Thursdays are the day off for the film. Not that we’re exactly off. Lillian and I just went to an Albertson’s to pick up some dry ice for the fog machine we’re using at tomorrow’s shoot. Now Lillian is on the phone with the post-house and the fog-machine rental place. Ah, the headaches of producers.
All this is irrelevant, of course, to the new Charlie and the Chocolate Factory except that it’s amazing that, amid the tumult of movie-making, Joel, Christine, Lillian, Joel’s parents and I all took a little break at the local multiplex to see it. The general reaction was positive, with Joel’s parents by far the most pleased.
Certainly Burton and Depp have been up front that they wanted to go 180 degrees away from Gene Wilder’s famous performance in the 1971 Willy Wonka & the Chocolate Factory, a film that, despite its faults and name, managed to convey more of the wonder experienced by Charlie Bucket. Neither film, it seems, could stay faithful to Roald Dahl’s cherished classic.
This Charlie and the Chocolate Factory is constantly interrupted for flashbacks to a newly-invented backstory that makes Wonka the son of a brooding dentist. In keeping with the film’s reflexive post-modern humor, Depp even acknowledges that he’s “having flashbacks”. While some of that humor, not in the original book, worked very well — the hall of flags joke, the 2001: A Space Odyssey homage — the old addage about calling attention to your faults does not excuse them still applies. If the movie is supposed to be about Charlie, then Wonka’s own dramatic arc should not take up more screen time. If I learned one thing about screenwriting at NYU, it’s that.
Joel said the ending turned into Big Fish, which is funny, because John August also wrote that screenplay and Tim Burton also directed that movie. Freud and his daddy issues live on. Meanwhile, Danny Elfman’s score holds its own against the memorable 1971 movie’s. He, at least, is able to evoke the previous film without making you wish you were watching it instead.
If all of this sounds like I don’t like the movie, it shouldn’t. I’m rough on Burton, August and Depp because I love them. The movie is well worth seeing, if only for the scene where Veruca Salt meets her demise at the hands of some discriminating squirrels. Maybe it’s just childhood nostalgia but, forced to choose between the two film versions, I would take 1971’s. If you throw the book into the mix, I’d choose that over both of them.