Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Where the Wild Things Are (2009) - Review

Where the Wild Things Are is ambitious if anything - director Spike Jonze completely commits himself to the world, to the story of an adventure to a land inhabited by the fears and hopes of a boy dealing with growing up and all around him changing. The cinematography of Lance Acord is really the highlight of the film. His use of natural light and hand-held camera project not only the subjects, but the world as well, in a radiant spectrum encapsulating the emotion of the characters. And for that matter, the entire production team has done a fine job throughout. The collaboration between Carter Burwell and Karen O works well at times and not as well at others, but does overall capture the spirit of the piece. And yet, with everything so well crafted, the film is ultimately recklessly uneven, almost collapsing upon itself in its mission of authenticity. The film is split into two worlds: the real and the imaginary, and yet they parallel one and other both thematically and in visual stylization. The real world is composed of what Max (the main character) must deal with externally as his world changes, while the imaginary world deals with his internal emotions. Jonze has crafted a genuinely splendid film inhabiting the real world. The relationships between characters feel pure, especially that between mother and son. In the imaginary world, Jonze takes an unflinching look at almost raw emotion and it feels tedious, strenuous, and while at times fun or hopeful, the sheer dark energy of the characters and visual expression cause the viewer to disconnect from the experience, which is only helped along by the narrative structure not nearly being tight enough. As opposed to the real world, the imaginary world goes on too long at parts and is not paced in such a way to make it accessible to the viewer, and maybe that is the point, but it does not create that of an enjoyable experience. Regardless of content, films must be at the every least approachable for the intended audience, and the abrupt unyielding look into base emotions certainly does not harvest the trust of the younger audience, nor does the narrative structure make the film all it should be, what the wonderful production work should allow it to be, and so it falters under its own mission statement in a sense (the film's back story includes the studio interfering with Jonze's production for years, re-shoots, re-designs of concepts, and generally when productions are delayed and meddled with, they do not turn out well, to what extent Warner Bros hindered is unknown, and to what end is unknown, but notwithstanding, it is not a good thing for a production to go through conflicts of creative differences). The voice-cast deliver their lines just right within the stylistic choice for the world, which is to say, they feel real. Catherine Keener is fantastic in her small role as the mother and Max Records is perfectly adept in quite a weighty role as Max. Jonze should both be commended and condemned in his direction. His choices create a wondrous adaptation that fundamentally fails to work. 5/10

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