Friday, October 23, 2009

Wonderfully Wild Things

Spike Jonze's attempt to turn Maurice Sendak's small, wonderful book into a feature worked for me.

The book has fewer than 400 words, many amazing illustrations, and themes relevant to kids and adults. Jonze's feature-ization expands without padding and captures the care-free, anarchic spirit of Sendak.

The realization of the monsters (by the Jim Henson company) is faithful and fascinating. The Wild Things feel like denizens of the H.R. Pufnstuf galaxy gene-spliced to The Dark Crystal and Jim Henson's The Storyteller (one of my favorite series ever). The Sid and Marty Kroft Pufnstuf connection is pertinent because it got to the screen first in terms of realizing live action characters of this nature. Of course, Pufnstuf arrived six years after Sendak's tale was written in '63, so we know who really got there first.

One of the most admirable parts of this movie is its lack of exposition and verbal clutter. Like Jimmy in Pufnstuf, Max takes a boat to a distant land of wild things. Here, that land is represented by rugged, Victorian (Australia) coastline -- in fact, it's an area I know so well and love so much because I've visited it (and shot there) frequently over a period of thirty years.

I love how Max gets there quickly and without fuss; he's carried there by a pre-ordained vessel of fate . When he washes up, he introduces himself to the wild things by immediately participating in a destructive game.

That's it.

Before too long, he becomes their King because they need a King. Who's he to argue.

Most Hollywood films would explain and justify and make Max's entrance a big deal. This doesn't. It is a big deal that he's discovered an amazing new world, but Jones doesn't feel the need to underline and punctuate the weight of that fact.

When Max returns home, Jones makes another great decision that ends the story on a perfect note.

As a monster lover and a lover of the book, I was carried away by the techniques employed to give the monsters life and breath. They are more human than most humans, and certainly more human than the movie humans usually found in noisy, ADD-ridden kiddie flicks.

In so many ways, the experience of watching Where The Wild Things Are feels akin to reading a great book.

Just as children don't stop to reflect on and analyze their lives in mid-flight, neither does this powerful movie, and that's why it's so damn good.


  1. The teasers look absolutely brilliant. I have this feeling I'm going to be bawling like a little bitch watching this one.

  2. Is that coastline where you shot the opening of Defenceless?


  3. d -- I look forward to your take on it.


    SS/mAQ -- yes, much of DEFENCELESS was shot there. Also, my rather forgettable FISHNET.

  4. jervaise brooke hamsterOctober 26, 2009 at 1:39 PM

    I must have read the book 100 times when i was a kid (circa 1970), also around that time i remember being in love with Witchee-Poo that bird was such a little darlin`.

  5. Hi Mark, long time no see... Jenny Handasdye here, camera assist on Sentimental Assassin... Interesting what you find when you have a little dig for names gone by... You still in Melb?

  6. jervaise -- Witchee-Poo was definitely a darlin'.


    Anon/Jenny -- wow, what a blast from the past! How'd you end up here, Jenny? No longer in Melbourne. Live in California. Hey, if you send me your email address the same way you sent me this message, I'll email you back. But I won't publish the message, of course. Would love to hear how you're doing.

  7. Great writeup on this film. I've heard a lot of good things about it. I definitely wanna see it.

  8. Keith -- thank you for your kind words. I hope you'll be carried off with it like I was.

  9. I really want to thank you for the generous words about my artwork. I hope you´ll be OK.