Monday, August 22, 2005

But that is called cannibalism, my dear children, and is in fact frowned upon in most societies.

It probably says something about me that I started the day planning to write something about George Eliot, and ended up writing about Tim Burton's Charlie and the Chocolate Factory.

Remember Edward Scissorhands? Remember the cookie-making scene? Not just how beautiful and exciting and funny the machine was, but how it seemed to encapsulate the childish conviction that a machine that makes something as delightful as cookies must be delightful in itself? How is it possible that the man who envisioned that scene--really just a throwaway, there for the fun of it--is also responsible for Charlie and the Chocolate Factory's opening credits? I like the idea of seeing the golden tickets placed in the chocolate bars and sent all over the world, but the production line Burton gives us is dull, sterile, and textureless.

Apart from that, the film was really quite delightful and a very faithful adaptation. I especially appreciated Burton's understanding that it's the first part of the book--before Charlie finds the golden ticket--that makes you love it. You hold your breath when Charlie opens his birthday bar of Wonka chocolate, knowing, just as his parents and grandparents do, that although his chances of finding the golden ticket are small, they do exist. You're crushed when Grandpa Joe's illicit gift of chocolate yields nothing but candy, and you're elated when Charlie finds the money in the street and the ticket itself. For a child just coming into the painful realization of their own ordinariness, these scenes carry the first hint of adult disappointment, and the heartbreaking knowledge that, however ordinary you are, extraordinary things just might happen to you.

After that tour de force, the trip to the chocolate factory is almost a victory lap, and it's to Burton's credit that he places as much emphasis on the scenes outside the factory as he does on the ones inside. Once in Willy Wonka's domain, the film stays true to the inherent sadism of Dahl's book (and, indeed, of all of his fiction, juvenile and adult), and the result is both delightful and uncomfortable--just as it should be. Not having been raised in the States, I don't have a special attachment to Gene Wilder's Wonka, and I thought Johnny Depp acquitted himself very well in the role.

Still, one of these days I'd like to see a version of the story that points out the inherent hypocrisy of a man who makes his living by peddling candy to children and then turns around and makes fun of them when that candy makes them fat.

George Eliot is coming, I promise.

No comments:

Post a Comment