Thursday, October 29, 2009

Where the Mopey Things Are

Since high school, and maybe even before that, my friends have always hated going out to movies with me. It's not because I hog the armrests and refuse to share my popcorn (though both of those complaints are true); it's because I'm almost never impressed with anything we go and see. With movies, as with everything else, you see, my tastes are incredibly specific. The tiniest detail - a bad line of dialogue, a child actor who doesn't understand what their lines mean, a comedy that suddenly wants to have an important moral message at the end - can instantly turn my opinion against a movie, never to be reclaimed. Put simply: it's not unusual for me to give something a thumbs-down. It happens all the time. What is unusual, however, is for me to hate a movie so much that I have to sit down and blog about it...But that's the case with Where the Wild Things Are. Honestly, where do I even begin with this piece of shit?

For starters - and I guess this is the most obvious problem - the filmmakers here are attempting to turn a 10-line children's book into a 90-minute feature film. And not just any 10-line children's book, but a 10-line children's book that doesn't contain very much in the way of a plot. Unlike, say, How the Grinch Stole Christmas, which features a character who undergoes a change of heart, Where the Wild Things Are operates like something akin to a dream sequence. The storyline, as I would hope everyone knows, basically breaks down like this (as per Wikipedia): "It tells the story of Max, who one evening plays around his home, 'making mischief' in a wolf costume. As punishment, his mother sends him to bed without supper. In his room, a mysterious, wild forest and sea grows out of his imagination, and Max sails to the land of the Wild Things. The Wild Things are fearsome-looking monsters, but Max conquers them 'by staring into their yellow eyes without blinking once,' and he is made 'the King of all Wild Things,' dancing with the monsters in a 'wild rumpus.' However, he soon finds himself lonely and homesick, and he returns home to his bedroom, where he finds his supper waiting for him, still hot."

That's it. That's the entire story. Wolf costume, mischief, punishment, magic sea and forest, staring contest, Kingship, wild rumpus, homesickness, return home, hot supper, the end.

So it was a given that the film crew needed to flesh the story out a little bit - and believe me, I was more than happy to let them do that. After all, Maurice Sendak's visuals are what have always made Where the Wild Things Are a classic. If someone wanted to tack on a little extra storyline as an excuse to throw those visuals up on screen, hey, more power to 'em. This was one movie where "big on effects, light on story" would have been a good thing.

But it just couldn't be that simple, could it? No no, the screenwriters couldn't just add in a little more staring and a little more wild rumpusing. No, they had to take this magical children's story about mischief and wildness and turn it into an all-out Generation X pout-fest. Seriously, every character in this movie is utterly miserable. Every. Single. One. Of. Them.

Instead of a healthy young boy with an appetite for mischief, Max is now the unhappy product of a single-parent household. And remember his mom? You know, the one who sent him to bed without any supper? Well, in the movie she's a deeply unhappy woman who can't seem to get her lovelife or her career in order. Her stress complicates Max's stress and, instead of getting sent to his room without supper, he (here it comes) runs away from home and somehow ends up finding a boat that takes him to the Land of the Wild Things.

So here we are in the Land of the Wild Things - a magical place some of us remember our old buddy Levar Burton telling us about on Reading Rainbow. And what are these Wild Things, exactly? Are they ferocious-looking, yet ultimately gentle creatures who are into partying and parades (you know, like in the book)? Nope. They're a bunch of emo coffee-shop kids hanging out in the woods, arguing with each other about every. little. fucking. thing. that. happens. Max becomes king - here comes a whiny little rant about what a lousy king he is. The Wild Things have a dirtball fight - here comes a scene where Max has to sit down and listen to one of them whine about how everyone kept throwing dirt at him. One of the Wild Things brings some friends home to meet the others - here comes another whiny argument about how no one wants them there. Another Wild Thing shows Max his incredible model village - here comes the mopey conversation about how much better things used to be...Seriously, if you've never been around a group of artsy people - painters, theater people, etc. - who turn every minor obstacle into a major crisis, this movie is your perfect opportunity to find out what it's like.

On those rare occasions when the Wild Things are actually being wild, the director apparently has no idea what to do with them. So, how to express joy and enthusiasm?...Oh, I know. Why don't we have them run? Yeah! That's it! We'll have them run! And we'll play some melancholy folk music over it! Because nothing says happiness like running and melancholy folk music! If you've seen the movie you know what I'm talking about, because the formula is always the same:

(1) If the characters are running to the tune of folk music, they are happy.


(2) If the characters are doing anything besides running to the tune of folk music, they are arguing, moping, or otherwise unagreeable.

Poor Max apparently left one dysfunctional situation for another.

Here's My Main Point

It wouldn't bother me so much if it wasn't part of a larger trend I've noticed in recent years. What strange impulse is it that leads filmmakers to think they can just take whatever beloved children's stories they choose and turn them into sounding boards for their own unresolved personal and psychological issues?

I mean, really, is there a good reason for someone to make a 90-minute version of Where the Wild Things Are where the "wild rumpus" only lasts for about 60 seconds and the other 89 minutes are filled with sadness and soft sunlight?

Was there a good reason for Tim Burton to turn Charlie and the Chocolate Factory into a story about Willy Wonka working out his mommy-daddy issues?

Was there something Mike Myers added to The Cat in the Hat that Dr.Seuss forgot to put in?

And the main question underlying all of the others: is there a good reason to take stories that are so good and turn them into movies that are so unpleasant?

I'm sorry, folks, I just don't get it. Enough with these "here's what I think the story is about" directors already.


Post a Comment

<< Home