Friday, October 16, 2009

REVIEW: Where The Wild Things Are...


I'm a 20 year old college student.

I just thought you all should know, because during my midnight screening of Where The Wild Things Are, I spent much of it sitting in my seat, giddy as hell, thinking as though I'm an 8 year old kid. And I must say, I haven't had a better experience in the theatre this entire year.

Based on the classic Maurice Sendak novel, Where The Wild Things Are is a new take on the legendary child's tale. Wild Things follow the adventure of Max (the amazing Max Records), who, after a fight with his mother (Catherine Keener), runs away. Max's imagination is free to roam, and it soon transports him to a thriving forest bordering a vast sea. Delighted, he sets sail for the land of the Wild Things, where mischief reigns and Max rules. In bringing this imaginative fantasy to life, Spike Jonze leads a team of filmmakers incorporating the most dynamic elements of voice performance, live-action puppetry and computer animation.

When talking about WTWTA, one must start and end the conversation with the man behind the camera, Spike Jonze. This film is not only a brilliant piece of cinema, but it's also one of the most visually arresting films I have had the chance of seeing all year. The computer animated faces on the Wild Things not only perfectly work for the mix of puppetry and CG, but when there is a need for them to deeply emote, it is so moving and well done that it not only worked, but I must say, it got a little dusty in my theatre.

Also, the film as a whole is stunning. The film follows a little child's dream/imagination, and with that, the film is beyond imaginative. There is so much heart and truth behind the film making, that it's just a joy to watch. Jonze is not only able to get plot and emotion moved through dialogue, but the pauses in dialogue are often times the most poignant, particularly the emotional ending.

The world of the Wild Things is also completely sold. Max meets a group of creatures called The Wild Things, and is appointed their king. They build giant fortresses, and have dirt clod fights, all while making a stunning allegory for Max's current state of affairs back home. With voice acting from James Gandolfini and Forrest Whitaker, all of the characters are fully fleshed out, and while there are a few glitches either in the CG or the actual film itself, there was never a moment that I felt that these were not true beings. That may be the true genius of the film. It weaves a tale and a set of visuals so striking in its realism, that one can't help but be totally immersed in this magical world.

As gorgeous as the film truly is, the true star of this film is Max Records, who plays the nine-year old Max. Jonze's Max, which is the lead of this film that was co-written by Dave Eggars, is completely unprecocious. He's smart, brave, and insanely imaginative, and yet also like most nine-year olds, he is adorable, amusing, rambling, and often times nervous. I have a hard time truly finding in cinema, at least this year, a character, let alone a child, who is more real. Therefore, due to this reality of the character, you feel every emotion the kid does. When he cries out after fighting with his mother, you feel that pain. When he goes off with KW, you feel his happiness. The emotional depth that this film mines is rarely seen in cinema as a whole, let alone a children's film.

However, the film isn't only an up beat child's tale about how all of us have a deep urge to just stomp around, throw a tantrum, or run away from life, but it's also a deeply sad film, a film utterly drenched in melancholy. While there are many moments of joy; a dirt clod fight ending in a truly heartwarming dog pile, the construction of a fortress, there really isn't much in the way of happiness here. It's not a truly sad film, but one that is just a melancholy tale of a child whose imagination runs wild, and just wants to find somewhere in the world, and has a hard time finding it. Picked on by his sister and her friends, ignored to an extent by his mother, and without a father, Max just wants to find somewhere to fit in, and this is his adventure in a new land. While I think kids can get really behind this, as I think modern kids are more mature than one would like to say, especially when it comes to cinema, and it's one that I think kids should see. It's a very mature film, with mature themes, and is a great take on an idea and concept that is deep within each and every one of us.

Also, the music in this film is beyond words. Karen O and Carter Burwell (primarily Karen O and The Kids) is just as imaginative as the film. It's kinetic, static, and just as rambunctious as our hero, and truly adds a Wild Thing size weight to all of the emotional moments the film trys to mine. It's soft, moving, and just a pitch perfect score for a pitch perfect film. Many find this film to be mopey and poorly plotted, withdrawn and cold, but it's not that. Not that at all. It's emotionally moving, kinetic, and full of imagination.

That said, the film has a few flaws. The main flaw that I had with this joyous piece of cinema is that I wish it had been longer. That may be cliche, as I unabashedly loved this film, but there is good reason to add to this film, as the time spent with Max and his mother isn't truly fleshed out. The scenes between Max and his family are so beautiful and poetic, that I wish this would have been a 90 hour epic. It didn't take anything away from the film, but it did leave me wanting more, which I guess is a positive more than a negative.

I'm not only in love with this film, but truly glad we have a chance to see it. As many of you know, Warner Brothers wanted to completely re shoot the whole entirety of the film, as the studio felt as though it might have been a scotch too dark. However, in their better judgement, they left the film in Jonze's hands, and we are a better world for having the chance to travel into the world of the Wild Things.

All in all, this is a film that makes me wish I had a kid, so that I can show them this truly fantastic and beyond moving piece of magic. It's a radical and unusual children's movie, but I think children deserve to see this. It's a melancholy take on the brilliant book, and it's one that adults should see too. I was wholly unaware of the emotional weight that I would be bombarded with, and for a film to have me full of joy, and then shedding tears, all in a stunning visual package, I must give this the highest honor I can. One of, if not the best film I have seen all year.

WHERE THE WILD THINGS ARE - 9.5/10

Go see something good!

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