IN LIFE!!!! ONLY IF IT WERE REAL :(

 

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