Film Review: Where the Wild Things Are

This is just one of those movies you just have to see whether you want to or not, I suppose. Everybody you know has read the book, and now there’s a movie. So, naturally, everyone trucks off to the theater to take a gander. I didn’t. I waited until this puppy came out on DVD, and then rented it for free from the library.

Where the Wild Things Are is a famous children’s bedtime story (it’s actually not much more than a picture book you could finish with your kids in about three minutes) about a young boy who is wild and disobedient to his mother. He begins to dream about a land where only he is King and everyone has to do what he says. After a series of lessons and adventures, he learns that it’s not good when he is King, and learns to be more obedient and civilized.

I had some trepidation about the film even before it came out. The trailers were incredibly creepy, and treated the monsters like they were actual monsters, peaking from behind trees with fangs and claws. The music too, designed to be filled with wonder, struck the wrong note and made the trailers even creepier. So I decided to wait.

Let us say that the film lived up to the off-putting feel of the trailers. The entire film had a bizarre feeling the whole way through, a bad vibe, as though things weren’t quite right. Even in the end, when the problem’s been resolved. Just, ugh. Gave me the creeps. The monsters were charming in the book; in the film they are ten-foot-tall, fanged and clawed animals that all seem to want to eat the nine-year-old protagonist at one point or another. The lesson here is this: big cartoon monsters = charming. Big computer-graphic, 3D monsters = really disturbing.

Adding to the unsettling nature of the film, the director treated the film as though the subject matter was more important than it was, and so the cinematography appears better suited for a thriller. (You know the sort, where the cameraman seems unable to hold the thing still for even a half-second?). This technique is helpful in a certain sort of film, but it lends itself to an unsettling vibe that simply put me off. It’s done to create the sensation of realism and tenseness in the viewer; but I wonder if this is something we want in an already-creepy film aimed ostensibly toward young children.

The problems with the film compound themselves. Because the book was so short, the writers were left to create – nay, invent – a new story only vaguely connected to the book. So while the monsters are safely ensconced in the boy’s dreams in the book, in the film the boy actually bites his mother and runs away, finds a boat and sails to an island where these monsters live. This scenario strains congruity to begin with. It also ratchets the tension up for the children, as the creatures invade our world from the safeness of dreams. Beyond even this, the story drags. In the sense that nothing happens. Like, ever. The characters wander around talking for a while. They jump on each other and have a giant rock fight. Then they wander around talking some more. And on it goes, on and on and on and on . . . . I was relieved when it ended so I could go do something interesting.

There is some subtlety to the psychology of the boy’s transformation, but this will be lost on most children, as well as with many adults. The attempt to make the film “artsy” led it, as being artsy is often want to do, into straight-up muddleheadedness.

The score itself even adds to the creep factor. It is always lurking in the background of every single scene, with soft eerie voices, and no melody, theme, or even harmony in sight. The music rumbles its way through without you really noticing it, but it is there, and it is always dissonant. Why the dissonance? A solid score could have allieviated a lot of the creep factor. Instead, it multiplied it by five and increased the uneasy feeling that pervaded the whole.

Bottom line: Bad, bad, bad. Not recommended.

Rating: * 1/2 out of ***** stars.

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