Wednesday, February 15, 2006

Why Tim Burton's Wonka is an atrocity in filmmaking.

Images from Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory, starring Gene Wilder as the great Willy Wonka.


If you can’t be bothered reading the long prattle, here in dot points are the reasons why Charlie and the Chocolate Factory is not a work of genius by Tim Burton.
  • Johnny Depp looks nothing like Willy Wonka should look. He looks like a cross dresser and certainly bears no signs of experience in running an elaborate chocolate factory.
  • Johnny Depp's concoction of Wonka bears no resemblance to the original character as he simply hates everyone.
  • The original Wonka, while cautious after being burned in the past, looks for the best in people. They had no right to distort the character like that.
  • The sets, especially for the Chocolate Room looks too cartoonish. It should look as real and as edible as possible. The concept is the fantasy, so it doesn't need to look unbelievable.
  • The parents are poorly developed and have no emotion when their children meet their downfalls. They just look over to where they have disappeared to, mildly dismayed.
  • The whole thing with Wonka's father issues are ludicrous and detract from Charlie. It makes the story all about the asshole Wonka, and not about being rewarded for being a good person.
  • Tim Burton gets a free pass from criticism and can make a bad movie like this and his zombie fans will lap it all up.

Why Tim Burton's Wonka is an atrocity in filmmaking

I have been a fan of the Mel Stuart version of the Wonka tale for as long as I can remember. Well, maybe not quite so long, but at the very least, since I was ten years old.

I had read the book of Charlie and the Chocolate Factory when I was nine and isolated with chicken pox and the story brought much relief to my feeling like a leper. The movie always worked so well with the book for me. Aside from Veruca meeting her match in the movie to the geese who lay golden eggs, as opposed to the book's squirrels with nuts, Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory was a fabulous adaptation of a classic book, even if they cut out a lot of what Roald Dahl's original screenplay intended.

That movie has remained a classic for over three decades. Maybe not quite so long, as it took a little time for it to attain it's 'classic' status, but not too long. It has something for everyone with the simple pleasures of candy to appease the young, and freaked out trippy shit and adult oriented jokes that you appreciate more and more as you get older.

Then along comes a prick called Tim Burton. A director who, for some reason, has been given a free pass by critics so that everything he does is deemed 'brilliant', 'imaginative' and 'only Tim Burton could do it' type tripe. I'd I never had anything against him until this point. I always thought Beetlejuice was a bit of a mess, but I didn't hold it against him. I liked The Nightmare Before Christmas, Batman Returns, Edward Scissorhands and more recently Ed Wood, so I hoped that if anyone was going to tackle the huge task or re-attempting the classic film version of Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, Tim Burton could be the one to do it, as unnecessary as it was to re-make it.

While I originally had great apprehension about any remake, as the time drew nearer and images of the chocolate river looked richer and more delicious than Mel Stuart's river, I found myself Augustus Glooping at this movie and was anxious to see it.

The movie began so well. Everything in the beginning pertaining to Charlie's family situation was, I daresay, brilliant. The mood was there, the kid playing Charlie was great and the grandparents decrepit. It was nice to have Charlie's father, a former toothpaste factory employee, brought back after he was omitted from the last movie. The first time things started to fall apart was when Grampa Joe tells Charlie about the mysterious factory and we first see the great Willy Wonka. Of course we knew he was Johnny Depp from the trailers and posters and he didn't seem quite right. But now we were in the moment, so maybe he would come through. Apparently he was in his own little world, not that of the great Willy Wonka. Who is this Michael Jackson impersonator who is supposed to be the world's greatest chocolatier? Luckily we don't see him for too long and it's back to the tragic Bucket Family story. The mania to find the golden tickets is washed over and you never quite get the feeling that this is such a big deal. The golden ticket hunt is supposed to have the whole world in a fervor. Something I just wasn't feeling during this ticket hunting phase.

I doubt many over the age of 10 watching this were feeling and great anticipation as to what was going to happen. We should all have been eagerly awaiting the moment when Charlie reveals his golden ticket! But alas, the moment came and went with little climax. The fact is, six months on, I don't even remember how it happened. I still get a thrill and goose bumps when the music trickles upward as Peter Ostrum reveals the glorious GOLD in the 1971 film.

Okay, the kid has the ticket. This is where things are REALLY supposed to take off. They are going inside the world famous CHOCOLATE FACTORY. My dreams are still made of this kind of thing, so seeing it on the screen is nothing I take lightly. The first scene at the factory was great. These sinister animatronic dolls singing a merry song about Willy Wonka, which before concluding, sees them spark and catch fire and abruptly end. Willy Wonka presents himself and there is the beginning of the end of this film. How old is this guy? How could this guy be holed away all these years making chocolate? He looks barely 35. The thing with Gene Wilder's Wonka was that he wore that eccentricity in his eyes and in his smirk and his tone. He bore years of candy making experience in his face. Johnny Depp's Wonka bore years of experience at combing his hair, applying make-up and molesting small boys. I'd further that last theory if this Wonka didn't seem to hate everyone.

The thing that really pissed me off was Tim Burton's claim to be sticking more to the book with this adaptation. Aside from Veruca going down with the squirrels instead of the geese and the film's title, there were no major changes to warrant making such a claim. In the book, while Wonka does seem somewhat detached, it seems more like a defense mechanism as he is almost sure that these people will let him down after all the spies he dealt with who stole his candy making secrets in the past. He actually looks for the best in people, but this rotten crew (sans Charlie and Grandpa Joe) leave him little to be desired. But for some reason, Tim Burton has decided that Wonka hates everyone, including Charlie. If he hates people so much, why doesn't he just pass the factory along to the Oompa Loompas? They are so talented and can perform elaborate dance numbers, so why couldn't they run the factory instead of one of these brats? Wonka's attitude makes no sense and the reason it makes no sense is because the reason for his behaviour comes from a completely fabricated story line.

Throughout the film, Wonka has these flashbacks to when he was a child and his father, Wilbur Wonka (who never appeared in the book) was a dentist and denied young Willy of candy. So all this weirdness of Wonka stems from "Dad issues"? Give me a break! That whole thing sucks. Just plain fucking sucks and has nothing to do with the original story. It takes the mystery out of Willy Wonka's eccentricity.

What to me is a very obvious problem in the casting of Johnny Depp as Wonka, does not seem to strike most others as they rave about how great he is. The problem is as follows: Tim Burton likes to use Johnny Depp. Johnny Depp has now appeared in no less than FIVE Tim Burton films. Now, I am all for a good, long lasting director/actor relationship, however, one must bring this relationship into question when it compromises the quality of the work. Tim Burton cast Johnny Depp because he likes to use him. Not because he found him to be the actor to best service the role. Depp is good, but not so damned versatile that he could tackle Wonka. Subsequently, he failed. Rather than servicing the story and character of Willy Wonka, Burton and Depp opted to service themselves and show how whacky, self centered and hateful they could make this character, bearing no resemblance to who Wonka should be. A great choice would have been Bill Murray. Now, with a number of serious roles under his belt, his comedic history and his age, he would have been perfect complete with cheeky twinkle in his eye. I could believe that years of candy making knowledge was contained in his curious mind.

People like to rave about the "imagination of Tim Burton" especially for his vibrant and elaborate sets. While I definitely enjoyed the look of Edward Scissorhands and Batman Returns, I found he lost the plot with Charlie. The Chocolate Room, which is supposed to be the crowning glory of the factory, looked too cartoonish. It's one thing to make real life places like a suburban neighbourhood or a dank city look surreal, but why apply that to a place that in and of itself is surreal? The room should have looked as real as possible. It didn't need an imaginative touch. A chocolate room is a dream come true and to make it believable is to achieve the goal. The Chocolate Room in Burton's film, while dazzlingly colourful, looks far from edible and hence completely misses the point. How many of us have spent all these years wanting to drink the contents, and finally EAT that delicious looking daffodil Gene Wilder consumes at the conclusion of the song, Pure Imagination? That image has captured scores of people for so many years; the mark of a triumph. I will concede that Burton's chocolate river looked far tastier than the old one.
One other aspect of the factory which I missed from original film was that in the highest corner of the Chocolate Room, you can see dirty factory windows. This is still a factory. We saw it from outside. Wonka has just managed to convert it into a sugar junkie’s paradise. Tim Burton's factory looks like you've stepped into one of his stop-animated fantasies. It doesn't seem in any way palpable.

The roles of Augustus Gloop, Veruca Salt, Violet Beauregard and of course Charlie were cast perfectly. The Mike Tee-Vee, while making a commentary on the spoiled and video game addicted children of today, didn't quite fit in with the established style. As wonderful as they all looked, something was seriously lacking when it came to the relationship with their parents. The reason these kids are the way they are is through bad parenting and by parents indulging their kids, not through neglect. So why is it that whenever their child meets with potential tragedy in Wonka's madhouse, they simply don't care? None of the parents react as though anything serious has happened. It seems as though Tim Burton was daydreaming about making Corpse Bride while he should have been directing these scenes as they are completely void of any of the appropriate emotion. The parents never have any personalities and appear as accessories for the children. The parents in the original film, even with minimal dialogue were bursting with personality. Mr. Salt is one of favorite characters. "Butterscotch? Buttergin? You got something going on the side?"

The Oompa Loompas, all played by Deep Roy, were great and I liked their songs, even if they were too complicated to remember. Nothing will ever beat the "Oompa Loompa, doo-pa-dee-doo." Another display of them not being true to the book as promised by Burton was that he used the Mel Stuart embodiment of an Oompa Loompa (orange face and green hair) which is not how they appeared in Dahl's imagination. They are pretty much supposed to look like people with shaggy hair, but tiny and wearing cave men and women style clothing. Again, why profess to be sticking to the book when liberties are constantly being taken? Just don't say that!

Fast forward now to the end of the tour: Charlie is the last man standing and Wonka seems ready to continue the tour until he realises that Charlie is the only one left. You would think if he planned to bestow his beloved factory on one of these kids, he'd have a little interest vested in the outcome of this adventure. The very essence of the point of the exercise is lost when, upon realising Charlie is left, flippantly announces "Oh...well then YOU win!" Wonka really couldn't give a rat's ass who won his factory. He isn't at all grateful that the poor, sweet and kind-hearted boy will be taking the reins. It's as if this is no better than if Veruca had made it through. Quite a stark contrast to Gene Wilder's reaction "Charlie! You've done it! You've won! I knew you would, I just KNEW you would!" He's fucking ecstatic! The best man won.

At this point in the new film, Depp's Wonka then declares that Charlie has won the factory and can move in right away. Charlie asks if the whole family can come too, and get this: Wonka says "No!" When Charlie says he won’t leave his family behind, Wonka leaves, marginally disappointed, but he's not going to lose any sleep over this. Not over CHARLIE anyway. So this is where you really see how completely pointless it was to state that this was based on the book. They thought that by calling it Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, they were being true to it. It takes a bit more than the title to match that feat. This story is really about Willy Wonka and his 'issues' and not Charlie at all. Charlie's good deeds are almost irrelevant. It wasn't until Wonka straightened himself out that Charlie was going to get the factory.

After Charlie rejects his offer, Wonka is left wondering why he didn't want Charlie's family, not because he liked Charlie so much, but because he thought HE might have a problem. After a therapy session with an Oompa Loompa where the self-absorbed Wonka doesn't actually wait for any feedback, Wonka realises he has 'Dad issues'. He bumps into Charlie who helps him find his father. They are reunited after all these years of being estranged and Wonka can now learn to love again. Great...what does this have to do with Charlie, of the film's title? Oh right...yes...NOW he gets the factory and the family can come too.

Charlie and the Chocolate Factory has completely lost the lessons of the book and 1971 film. Charlie's goodness was never going to be rewarded until Wonka worked out his shit. It may be more of a real life lesson, but this was supposed to be about the book, and this is not what the book was about. The book and movie had a moral without being moralistic. The moral of the story was completely destroyed. The movie wasn't satisfied until it made itself a vehicle for Johnny Depp, to take liberties with a beloved character he was not entitled to take. The sad fact is that a new generation will only know this half-baked version and Tim Burton zombies continue to declare his brilliance despite this wreck of a film.

At the end of Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory, Wonka says, "And Charlie: don't forget what happened to the man who suddenly got everything he'd ever wished for." Charlie asks "What happened?" Wonka replies, "He lived happily ever after." The only way I will live happily every after is if all copies of this film are destroyed and all memories of it are erased. I guess I'm not Charlie...
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