Archive for Roald Dahl

Film Review: Charlie and the Chocolate Factory (2005)

Posted in Film Reviews with tags , , , , on March 4, 2012 by innothingwetrust


Let’s make something clear from the start: it is virtually impossible to review this film without comparing it to Gene Wilder’s 1971 classic, ‘Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory’. It is very hard not to think of Tim Burton’s attempt as a ‘remake’, so indelible is the image imprinted upon the minds of anyone who has seen the original prior to this one. Of course, it isn’t a remake at all – it is simply another adaptation of the book. However, when you take stab at something which has already been done brilliantly and is universally adored, you are asking to be held up to it. The question is why make this film at all?

Firstly, as Tim Burton fans will love to tell you, this version is much more true to Roald Dahl’s beloved book than the first film was. It has the squirrels instead of the golden geese, the Oompa Loompas are just very small people and not Andy Warhol gnomes, the words to their songs are taken from the novel and not invented and we see the fudge mountain, among other things. And secondly, as non-Tim Burton fans will love to tell you, it is yet another opportunity for him to cast Jonny Depp and Helena Bonham Carter (Burton has now directed 17 feature films – Depp and/ or Bonham Carter have been in 10 of them), in a film which he can cake in his signature brand of self-indulgent kooky darkness. Now don’t get me wrong, I don’t necessarily hate Tim Burton films – The Nightmare Before Christmas, Edward Scissorhands, Sleepy Hollow and the fantastic Mars Attacks! were all thoroughly enjoyable. Even Big Fish has it’s nice moments and Sweeny Todd it’s slapstick gore (plus Sacha Baron Cohen). I have grown, however, to necessarily hate Tim Burton.

I’m sure I’m not the only one now bored to death (perhaps quite fittingly) by the predictability of his work. Having a style is great – one could not mistake the sugary feel of a Spielberg picture in his pomp, an unmistakability aided in part by his frequent collaboration with distinctive and magical John Williams scores. However, Tim Burton has fallen into the same trap as Quentin Tarantino insofar as his ‘style’ has now totally overtaken the substance of his films and the quality of his direction, and that is certainly the case with Charlie and the Chocolate Factory.

This film has many faults: firstly, the Oompa Loompa songs are terrible. Totally unmemorable stock pop backing tracks pulled from a Casio keyboard with utterly incomprehensible lyrics sung over the top (which is strange as the vocals were provided by the excellent voice of Musical Director Danny Elfman himself, who performed Jack Skellington’s singing voice in The Nightmare Before Christmas). Again, it’s impossible not to make the comparison with 1971’s ongoing reprise of ‘Oompa Loompa Doopety Doo’ – there is just no contest. The accompanying dance routines are also completely unimaginative and look like they have been set by an amateur dramatics choreographer. No clever split-screen editing ideas like its predecessor either. The CGI looks cheap, clunky and cartoon-like. Occasionally this fits in with the context of cantankerous childhood wackiness, but most of the time it just looks naff (for example, Violet Beauregarde’s gymnastics at the end would have been far more impressive had they been performed by, say, a gymnast rather than a computer). Scenes which should have been dramatic were limp and pathetic – most notably the demise of Veruca Salt (who barely screams when she is attacked by 100 squirrels and whose father cannot figure out how to traverse a 3 foot fence and save his daughter, choosing instead to just stand aghast and do nothing) and the boat scene down the chocolate river (which was veritably terrifying in the first film but is reduced here to an unconvincing splash through some Nesquick on a plastic-looking pink dragon). And I will also, as an Englishman, take issue with the American language used by the English characters throughout. It’s strange that a film portending to be so much closer to the source material has the Bucket family talking about ‘candy’ instead of chocolate, ‘band aids’ instead of plasters and referring to elders as ‘sir’. How did this get through script reviews?

But the greatest mistake made in this film is committed by none other than Johnny Depp, whose portrayal of the weird and wonderful Wonka is creepy, unwitty, out of control and did I mention creepy? If Depp based his brilliant Jack Sparrow on studies of Rolling Stone Keith Richards, one can only assume he spent months impersonating Michael Jackson in preparation for this one. The total asexuality of his persona, pale skin and unsettling childish laugh jar completely with the fact he is supposed to be a leading character guiding the audience through the maze of his factory. It is the blind leading the blind. While purists might argue that Depp is more faithful to Dahl’s imagining of the character, I argue that it’s just a poor character for the context. Gene Wilder (there I go with that comparison again) was weird but knowing, kind yet scathing, childish yet philosophical and at all times likeable. He was totally indulgent in the chaos of his factory but always under control of every single event, which is what made him such a great host for this tour. Johnny Depp is too innocent to be taken seriously and his constant flashbacks to an opperssive childhood only further detract from his authority (and allow Burton to shoe-horn in Christopher Lee as Wonka’s domineering dentist father, Wilbur), although they do add some refreshing character development.

Having just slated nearly everything in the movie, it is prudent to point out that there are some things Burton got right. Freddie Highmore as Charlie is innocence personified and perfect for the role. The only downside is that for the entire middle section of the film he is practically an extra while the other children take center stage. The other children, however, are one of the other plus points from the film (although, once again, not as good as their earlier counterparts). All are selfish, typical Dahl semi-villains and fulfil their stereotypes well, the only one falling short being Julie Winter’s Veruca Salt who just isn’t quite obnoxious enough. The back story to the Oompa Loompas is also one of the film’s highlights, raising some of the all-too-rare laugh-out-loud moments of the film, another being the malfunctioning singing animatronics at the entrance to the factory. Finally (yep, we’ve reached the last positive already), where Elfman’s compositions for the Oompa Loompa numbers fall completely flat, his musical score dances with mischief and mayhem aptly befitting of what the film should have delivered.

When watching Tim Burton’s take on this beloved children’s story, the original 1971 adaptation isn’t so much the ‘elephant in the room’ as the ‘mastodon stomping all over its rejected newborn runt’. That may seem like a harsh analogy, but there really is no contest between the two incarnations. Burton’s annoying focus on the costumes, sets and making sure Johnny and Helena’s trailers are comfortable enough means that he can’t see the trees for the wood when it comes to his key characters, and Depp’s lifeless Wonka fails to command any interest. Now there’s a review he will hope never to hear again.

In other news, Tim Burton is currently putting the finishing touches on gothic vampire flick, ‘Dark Shadows’. I’ll give you three guesses which two actors feature in it, but you’re only going to need none.

RATING: 4/10

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