Monday, November 28, 2005

Old Wonka or New Wonka? Need we even ask?

Apparently so. My little sister has taken it upon herself to be the standard bearer for the new Johnny Depp-starring, Tim Burton-directed version of the Roald Dahl classic "Charlie and the Chocolate Factory." Meanwhile, my older brother and I am firmly in the pro-original Gene Wilder-starring film camp. The original film was actually titled "Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory" despite the name of the book being "Charlie and the Chocolate Factory."

And this is the beginnings of the argument for the pro-Depp folks. They try to claim that its a better film because its "supposedly closer to the book". I include "supposedly" in quotation marks, because the vast majority of these people have never actually even read the book. I have. And I will concede that the original film contained several plot elements that were not from the book. For example, the whole Slugworth offering each of the children a small fortune in exchange for an Everlasting Gobstopper, the fizzy-lifting drinks scene, the geese that lay golden eggs rather than the squirrels, and of course the bizarre boat scene. BUT, while these elements were in the original film but not in the new "truer to the book" version, the new version does its own share of adding plot. The bizarre puppet Small World rip-off as the children arrive at the factory, the fact that Willy Wonka does seem to even like children, and most notably the entire plotline involving his father, Wilbur Wonka, that leads to his not originally allowing Charlie to bring his family with him to the factory, once he has been selected as the grand prize winner.

Depp Wonka

It would seem that the original book did not have enough of a conflict to get a good movie climax out of. The first film's climax comes as Charlie proves that he isn't it for the money by returning the Everlasting Gobstopper, even in the face of Wonka's tirade about Fizzy Lifting Drinks. The new film tries to make a climax out of Charlie helping Willy confront his father and finding out that actually he really does love him and that family are swell. Neither plot is from the book, and I have to give the edge here to the first film.

The next point the pro-Depp camp will make is that Johnny Depp makes a much better eccentric Willy Wonka. Who cares? Where does it say that Willy Wonka has to be a weird-o? The fact that Depp was so weird and uninterested in the children, Charlie included, made it hard for me to connect with him, and to be honest I could not hardly fathom why Charlie would even want to live with him. In fact, Depp's creepy-wierd portrayal of Wonka has led some to believe that he was modeling Wonka after accused child molester Michael Jackson. How can anyone possibly pick him over the wacky, but well-meaning Wonka portrayed by Wilder?

Lets compare the Oompa Loompas, while we are at it. The new film's Loompa's actually sing songs whose words were written by Dahl himself. The original book actually contained poems/songs when each of the children were carted off that spanned several pages. And I have to admit that the new Oompa Loompas (all played by Deep Roy) are certainly entertaining, especially the first time they dance for Augustus Gloop. But the original Loompas while not singing Dahl's original poems (the new ones only sing parts of the epic poems) are cultural icons. How many of us have seen people go to Halloween as these old school Oompa Loompas? I'm willing to bet that no one will ever go to a Halloween party dressed as one of the new Oompa Loompas.

Which leads me to my next point. If the new film were the first version of the book that had been made, there never would have been a remake. No one would even remember that the film existed. It is easily forgettable and seems as much a vehicle for Burton's and Depp's egos as an homage to the classic story. The original film is made timeless by the wonderful performance by Gene Wilder and the great Oscar-nominated soundtrack including such classics as "The Candy Man Can", "I've Got a Golden Ticket", and "Pure Imagination".

Wilder Wonka

The only point I can concede to the new film is that it gets us to the chocolate factory much quicker than the original film. As a child watching the original film, the whole waiting to get into the factory part was excruciatingly long. And certainly today's generation of attention-starved kids would have left the theater in search of the latest Sponge Bob offering far before Charlie had actually found his own Golden Ticket. That said, now that I am older there are actually a large number of humorous scenes thrown in for adults in this pre-factory portion of the film. My personal favorite is the man with the computer that he has programmed to tell him where the remaining Golden Tickets are located. The computer refuses because, "What would a computer do with a lifetime supply of chocolate?". The angry programmer then suggests that he will tell the computer EXACTLY what it could do with a lifetime supply of chocolate. Great stuff.

Anyway, my older brother has purchased the DVD of the original film and is bringing it with him from Omaha this Christmas break so that we can have a true showdown of the films. He says that the comments from the now grown, but still very German Augustus are not to be missed.


Natalie said...

This is lame!

Ed Carmichael said...

Speaking as one who prefers the new movie as opposed to the 1971 version and who has read the book, (are you surprised that someone who likes modern entertainment likes to read as well?) I find your reasoning to be a bit bizarre. The terrible songs, if you can call them songs, the awful child (and adult) acting, the cheap set design (the Everlasting Gobstopper machine...can we say a few multi-colored sheets sewn together in a hurried rush and thrown over a “creatively designed” metal frame, moved about by some of the unused camera men?) and the flat character development all add to it’s “timeless appeal”.

j said...

I'm not sure what you mean by terrible songs. The music was nominated for an Oscar so I would hardly call it terrible.

As far as awful acting goes I'd like to hear some examples.

As far as cheap set design goes, it was the 1970s and the budget they were working with was quite limited. The new film I'm sure relies heavily on CGI, thus dodging the whole issue of set design. It might as well be a cartoon.

And finally as far as flat character least in the first film we actually saw the characters enough to figure out who they were. In the new film, which I've seen 3 times now, I still am kind of unsure whats going on with Violet and her mother -- they like to win competitions, is that it? Why is Violet's mom such a weird-o? I honestly have no idea whats happening there.

Natalie said...

Actually Jake, the sets for Charlie and the Chocolate factory were real. For example the Chocolate Room:(where your life changing song "Pure Imagination" was sung in the 1971 version) Burton's crew built this and all the other sets to full scale, an engineering feat which required an astonishing amount of thought, planning and hard work on everyone's part. The flowing chocolate you'll see in the film, actually a non-toxic substance called Nutrisol, is totally real and required extensive pumping technology. Even the studio wasn't keen on the idea, wanting a CG chocolate river but Burton wouldn't have a bar of it. The grass of the room was plastic for the most part with small amounts of edible 'candy grass'. The assorted trees and plants (around two dozen different designs) had to also be edible but look like foliage on screen and stand up to extensive periods of shooting.