Friday, August 05, 2005

Oompa Loompa Doompity Doo

There’s an inverse relationship between the temperature outside and my willingness to see any old crap they might happen to be serving up at one of the cheapo (pizza and beer) movie theatres. By 6 PM last night, I was all set to go see Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan at the Bagdad Theatre. Based on that, you can deduce that it was kill-crazy hot.

I’ve never even watched a full episode of the Star Trek TV show. I’m not certain I know the difference between Captain Kirk and Mr. Spock, but it was 96 degrees outside and 88 degrees inside our house. B assured me that The Wrath of Khan was one of those movies that is so bad it’s good. And I was ready to believe him.

Fortunately, I made a final pass through the newspaper before we set out and discovered the St. John’s Theatre (which only recently started serving pizza and beer) had Charlie and the Chocolate Factory—a movie I actually wanted to see. B had serious reservations, but he almost always lets me have my own way (I’m sort of a real-life Veruca Salt), so there was no more talk of The Wrath of Khan.

I should say that I am a fan of Willie Wonka and the Chocolate Factory (1971). And unlike many of my friends, I do not swoon over Johnny Depp. How could he possibly hope to achieve the subtle balance of charm and malice that Gene Wilder managed to exude as Willie Wonka? There were other question marks, too. Would the kids be any good? Would the special effects be too techno and polished for me? (I like a good cheap, quick-and-dirty special effect or prop, e.g., the rickety egg-o-meter that dispatches Veruca in the 1971 version.) And what about the Oompa Loompas? I’d heard that one guy plays all of them in the new one. How would that work out?

Stop reading now, if you haven’t seen the movie and don’t want my impressions to taint your experience.

I enjoyed the movie very much. The casting of all the kids is wonderful. They are all beastly and repulsive (with the exception of Charlie), just as Roald Dahl intended them to be. (Mike Teevee is especially odious.) Depp’s Willie Wonka is about 10 percent mid-70s Elton John and 90 percent Michael Jackson in the here and now. In a word: he is creeeeeee-py! His ghastly skin tone and bone structure are Jacksonesque; his voice is Jacksonesque; his mannerisms and vocabulary are Jacksonesque; his detachment from reality is Jacksonesque. The one non-Jacksonesque thing about him is that, of course, the Wonka character doesn’t like children, although Depp’s Wonka doesn’t loathe them quite as much as Wilder’s Wonka did. (Don’t you love how I’m analyzing this as if the Wonka character is complex enough that it requires a nuanced interpretation from the actor who portrays him?)

CGI is used effectively and judiciously for the most part. There was a marvelous scene featuring a massive chocolate palace that had nothing to do with advancing the plot, but who doesn’t want to see something like that and then watch it melt into a revolting mess? I did miss the old Oompa Loompas and their execrable dancing, but the new songs (with lyrics by Dahl) are cleverer and more satiric. Oddly, the chocolate river and the chocolate waterfall still look like water from a particularly muddy section of the Mississippi River. Why can’t they get the water to look like molten chocolate? That shouldn't all that difficult. Hershey's chocolate syrup would work, I should think.

Anyway, I recommend the movie if you’re looking for some well-crafted, fun escapism. It's visually stunning, too, and there are some hilarious scenes that must have been custom-made for my own personal consumption. (I don't want to spoil it for anyone, but when the clockwork welcoming committee does their thing, be sure to note the Gloops' reaction and contrast it with everyone else's. Hee, hee, hee. My kind of humor. Plus, I fully appreciated the Big Boy-like qualities of the committee. Thanks, Tim Burton!).

Even if you’re a die-hard fan of the earlier version (for nostalgic reasons or whatever—because, let’s face it, the original isn’t all that great), I think this new one can hold its own alongside it and in some respects is superior.


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