All entries for Monday 29 August 2005

August 29, 2005

Charlie & the Chocolate Factory movie review

Whether or not you enjoy this movie will depend to some extent on how you feel about the main character from the original book being completely changed. In Roald Dahl's original 1964 novel, Willy Wonka, the owner of the eponymous chocolate factory, is a smart, mischievous, fully-realised adult, albeit one who is, as we would say today, in touch with his inner child. Here's how Dahl describes him:-

His eyes were most marvellously bright. They seemed to be sparkling and twinkling at you all the time. The whole face, in fact, was alight with fun and laughter. And oh, how clever he looked! How quick and sharp and full of life! He kept making quick jerky little movements with his head, cocking it this way and that, and taking everything in with those bright twinkling eyes. He was like a squirrel in the quickness of his movements, like a quick clever old squirrel from the park.

Gene Wilder's brilliant realisation of this description in the 1971 film of the book, Willy Wonka & the Chocolate Factory (apparently it was felt that American audiences in 1971 weren't ready for a film with "Charlie" in the title) presumably left the makers of the 2005 version with something of a problem: should they try and find someone to do a copy of Wilder's performance, or go for something quite different? Not unreasonably, they decided to do something different, but arguably they took this to extremes: Johnny Depp's Wonka is a damaged man who has great difficulty relating to other people and has that most fashionable of quirks, unresolved issues with his father. (He can't even say the word "parents".)

This changes the dynamic of the story completely. In the book, and the first film, Willy Wonka rescues Charlie, saving him from poverty and changing his life forever. In this film, Charlie rescues Willy Wonka, helping him to resolve his issues, providing him with a family life, working alongside him. It's a fundamental change, and although there's nothing wrong with this new version of the story, it's a huge leap away from the book.

That caveat out of the way, everything else about the film is brilliant. The chocolate factory is a visual feast (ha), the children are cleverly updated for 2005 but just as wonderfully obnoxious as the book and the first film had them, the dialog is smart and funny, and Depp's performance as Wonka, provided you're willing to accept that he's not the Wonka from the book or the first film, is great fun. Charlie and Grandpa Joe are both huge improvements on their incarnations in the first film (although I did find myself wanting to shout out "It's Basil Fawlty's builder!"), and it's nice that the other grand-parents and Charlie's mother and father get a little bit more time and fleshing out. A few things to watch out for:-

  • The gag about the flag museum had the adults I was with roaring with laughter, and the children we were accompanying saying "What? Why are you laughing? What's so funny?"
  • Wonka's father warns him that he will not be there when he returns. And he's as good as his word; When Wonka returns, his father's house is gone, ripped right out of the middle of the terrace it was standing in. Later, we see the house perched incongruously on the side of a mountain, and the absolute best thing about this terrific visual gag is that it's never explained. It's just presented matter-of-factly for you to take or leave. Brilliant.
  • Where is Wonka's factory located? The film is set in the real world – at the start we see crates labelled with London, New York, Cairo and so on. But at various times with various accents we seem to be in England, America or somewhere else entirely.
  • All the Oompa Loompas were played by one man – Deep Roy. He's cloned through the magic of computer graphics into dozens of Oompa Loompas, and perhaps predictably, there has been some discussion about whether or not it's fair to hire one man when the film could have given work to dozens.
  • The songs have been updated, but as somebody else (Tom?) pointed out, the sound mix for the songs is rubbish; the music and the effects completely drown out the lyrics. Fun use of different styles, though – disco, west coast, metal.
  • My favourite throw-away gag is when the glass elevator is flying the characters through the factory, whisking them high above room after room. The effects are a bit over-sized, even for the chocolate factory, but there's a priceless moment when the elevator zips through a room in which – very briefly – we see a bright pink sheep being sheared. Willy Wonka looks slightly shifty and says "I'd prefer not to talk about that". What can he mean?

Alien Hominid game review

1 out of 5 stars
I'm a big fan of old-school shooters. Retro graphics and retro 2D side-scrolling action are exactly what I like (coming soon: my R-Type Final and Gradius V reviews) so I bought this with high hopes. And technically it's just what I want, with a nice line in cartoony graphics and all the horizontally scrolling action you could ask for. There's just one flaw, but it's so bad, the game only gets one star (and if you could give half a star or no stars I would have done): it's much, much, much, much, much too hard. Since this is the genre of games I like, I'm reasonably in practice at them, but there's no way to avoid dying once every few seconds, killed by any one of thousands of tiny bullets you can't see. Avoid this game at all costs.

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