Friday, August 19, 2005

Charlie's World

Anna got in a neat review / comment here on the Burton interpretation of Charlie and the Chocolate Factory (especially liked the note that there was a Rufus-type quality to Depp's portrayal of Willa Wonka: she's not wrong).

Anyway, Cloud and I went with friend Helen Lisette this week to see what the fuss was about for ourselves. After a few works that have been less than impressive from Burton, this seemed to be much closer to his earlier genius (though I do think that trailing Corpse Bride provides a powerful reminder of the ghoulish narratives he started off with: and probably a lot to live up to).

And I'm not saying that Burton only works well with Depp, but it is hard to ignore that the quality quotient goes up when he (JD) is around the gothy one (TB).

Many of the problems with the film stem from its origins: Dahl was pretty misanthropic, xenophobic and all over a rather unpleasant dude. Depictions of poverty are of a quaintly cartoon-like nature. Yet there is nevertheless a lot to enjoy about this film.

Cloud may get in first with this remark, but it certainly reminded us of Barry Levinson's much underrated film Toys. (And that's not intended to be snide - we actually have a lot of time for that film).

So what works best about this new update, given that all three of us who went are very much of the Gene Wilder version generation? Well, Depp turns in a wonderfully bonkers performance, one that seems a little more human and slightly less overtly cruel than Wilder's portrayal. Yes, a little 'Michael Jackson-esque' but done in a very smart way. His Wonka remarks to the prissy James Fox as Veruca Salt's father "you're weird!", which is delivered in such a way as to convey both bewilderment and a fearless lack of self-awareness.

The sets are appropriately eye-dazzling and even the songs work well (there's some great psychedelia in this film, both visually and aurally).

The ending is perhaps overly twee, with the reconcilation of Wonka with his father (an addition to the original book's narrative), but there is a great sense of wonder in this film. If anybody could have superceded the 1971 version, it was going to be Burton: and he hasn't failed.

No comments: