Friday, August 05, 2005

Not very much of a review of Charlie and the Chocolate Factory

It seems like you either really love or really hate Johnny Depp's performance in Charlie and the Chocolate Factory. Roger Ebert wrote that Depp reminded him of Michael Jackson, and honestly, I would have never made that connection without it being introduced by Ebert first. And frankly, though I can understand why some would, I just don't think of Michael Jackson at all when I see Depp's performance (and I've seen the film twice).

Depp aside (since, as I've said, you either love or hate him in this movie), I think Burton's remake is fantastic and an improvement in nearly every way from the original film, with the exception of the Willy Wonka character. Overall I like what Burton and Depp have done (especially in creating the backstory and father/family issues for Willy), but Gene Wilder is still incredible in the earlier film, and it will be his performance alone which will compel me to watch the original.

Now, in general I come down on the side of "why remake a good movie?!" and I think Hollywood should spend more time trying to remake bad movies -- movies that often had good premises but were botched in the execution -- than in trying to recapture the "magic" of a great film (look no further than the remake of Psycho). But I've never felt Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory was a great movie, so I've never had a problem with the idea of a remake. I liked the old movie well enough, and it was great to laugh at the parody/tribute shows that Futurama and Family Guy did a while ago, and occasionally I would do my Veruca Salt impression ("Daddy, I want an Oompa-Loompa"), but Willy Wonka was never a sacred cow for me (unlike Cheaper By the Dozen, one of my all-time favorites, whose remake I have yet to see, on principal).

Talking with my sister-in-law, she liked the new film well enough, but she still much prefers the Wilder version. She didn't care for the new Veruca Salt, thought the new songs were okay (but nothing to the "Oompa-loompa, doopity doo" ditty), and thought Johnny Depp was "really weird" (and not in a good way). For her, the old film was just better, though I suspect it's not a case of the older film actually being better but of having been there first. For my part, I understand this tendency. It's the "movies/t.v./comics/music/life was better back then" tendency that seems to afflict us all, especially as we get older and try to impart our tastes onto a younger generation.

The funny thing is, though, that some eras really were/are better than others when it comes to cultural stuff, and it's not always the stuff from the past that's better. Jon Hastings has a couple of good posts dealing with the fallacy that films today are rubbish compared with past decades, and for myself, I would argue that one-hour television dramas have never been better than they are now, thanks in large part to The Sopranos and old-school ER (my theory being that the Golden Age of the Situation Comedy was the late 50s/early 60s, while the Golden Age of Drama is right now). And the quality/variety of animated shows available today on basic cable is unprecedented. I wouldn't want to go back to the days of G.I. Joe and Transformers and Jem for the world, though I, like all good Gen-Xers, hold a special place in my heart for them. It's a good time for animation lovers, and also for those of us who enjoy spectacle at the movies. Technology has made it possible to see things we could have never seen thirty, forty, fifty years ago (though bless you Ray Harryhausen for trying).

Which brings me back to Charlie and the Chocolate Factory. I think all of the children are improved in Burton's film (yes, even Veruca), I think the Willy Wonka father/family issues help set the film apart (in a good way) from its 70s counterpart (how does the original even end, anyway? what was it suppossed to be about, thematically? honestly, I can't even remember), and I love Freddie Highmore as Charlie. But what I love most about the film is the spectacle. Story, characters, themes -- those things are okay. But for me, one of cinema's greatest qualities is its ability to create spectacle -- a combination of images and sound, color and movement, that dazzles the audience and immerses them in something they've never experienced before. Burton's film does this (heck, this is the one thing Burton always does well) and for two hours I'd rather see his swooping, weirdly delicious world than the horribly outdated, everything-seems-to-be-dipped-in-orangeness that spills over the edges of the Wilder film like all relics from the hippy-dippy 1970s era.


At 11:47 AM, Blogger Jon Hastings said...

In general, I think the best remakes are those that do what you suggest--take a poorly executed premise and make it work better--or those that borrow one or two things from the original and go from there (like the recent Italian Job or the Sam Jackson Shaft).

The case of Charlie, though, is a little weird. I think there's a difference between a remake--that is a movie based on an earlier film--and a second (or third or fourth) adaptation of a novel. I don't consider Spielberg's War of the Worlds to be a remake of the Pal movie, but rather, they are both adaptations of H.G. Wells's novel. Based on what I read of Burton's movie before it came out, I thought Burton was really going to try to ignore the Mel Stuart/Wilder movie, but what he an John August ended up with seems much more like a remake than their own unique version of the novel. (Of course, this might be because the original's screenplay was written by Dahl.)

At 11:56 AM, Blogger The Derelict said...

You're right, of course, to bring up the fact that Burton's movie is not just a "remake" but actually another filmic adaptation of the book. I think this means that the Burton film can't help but share a lot of things with the earlier movie, because both movies are adapting the same source material (and both movies had involvement from the Dahl family). I'm not sure how you can create your own "unique version of the novel" without using the characters and plot elements from the novel, i.e. Veruca Salt is a spoiled brat and she will be dealt a punishment by Willy and his factory (though the new film actually has Veruca suffer a *sorta* different fate from what she suffered in the previous film).

What Burton is doing is bringing a new tone and visual flare to the source material (and making slight changes/additions that give the movie a more "complete" feel than the Mel Stuart version). Was this remake necessary? Did the world really need another "Charlie and the Chocolate Factory" story on the big screen? Probably not. If I had control of the movie-making money and resources, and we were limited to making only a handful of movies for the year, this remake would NOT have been made. But having seen it, I'm surprised to find that I'm actually glad that it did get made.


Post a Comment

<< Home