The Netflix Report

Movie reviews from my Netflix queue. Highly personal and opinionated!

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Monday, April 17, 2006

Charlie And The Chocolate Factory

This is a tough one to review. There are a few different movies going on inside the running time. I was a big fan of the book as a child, but I don't remember it completely accurately at this point. I also liked the 1971 Gene Wilder version when I was a kid, but it feels very clunky and tired when I see it on TV these days. Tim Burton has said he didn't set out to do a remake of the earlier film, but to do a more faithful interpretation of the book. Yet he has invented a completely new, made up backstory for Willy Wonka that seriously detracts from the wonder and fantasy.

Things that worked for me:

1) The Dickensian industrial town outside the walls of Wonka's factory is vintage Burton dark Gotham city creation. It looks great. Little Charlie's house in the middle of the most rundown area is classic Burton as well. All angles and holes, the entire structure looks like it could fall over and collapse at any second.

2) Charlie's family and their lives have the only real "heart" displayed in the movie. That story line is sweet and well played. It doesn't get all treacly and has some very nice acting. There is a charming little family drama here that may surprise you.

3) Another familiar but excellent Danny Elfman score. He and Burton probably communicate telepathically these days. In an interesting side note, the lyrics to the Oompa Loompa songs were taken from the book, but each song is given a different musical style. And Danny Elfman performs the vocals for each, overdubbing to become a chorus of Oompa Loompas.

4) I loved the first full shot of Johnny Depp as Willy Wonka. A great visual gag reference to Edward Scissorhands (the first collaboration between Depp and Burton)

Things that didn't work for me:

1) The Willy Wonka character is shown too early. He doesn't have the sense of mystery for the big reveal on factory visit day. My favorite scene in the 1971 version was Gene Wilder walking down the path as a lame, weak man to the shock and disappointment of the audience. Only to fool them and delight in the fun of the joke.

2) Everybody has their own opinions of Depp's weird takes on lead characters. I didn't like his choice here. There is no emotional hook to link to as a viewer. I never felt connected to him, even with the elaborate flashbacks to explain his development and psychological makeup.

3) Deep Roy as the Oompa Loompas. If you follow any of the publicity machine at all, you will have read that they used a single actor digitally reproduced to play all the Oompa Loompas. I felt that this pulled me out of the fantasy by reminding me that I was watching fancy modern filmmaking. It's like a camera shot that calls attention to itself instead of to the action it is supposed to capture. And why they chose that actor is bewildering to me. The book takes some pains to set up the Oompa Loompas as a gentle, tiny race that lived in fear in the forest. This backstory is visited in the movie. And the book and movie tell us that they moved the entire race to Wonka's factory partly to accept the benevolent protection of the kindly man. But Deep Roy looks like a Mafia hit man, straight out of The Sopranos. Whenever the Oompa Loompas took a kid off, I wanted to scream "No! Don't go! He's gonna whack you!" This guy doesn't need protection... He sells it!

4) The winnowing of the bratty winning children felt like an afterthought to be gotten through, instead of a central ongoing plot line. The kids were there, then they disappeared. In no time, Charlie was alone and the winner. There was no sense of victory or accomplishment. And although the 1971 movie added a complication to build tension, it was nice in that movie to see some tangible evidence of Charlie's moral superiority to the others as a justification for him winning. In this movie, Depp turns, sees Charlie still standing, and almost shrugs his acceptance of the fact that this nameless, character-less kid is the winner by attrition.

Things that I'm conflicted about:

1) The visual splendor of the factory rooms is at times stunningly conceived and executed and at other times glaringly fake and hokey. The boat ride did not work at all. It felt like bad stop motion work combined with clumsy miniatures filmed in a bathtub.

In the end, I had to say that I did not like the film. But for our family readers, it is of course completely safe for children.

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