Monday, July 18, 2005

Weekend Part I: Chocolate Bore

I know that for a lot of people (Americans, anyhow) the 4th of July is over and summer is downhill from there. For me, though, it's just cranking into high gear. This weekend was wall-to-wall activity, and according to my calendar things are not going to slow down until September.

I'm going to have to write it up in multiple installments, that's how full and fun it was.

Let's get the only bad part out of the way with a fair-and-balanced film review, shall we?

On Saturday night, C and I went to see Charlie and the Chocolate Factory at the River East Gigantoplex. We thought that perhaps by going at 9:30 p.m., we might avoid most of the families with little children since it would be past their bedtimes. That shows you how out of touch we are. Apparently the concept of "bedtime" no longer exists. The kiddies were out in full force and full cry, not to mention full of sugar.

Can You Say Irony, Children?

On the way into the theater, we were cut off in line by a screaming, sticky brood of six or so who shoved themselves in front of us and were followed by their thin, wan mothers. The mothers did nothing to suggest to the children this might have been rude, and one of them snapped at a theater employee who asked her son to stop climbing up the handrail on the escalator as he might fall off and plunge two stories to his death.

I'm assuming the moral lessons of the movie flew right over their mothers' empty, bleached-blonde heads.

Anyhow, the real downer of this trip to the movies was not the audience, it was the movie.

The Script

I didn't much like the 1971 film version of Roald Dahl's book, which I love and admire. But it was better than this one. It at least had no pretentions to being high art nor magnificent spectacle. Aside from truly dreadful songs (one exception, "Pure Imagination") it wasn't all that bad and did get across the frightening, freaked-out tone of the novel.

In spite of all claims to the contrary, Tim Burton has not (aside from the restoration of one or two episodes and the quoting of some dialogue) created something closer to Dahl's vision. Instead he has inserted a whole lot of unoriginal and unnecessary backstory, and tacked on an inappropriate ending so sticky sweet that even Augustus Gloop would gag on it.

With all this added content, once the factory tour begins the movie slows down to a positively glacial pace...and just keeps getting slower...and slower...and slower. Then, it does something I have never seen a movie do before. It actually stops completely, never to move again, at least fifteen minutes before the end credits.


The Sets

And as far as the famous Burton visual touches go, the majority of the good stuff references far better stuff from other directors' movies. The chocolate river room, which I hear occupied the entire James Bond soundstage and cost millions, isn't any more impressive in the final cut than the $2.95 set from the 1971 version. It looks like a Nightmare Before Christmas display in a suburban mall.

The Music

The songs are blandly serviceable, as well they should be at this point, since Danny Elfman has written them many times before and only had to change the keys for this airing.

After which he probably called up John Williams, and the two of them went shopping.

The Performances

Johnny Depp's Willy Wonka is but a bundle of nervous tics and vocal mannerisms. Sort of like Maggie Smith, except that from scene to scene, he assembles them from different sources. Now he's Carol Channing, now he's Mister Rogers, now he's Marilyn Manson. Saddest thing is, you get the sense that if the director had helped him to achieve some sort of consistency, he could have been wonderful. I imagine Burton was too fascinated with the trained squirrels to pay attention to the humans. No wonder he only wanted one Oompa-Loompa.

The only thing in the entire movie at all in keeping with Dahl's vision was Freddie Highmore as Charlie. The kid was a perfect choice, did a bang-up job, and probably got his characterization in gear on his own.

And finally, two little things. Very little, but they bug me.

Where the Hell is This Movie Set?

Charlie is English. His parents are English. Everybody all around him the streets is English. It sure looks like England.

Then, when Charlie gets the Golden Ticket, the (English) people in the shop start offering him dollars for it. If the goal was to keep Charlie's location non-specific, the matter of currency could have been discreetly avoided with some careful writing or editing. As it is, it jars mightily on the ear.

The Pansy is Alive and Well and Simpering in Burtonland

Charlie learns that somebody has apparently found the final Golden Ticket when two men walk by him in the street talking about it.

These two men, who serve no other purpose than plot movement and are never seen again, are total throwbacks to the pre-Stonewall stereotype of gay men - mincing walks, Franklin Pangborn intonation, flailing hands, and little doggies on leashes.

You know what? I'm sick of this shit. Really sick of it. Here we are decades after Stonewall, and we're still nothing but cheap 'n' easy comic relief.

There is no more excuse in this day and age for the portrayal of gay men or lesbians (or anybody else, for that matter) according to stereotypes of this kind.

If this were an Adam Sandler movie, I might have been less surprised. But who exactly does Tim Burton think much of the audience for a campy children's-book-filmed-for-adults movie is going to be? Or is this his way of trying to show he's not like that by making fag jokes along with the other dudes?

Perhaps this was (as C suggested to me) Burton's somewhat misguided idea of inclusion. Well, if it is, Mr. Burton can go shove an Everlasting Gobstopper up his ass.

And then do the same with this sorry film.

Save yourself some money. Read the book.


Anonymous said...

I hadn't planned to see the movie though friend did. She said the music sounded like there were a few bars left over from previous Burton flicks, which were played over and over, forward, backasswards, crabwise, etc. She wasn't overwhelmed with the other aspects of the movie either.

goblinbox said...

I didn't read most of this post because I intend the see the film and didn't want, well, spoilers isn't the right word, but you know what I mean.

But I did read the paragraph about the spoiled rotten children and I just wanted to say I really dislike badly trained children. I tend to avoid places where they might be. Ugh.

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