Tuesday, October 20, 2009

"Where the Wild Things Are"

A fervent wave of nostalgia overcame me each time the trailer for “Where the Wild Things Are” interrupted a T.V. show. Half a glance at the quadruple human-size fluffy monster in the sand with a freckled boy in a wolf suit awoke memories of mom reading with her spooky voice while I anticipated the cross-hatched forest beasts. The chanting chorus of a favorite Arcade Fire song made me feel at ease in my recognition, I was an educated white person born in the seventies that identified with a larger group of artsy young professionals, we could all celebrate Max’s originality (i.e. our own), a quality under-appreciated by the outside world. Max was our mascot in 2009.
In a career not unlike Michel Gondry’s, Spike Jonze has been known for directing Charlie Kaufman scripts (“Being John Malkovich” and “Adaptation” ) and many indie rock videos (Pavement, Bjork, the Beastie Boys). “Where the Wild Things Are” champions the winning aspects of Jonze’s previous work; the endless paradigms of Kauffman and the precise editing a music video here represent the chaos and beauty found only in a child’s imagination. Unfortunately, the book that represents so many of our American childhoods, was only 36 pages long, and contained but ten whole sentences, whereas Jonze’s film version is over an hour and half, demanding a thicker plot.
Jonze enlisted friend and celebrated author Dave Eggers for screenwriting help but the result feels forced. While vast landscapes of forests and deserts are interchanged under expert lighting on magnificent CGI muppets, the dialogue grows tiresome. A touching parallel between the monsters and Max’s family unit is not over-stated, but runs stale as another game of hand-held camera following Max running through the forest ensues. In this way the unnecessary plot lays flat on a series of beautiful images that need no justification. The debuting young actor (Max Records) is honest in his response to his new community, and especially real in his reactions to his mother and sister. For this reason, the opening scenes before Max’s descent into monster- land are the most poignant and interesting, further enhanced by Catherine Keener who plays a working single mom.
Thus you may ask whether or not this is a children’s movie. The countless mudslinging in the monster scenes of “Where the Wild Things Are” may interest a child more than an adult, but the intricate exposé of Max’s problems might fatigue a child before the monsters appear. While the book was written for the pre-literate, this is a film of generational nostalgia complete with the indie-rock score of the Yeah Yeah Yeah’s Karen O. a spokeswoman for many new alternative parents .
“Where the Wild Things Are” is certainly Spike Jonze’s most ambitious film to date, and his visual interpretation of a perfect children’s book adds new landscapes and realism to our faded memories. However, the specificity of Max’s familial fantasies and the sheer length of Max’s foray into his unique utopia/hell leaves the viewer believing once again the book is indeed better than the movie, and perhaps in this instance, the trailer is still better.


Jeff G said...

If you haven't already, see:

Jeff G said...

A year or two ago I discovered the secret to movies: just read reviews and watch trailers. This is more enjoyable and less expensive than almost any movie.

In some cases, curiosity gets the best of me, especially if reviews refer to a "surprise twist." To head off my OCD, I look up the feature on themoviespoiler.com The summaries on this site are sometimes confusing, since they seem to be written by barely literate teenagers, but you can figure out basically what goes on.

If a particular scene sounds good, there is always youtube.

Of course, in order to write this blog, Ms. NBW must suffer through actually seeing movies and shelling out $10 a pop. I'm sorry, but know that we appreciate your efforts!