Friday, February 22, 2008

Where the Wild Things Aren't, or how to kill a movie before it's born


I really hope none of this is true, but since it comes from the almost always reliable C.H.U.D. and certainly doesn't seem to be beyond the pale of what happens in the world of movies today, I fear it is.

You may remember seeing a very rough clip of our hero, Max, playing with one of the Wild Things that spring from his mind in Spike Jonze's take on Maurice Sendak's "Where the Wild Things Are." Jonze later clarified that the clip, which you can see in one of my previous posts here, was just very early test footage.

Well, as it turns out, we might just have to savor that clip as the living record of the movie that might have been, because Warner Bros. and Legendary Pictures may be on the verge of killing the entire project and starting over from the beginning.

As crazy as that sounds, it's exactly what the suits are apparently contemplating doing with Jonze's flick, which is essentially completed now but not slated for release until 2009 (never a good sign, of course.) So what's the trouble?

Well, C.H.U.D. reports that the plan to animate the Wild Things' mouths and facial features after shooting the actors in those crazy suits was proving a little more difficult than anticipated. That, however, would be surmountable.

Much more ominously, concerns have been voiced about the boy chosen to play young Max (named, conveniently enough, Max Records.) Mind you, this concern is being voiced AFTER the movie has been shot. Even worse, and more perilous for the film's future, C.H.U.D. reports "they don't like the film's tone and want to go back to the script drawing board, possibly losing the Spike Jonze/Dave Eggers script when they do it. Apparently the film is too weird and 'too scary,' and the character of Max is being seen as not likable."

The questions this brings to my rather angry mind are almost too many to list, but I'll do my best. First of all, did anyone who finds this story "too weird" or "too scary" ever even read the book? I mean, I realize it's a Caldecott winner and one of the true classics in children's literature, but most of its appeal comes in the fact that it's more than a little off-kilter. And Max isn't likable? In the book, as best as I can recall, he's a petulant child who is punished for, among other things, donning his wolf costume and chasing the dog around the house with a fork (I don't know about you, but I'm laughing about that already.) This clearly isn't the cookie-cutter hero we find in most kids' movies today.

Secondly, and much more importantly, what in the world did they expect when they hired Spike Jonze for this? If they had seen either "Being John Malkovich" or "Adaptation," you'd think someone would have balked at the beginning and asked, "Do we really want to hand the reins of a purportedly $75 million children's movie over to this oddball?" Until hearing this latest distressing news I, at least, thought it was a great idea. Why not an "arthouse" kiddie flick, one that parents will be able to take their children to and sit through without wanting to claw their own eyes out?

Now, I haven't seen the almost-finished product (which a lucky few folks got to do in Pasadena late last year, apparently.) It's entirely possible that what Spike Jonze and scribe Dave Eggers have created, with the talents of Paul Dano, Catherine Keener, Forest Whitaker, James Gandolfini and others, is a true disaster. In case you can't tell by now, I'm gonna have to side with the auteurs until we find out more about this, if we ever will. Just a sad story all around.

To cheer myself up I've been listening to Carole King's "Really Rosie." Yes, an odd CD selection for an "adult" with no rugrats running around, but I really love that record. If you don't smile when you hear "The Ballad of Chicken Soup" or how Pierre learns to care, I just don't know if there's anything I can do to help you.

I was hoping to find a video clip from that "Really Rosie" TV special, but instead, here's an animated tribute to "Where the Wild Things Are" I found at YouTube. Enjoy that at least, and if you have the chance, do yourself a favor this weekend and go see Michel Gondry's "Be Kind Rewind" instead of the anatomy of a presidential assassination (why in the world would you put that out now?) or Larry the Cable Guy getting "Witless." Sheesh. Peace out.

7 comments:

Anonymous said...

They should just release the movie. I'll be bitterly disappointed if they get rid of it. I was quite looking forward to seeing this with my daughter and we are both sick of the brainless and/or sugar-coated movies foisted on us.

Bob said...

I know you said it already but it must be repeated. They're realizing NOW that a movie directed by Spike Jonze is STRANGE. When you hire Spike Jonze you've gotta know full well...it's gonna be different from the usual thing. As for the character being likable, whether you know the book or not who's likable in "Malkovich" or "Adapatation"? I'm not one who needs characters to be likable to be interesting, but what did they expect? True, the movie could be a train wreck but the last people who should be determining that are the money men. Besides, when Terry Gilliam made "Time Bandits" that turned out pretty dang good and it made money. Yes it was a long time ago but still there's precedent for an unlikely director to deliver a financially successful "kids" movie. I wish I could say I'm more surprised but I'm really not.

Reel Fanatic said...

Perhaps the leads need to be more likable in kids movies than in others, Bob, but I'm with you that I generally don't put likability very high on the list of reason whether or not I find a movie character interesting or not either ... And Time Bandits is certainly a perfect example of an off-beat "kids" movie that is just sensational!

Mercurie said...

I think the suits must be the only people who didn't read the book as kids. Let's face it, you're right. The charm of Where the Wild Things Are is that it is a bit off kilter. I think that's why it won the Caldecott Medal. Given that, I would think Spike Jonze, whose films tend to be a bit off-kilter, would be the perfect director. At any rate, I doubt the film is a complete disaster. More than likely it captures the book too well and as a result the suits think it isn't commercial enough.

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