Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Where the Wild Things Are, A Review

Where The Wild Things Are Like most folks under the age of 40, I read Where the Wild Things Are when I was in elementary school. The book, written by Maurice Sendak, was a particular favorite, alongside classics like Green Eggs & Ham (by Dr. Seuss), Love You Forever (by Robert Munsch), and Alexander and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day (by Judith Viorst). Yes, I remember really liking Where the Wild Things Are, especially from the fascinating art and vivid imagination of the protagonist, Max.

When I first heard about the movie adaptation last year, I was hesitantly excited. I wasn’t sure how there could be a movie made from a short, ten sentence picture book, but I still decided that I would see it.

Where the Wild Things Are, directed by Spike Jonze, stars Max Records as Max from the book. (I know, it’s kind of ironic, but it’s the truth according to Wikipedia.) The movie is quite similar to book in several ways, but there are many creative avenues pursued by Jonze as well. The film runs for just over an hour and a half.

The acting from the movie was solid and well done, and the emotions on Max’s young face were perfectly captured for his scenes. His anger was vivid, his sadness was evident, and his joy was impossible not to notice. In fact, this role was only Record’s second filmed acting role, and his performance was noteworthy. In addition to the fine acting by Records, the voice acting of the Wild Things was top notch. Many well known actors fill these roles, and all do a great job with giving unique character to their Monster.Where The Wild Things Are Poster

To me, the best thing about this movie was the surreal art of the Wild Things. Their island is vast, but somehow small, too. There are expansive deserts, a creepy forest, rocks and bluffs, and a magnificent oceanscape, all complete on the one island. Each monster is beautifully crafted and marvelously detailed, from their odd assortment of feet to their individual heads. And the giant fort-house that was built was breathtaking.

Another thing I really enjoyed about this film was the accompanying soundtrack. Some songs were guttural and wild, filled with arcane whoops and screams that instilled a sense of craziness. Other tracks were somber and bleak, and these fit their individual scenes perfectly.

It may come as a surprise, then, when I say that I did not enjoy the movie. While the acting was fantastic and the art was beautiful, the film was too weighty, too serious, for me to say that I enjoyed it. Max is a very mean, lonely kid, and he spends all of his time in his own imaginary world. He is not disciplined at home, and at one point he even bites his mom. But this was not why the film was heavy. No, the heaviness sets in when Max runs away from the “Real World” and goes into his imagination.

It’s easy, yet complicated, to see the metaphors and symbolism each of the monsters embodies. They are all depressed and sad and they are hoping for a King to make them feel happy. Max becomes that king, but he fails, and everybody stays pretty much the same: depressed and sad. The heaviness of life sets in on the island, and it’s a little frightening. Eventually Max realizes he wants to go home and he leaves the island to its own problems.

The conclusion of the film is a powerhouse of emotions, and I spied my eight-year-old brother-in-law wiping tears from his eyes. Indeed, the heartstrings were tugged a bit, but I didn’t turn to tears, only disgust and confusion. After I left the movie, my remarks were that it was not what I was expecting. No, it was too heavy of a film, and because of that I did not enjoy it. However, I’m not really sure if you’re supposed to enjoy it. Sure, the imagination was a fun trip, but it was too rooted in the sadness of life and love to last.

Overall, it’s a bit unfair for me to not like the film. Really I was upset that there were all these valid life problems presented and no real resolution, which is how life truly is. But, we Americans like our cinema to end with resolution, and I felt that there were too many loose ends in this movie. So, in the end, I can recommend watching the film, if only to revel a bit in childhood fantasy, but I can’t promise you that you’ll glean much from it other than life is heavy and hard, and sometimes even our imagination is not an escape.

More of Writing Wednesdays and The American Dreamer tomorrow. You can find my review of Terry Brooks' The Dark Wraith of Shannara on my Goodreads page, and I think clicking here may take you to it. And if you don't use Goodreads, then you really, really should.


David Wagner said...

Nice review. I don't think I've ever read the children's book. I'm still intrigued enough to perhaps watch the film when it comes out on DVD...

Man, something else to investigate! Goodreads? Never heard of it! Well, that's one reason I read your blog! To stay up to date on what all the really legitimately cool nerds are up to... I long to belong...

Thanks for the post...

logankstewart said...

Wow, David, you are under that 40 year old mark, too, though you must not fit the "most" folk bit. Too bad, really. I enjoyed the book a lot as a young lad.

You don't know of Goodreads?! You should definitely check it out. It's basically like an online bookshelf, but there are many tools and things available there that are helpful, plus it's a good place to get ideas about what to read next. Mind you, once you first set up your account and start to list books you'll be consumed by how awesome it is. It's definitely for those that love books. If you decide to use it, hit me up with a friend thing. Shellie and Okie are both on there, too... Maybe I should just put a plug for Goodreads in my post on Thursday.

Krista said...

I remember this book as a little one too, and I have wanted so badly to watch this movie! And now, for some unknown reason, I want to see it even more...maybe just to see your points or just to see if I might like it...Crazy, I know, lol! Sorry you were disappointed :(

Oh, and I added you as a friend on good reads... LOVE the star wars photo of you, it was so funny :DDD
P.s. You know, your review reminds me of one I read today and this will shock you......

I read a book review today and they did "NOT" like The Name of the Wind...can you believe it?! She said it was rather boring, but she gave it a higher rating only because how fantastic the writing was. She said she really wanted to like it to, and had heard so many good things about it, but was disappointed when she read it. You know what, I was disappointed for her, it kind of made me sad because of how much I enjoyed it...I've read it three times now. :)

Anyway, I guess us Rothfuss fans must Ban together! ;) I made sure to comment and say how much I enjoyed it, though....


logankstewart said...

Thanks, and I hope you enjoy Goodreads. I know I've wasted plenty of time there, especially under the "Trivia" section and organizing my bookshelves.

I've read one less than stellar review of The Name of the Wind, but it was really only because the book alone wouldn't stand the standard plot-problem-resolution novel.

Where did you read the bad review?

Mattson Tomlin said...

Interesting. I enjoyed it, but with heavy reservations. It's not something I will go to the theaters again to see, and not something I will rush out to buy.

I suppose my biggest issues with it were- to begin with, the Mother did not really do anything worth Max getting upset about. He comes off as being a brat, and pretty unlikeable for his behavior. If she was really putting him off, or particularly nasty to him, that would be one thing, but she did nothing that raised flags with me. When he returns to her at the end, and she gives him a smile, all I see in that smile is "oh god, I have to keep dealing with you."

my second problem was that the first hour and fifteen minutes is just a variety of short films. Each scene runs as a great little scene you could see on youtube. Wildthings playing in the woods. Wildthings throwing things. wildthings building things. just one vignette after another with absolutely no progression. Until Carrol gets angry at Max and starts to chase him. Then (though dark) the actual substance and plot of the movie kicked in. I suppose it's not a wonder considering the book is less than 400 words, but I found it tiresome to not have much in the way of real story, where the world they were in gave way for so much more to be proven.

Krista said...

Hey Logan!

Here is the link to The Name Of The Wind review....

Have a great day! Looking forward to your story today :)

logankstewart said...

@Mattson: Perfectly worded and well said. Indeed, Max came across as a total brat and his mother seemed like the victim of his ire. Yeah, I think her smile probably conveyed what you said, something like "I love you, you're my son, but you're also a total jerk that needs discipline and boundaries and I'm not looking forward to dealing with those."

@Krista: Thank you. I'll read it today and probably comment as well. You said it, Pat fans have to stick together.