Friday, January 22, 2010

Where The Wild Things Are - 3/5

"Now you are king and you will be a truly great king." --Carol.

On my lazy Saturday afternoon, my wife and I decided that considering the rave reviews of this film, we would catch a matinee of "Where The Wild Things Are". We read that the film was heartwarming, dark, funny, intensely symbolic and refreshingly visual, so I got somewhat excited to finally catch one of my favorite childhood stories in film form. What I got wasn't anything that I expected from the film (even with reading a ton of reviews) and I found myself disappointed with the film overall.

The first half of the film is wonderful. We get some interesting back story about Max and how his world and family are seemingly coming apart as his sister reaches that age where hanging with little bro is condemning and his mother is trying to move on from a failed marriage. It's a scary time for a young man and its no wonder that he would find comfort (and friends) in a land of mysterious monsters whom share his same problems. Visually, this film is pretty stunning, and bringing the monsters to life from the book was an awesome feat. It was odd seeing these things almost exactly as I saw them in the story but talking and being emotive. Acting wise we also get some great moments even from the monsters. We come to care and love the creatures as much as Max does just through some solid special effects and amazing voice work.

My problems with the film tend to boil to the surface around the halfway point of the film. Story wise, it builds up this expectation and artsy quality that what we are going to get in the film is this odd and adult sense of philosophy and sophisticated symbolism that ends up not being quite either. It leads down this path of subtle symbolism that turns out to be very simplistic and somewhat surface value. The simplicity does have its charm in this film, but I wanted it to be deeper. I wanted this film to effect me as an adult as the book did when I was a kid. I wanted lessons to be learned and a world to be torn apart only to be rebuilt. All I got though, was a simple message. I'm sorry, but if you wanted a child's message in this film then perhaps you should have made a straightforward kid's film - because I got the feeling that this wasn't a kids film. Only to have that thought verified by the looks of about 50 very bored kids in the audience. They didn't care by the end and ironically, I didn't either.

Which leads me to my second big issue with the film. After a nice build in the first half of the film and some wonderful acting and visual work, the second half of the film tends to drop off drastically. We get some nice tension between characters and an odd climactic scene during the dirt clod fight that felt a little wayward. So by the time, Max decides it is time to return home, I felt as though far too much was started but left unfinished. We have some random references to power struggles, equality issues, and even gender differences that are referenced in a single line or scene and never again. We have some of the major characters that are left hanging with no resolution (Carol doesn't seem to actually learn or fix anything by the end, except he misses Max) and we are left wondering if our lesson in life is that 'things don't change, live with it' instead of working towards expressing our concerns and making amends. This film just ends with assumptions that are neither supported or denied. And that just frustrated me.

Visually the film is fantastic (although by the end I was even a bit worn on rocks, trees, and desert), the score was awesome, and the acting was solid. Even the humor was almost always nailed. But these are all aesthetics in the end, and where this film should have succeeded (in storytelling, symbolism, and character development) it felt as two dimensionally as the kid's book it was based on. To me, "Where The Wild Things Are" held massive potential to change and make a dynamic film, but failed in the most important areas. Which to me, is a major disappointment.

Written By Matt Reifschneider

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