The Facts Machine

"And I come back to you now, at the turn of the tide"

Saturday, July 16, 2005


Saw the Burton/Depp adaptation of Dahl's book today with a friend. The original cinematic adaptation (starring Gene Wilder as Wonka, of course) was a very large part of my childhood, though it wasn't until a much later viewing of it that I got the joke when the professor fellow says "Now I am telling the computer exactly what it can do with a lifetime supply of chocolate!"

Anyway, being so well acquainted with the 1971 incarnation couldn't help but affect my experience watching the new version. Commence scattershot analysis!

--While the claim is that the screenwriter adapted his script straight from Dahl without ever seeing the 1971 film, I got the feeling that the film was self-consciously examining territory left unexplored by their predecessors. This includes a variety of flashback scenes, involving the history of the factory, and Wonka's semi-traumatic childhood, at the mercy of his dentist father (played by the great Christopher Lee, for once not wholly evil).

--The art direction is stellar throughout. The Bucket residence is run-down and crooked, yet full of life, a departure from some of Burton's more dreary, bleak sets in the past. Every set in the factory is impressive, notably the main chocolate room (you know, where "Pure Imagination" would've been sung), the voyage of the Wonkatania and the large circular arena in which a team of trained squirrels remove the shells from walnuts.

--Solid child-acting throughout. At no point did it take away from the movie in any meaningful way. I think this is a product of Burton's usual irreverence, and the near-stereotypes the characters represent.

--And Depp? He was a hoot. Now I've heard a number of people compare his performance to a vague imitation of Michael Jackson, from critics like Roger Ebert to the friend I saw the movie with. Well... he was pale, yeah, but beyond that, Depp's acting choices--certainly his interaction with the children--are much more complex than that. His portrayal of Wonka skews weirder than Wilder's, but that's not out of line with Dahl's book; he had been removed from society for 15 years, and Depp is determined to convey that, both through his awkward interactions with the children ("I'm Violet Beauregard!" "I don't care!") and his outdated word-choices ("Let's keep on truckin!"). Also, watch his face; there's always more going on than you might think at first, especially when you try to match his expressions with what he might be thinking.

--The biggest laugh-out-loud joke in the movie... well, let's say I've heard it about 20 times in Letterman monologues.

(FULL DISCLOSURE: Supposedly I am distantly related to Roald Dahl.)


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