We were always a family of readers, but during one stretch of my childhood -- before I was ten -- there were several books which stood out, what I've called The British Collection: Doctor Doolittle, a library book which was much more fun than its sequels, but no doubt considered politically incorrect today; Chitty-Chitty-Bang-Bang, a magical car with the license plate GEN II in the days before vanity plates existed in many/most states (and no, I've never seen the movie -- the book's illustrations were in black & white, I didn't want to see the movie in color); The Jungle Books, Volume 1, the story of Mowgli; The Jungle Books, Volume 2, which turned out not to be about Mowgli, but there was the wonderfully exciting Riki-Tiki-Tavi; and Charlie and the Chocolate Factory by Roald Dahl.
I didn't see the Gene Wilder movie of Willy Wonka, because if they had the title wrong, then what else would they do wrong? And I didn't want to be disappointed.
And if you've read my reports on trailers from other films this summer, you know I've had reservations about the Tim Burton directed/Johnny Depp starred version. But... at the end of my wife's official vacation time, we decided to go to the local IMAX theatre anyway and see the huge-screen version of Charlie and the Chocolate Factory and hope for the best.
The number of seats in the Celebration Cinema's IMAX theatre in Grand Rapids is limited, and so we've usually gone to the extra expense of getting tickets online. I noticed that it's now called Celebration Cinema Grand Rapids North in the pulldown menu -- see notes near the bottom about the South theatre...
THE BIG ONE: This movie is perfectly suited for the enormous detail visible in the IMAX format. Why would you want to see it any other way? (Okay, okay, so it's expensive and there aren't that many IMAX theatres around... but if you can, do see it in IMAX.)
THE REST OF THE LOT: It's good to be concerned about the quality and adherence to the details we remembered from our childhoods. At least it looked like many of those making this film worried about such things, too. However, this is Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, so we need to make this story about Charlie Bucket and his extended family. After an opening credits which featured chocolate bar manufacturing and packaging and distribution scene reminiscent of the Christmas packages in last year's The Polar Express, we get down to the serious business of Charlie versus the Golden Tickets.
The sets and major story items from the book all seemed to me to survive intact. We even get the miserable, unappetizing green caterpillars. There was minor updating of the other Golden Ticket winners -- Mike Teevee plays video games, something we can hardly fault Roald Dahl for not including in 1954, and Violet the gumchewer competes in martial arts, isn't that new?
This film features some of the most flawless compositing I've ever seen. Squirrels, Oompah-Loompahs, lavish sets and quite a number of very plastic looking complexions on some of the very plastic characters (grin).
The chocolate river and edible grasses, oodles of dialogue which sounded straight from the book, the gluttony of Augustus Gloop, the evilness of the other three: Veronica, Violet and Mike. And the parents -- oh how horrible. Not a good nut amongst them, I'm afraid.
Please Note: Comments Are Going To Be More Specific From Here On...
It has been probably thirty-five years since I've read the book, yet Danny Elfman has put catchy music to the lyrics penned by Roald Dahl -- and I still remember an appalling number of the rhymes and lyrics... (grin) It's all there, I tell you.
And perhaps (*twinkle*) the current generation of jaded computer-game children will be enchanted by the lavish Busby Berkeley-esque musical numbers to begin to appreciate the great musicals of earlier generations.
But I am still impressed with the opening family scenes, Helena Bonham Carter as the mother trying to hold everyone together with thinned cabbage soup, and the four grandparents all in the same bed... their evening meal gathered around the bed was lovely and caring, even as they all were so desperately poor.
They kept the disappointment with the first two Wonka candy bars, the one that Charlie got for his birthday and the one bought with Grandpa Joe's stashed silver dollar -- though we never get the part about nibbling on the bar just one bit at a time to make it last for weeks. Yet even that little disappointment was ameliorated with Charlie's generous sharing of his chocolate bars.
So I was frustrated with the scene where Charlie finds the money. It's a five-dollar bill in the book, not a ten, wasn't it? And to Charlie's mind "it meant one thing: food" so he rushed in and asked for one "Whipped Marshmallow Surprise" or whatever -- and stuffed his face. He had four dollars in change and wolfed down another one, I'm pretty sure. It was the third one, where he would still have two-dollars in change to take back to his desperately poor family, that when he started to peel off the wrapper it shone gold. But that's not how they did the movie. They made it a ten, they had him expose the whole Golden Ticket in the store on the first candy bar, and he never got to eat any of it just then -- I'm not even sure he had the chocolate or the nine dollars in change at the end.
And there's no mention of the number of years since Grandpa Joe left the bed, and his "Yippee!" isn't long and building and drawn-out... but he does dance a jig!
Okay, so they had to rush it a bit to make the movie. I just really know the book version so well, I was disappointed with the change, even if we satisfy the Rule of Threes with the three candy bars and meet the trimming necessary to make a movie.
... plays all the Oompah-Loompahs, including the secretary Doris, and his facial expressions and antics are as much a delight as the incredible array of costumes they've put him in. Updated, yes, but in a wholly satisfying way. Between the Oompah-Loompahs and Gollum in Lord of the Rings, I think the Motion Picture Academy is going to have to rethink exactly what a supporting character is, and where CGA, motion capture and multiple composites fit in the Oscars.
They Had To Go Add Some Backstory, Didn't They?
I am currently reading -- or browsing through -- Bruce Campbell's silly romp Make Love The Bruce Campbell Way, where he discusses the actor's attempt to fill out a minor character by trying to invent things missing from a script, such as a last name, a history, parents, motivations, etc. Willy Wonka is something of an enigma -- does he actually like children? Or is he some sort of crazy recluse?
Well, they pulled that crap in Charlie on Willy Wonka. I'm sure I don't recall a bloody thing about Willy Wonka's childhood or his father in the book.
Except... er... well... they really mainly managed to pull this one off.
Johnny Depp's Wonka is strange, but then he's strange in the book, too. And taking Young Willy, and putting his face in a horrendously complicated metal cage for orthodonture work -- and making his father a "cruel" dentist who is opposed to sweets... Well as soon as we discover that Wilbur Wonka is Christopher Lee, gee whiz, who else could it be? Lee has been in everything lately -- Star Wars, Lord of the Rings, Charlie and the Chocolate Factory -- the man is an evil institution!
And the best Brothers Grimm/Tim Burton moment in the film is after Young Willy storms out of the house, while his father declares "Don't expect me to still be here when you return!" and when he gets back... the three-story brick row house segment where he lived is just gone. And it later shows up isolated, by itself, with some of the adjoining brickwork sticking out in the air attached to nothing next door... like some add-on to the weird set of that Robin William's movie Toys.
Up And Out!
I knew from the trailers that we had the glass elevator with the zillions of buttons. And I knew we had the button marked "Up And Out", but there it gets a little bit murky. You see, in the book the grandparents remaining in the bed are shoved into the elevator and taken back to the factory.
Tim Burton makes Johnny Depp's Willy Wonka more creepy. (We get a taste with the bizarre opening to the Golden Ticket tour, with the "Willy Wonka" song and the torched animatronics...) He wants to take Charlie away from his family and mold him in his own image. I think this is where the critics get the whole Michael Jackson creep-out business.
But... once again they manage to salvage this. Charlie says no and Wonka goes off in a huff -- and comes back after he's thought about it some more. It's the epiphany of Ebenezer Scrooge and Bob Cratchit's family at Christmas. And it works in its own way.
But I still have the book in my head... they can't take that away from me... (grin)
Posters In The Lobby
A boy standing facing away... a dark cape, with the name POTTER and the number 4 on the back. Enough said for Harry Potter 4, coming in November... and to IMAX as well.
It's an IMAX theatre, so they're going to show IMAX trailers. First up is a re-run for the holidays -- Christmas that is. The Polar Express in 3-D IMAX. And in another Tom Hanks move, he's done a "Walk on the Moon" 3-D IMAX film, which is coming soon. Great -- finally the conspiracy nuts will be able to show "proof" that NASA faked the Moon landings. (sigh) Then we had a trailer for Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire, Harry Potter 4 in IMAX. Yea! The trailer opens with dissolves between the faces of our three main wizardlings, Harry, Ron and Hermione, as they grow up from films 1 through 4. The IMAX version of Harry Potter 3 held up very well to the large screen, and I've no doubt the new one will do well, too, both in the large format and the vision/scripting -- though on the latter front they are having to cut things down so we don't have to have Harry Potter 4 Parts I and II (grin). Harry Potter 4 is no Henry IV. (double-grin)
Dining in "Chicago"
The first of two Uno Chicago Grills in the Grand Rapids area has just opened in the last ten days -- this one on Kalamazoo Avenue just north of the M-6 South Beltline expressway. This area is the New Growth area for the region, with all the shopping and services which exist at all the other Previous Growth areas, except these are new. Uno is located right next door to the still under construction Celebration Grand Rapids South movie multiplex, so they'll do huge business. We actually were back on the street from our movie by 3:45pm, and so had an early supper a little after four -- and from the way it was building up on an early Friday evening, a good thing, too.
Uno is credited with inventing the Deep Dish Chicago pizza in 1943 -- not the same as the Deep Dish Stuffed Chicago pizza of Edwardo's fame, but until Giordana's or Edwardo's comes to Grand Rapids, this will do. Back in my college days, Chicago was resplendent in Lettuce Entertain You restaurants -- Fritz That's It, Bones, The Pump Room -- I can't recall all the names. But at many of them you could get this lovely killer French onion soup. Uno had some French onion soup, so I had to order some while we waited for our small Numero Uno and Spinoccoli deep dish pizzas. Too much salt, but otherwise lots of tasty onions and not too much cheese.
An Evening Of More Movies
By the time we got home, it wasn't too late, and even with a nap, we were looking at a very boring night of television. We could've turned it off and done our reading and writing, but I felt it was time for a romantic comedy. We ended up with Four Weddings and a Funeral on DVD, which is so charming. Other than the first characters in the opening scene have nothing to say except f**k! as they are very late for like the first eight lines of dialogue... (grin) Funny, naughty, and poignant -- yes, it really needs the funeral to make the weddings work. It was still early when that was over, and since 4WF ends with the song "Love is in the Air", we figured we had to go on to the same team's more quirky and poignant Love Actually. That not all the relationships quite work out straight in the end, makes this movie. Besides, how can you not love a movie where a bereft Liam Neeson, trying to console his lovestruck stepson, declares "We need Kate and we need Leo and we need them now!" Kate Winslet in Titanic... Mmmmm...