Monday, October 19, 2009

"Where the Wild Things Are" Review

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Property: The Daily Gamecock

A child’s spirit is a wonderful thing. So wonderful, it seems most adults yearn to recapture it. Once we assume responsibilities in our lives, we want only the ability to let our imaginations take flight in the “pure” way we remember from our earliest years.

Cerebral director Spike Jonze’s “Where the Wild Things Are,” though it follows the adventures of young dreamer Max (the spectacularly memorable Max Records), is not a film told through youthful eyes. Rather, it is a nostalgic, at times mournful flight of an adult filmmaker back into the imagination of his childhood.

Jonze, who directed “Being John Malkovich,” teams with writer Dave Eggers (“Away We Go”) to take on the daunting task of adapting Maurice Sendak’s 1963 children’s classic, an illustrated work less than 50 pages and less than 500 words. The result is not a copy so much as a faithfully spirited inspiration, expanded with rich hues of character.

Since its publication, literary critics have analyzed Sendak’s story from a variety of psychological and political perspectives, trying to find an adequate reading to explain the sheer magnetism of the work.

Thankfully, Jonze and Eggers do not try to simplify their film through one simple reading. They carefully blend ideas about utopia, depression, leadership, and allegiance within their story, which leapfrogs from scene to scene with an abrupt stream of consciousness whirl bound together by Max’s need to feel a family’s love.

“Where the Wild Things Are” is a carefully constructed piece of visual splendor. Cinematographer Lance Acord follows Max and the Wild Things in feverish, exuberant tracking shots that get into the heart of the action. The camera almost swoons in disorientation, but the effect is exhilarating.

Other moments are carefully framed to highlight the beauty of the Wild Things. A stunning meld of giant puppets designed by the Jim Henson Company and computer animation to create more fluid facial expressions, these fantastical creatures are a marvel not only to look at, but to experience.

There is a noticeable lack of plot to Jonze’s “Where the Wild Things Are.” In expanding and re-imagining Sendak’s vision, the screenwriters have carefully increased the dimensions of the Things and their environment, while the narrative remains almost surprisingly uneventful, almost spread too thin.

However, there’s also Max. The true deftness of the film, and why it works so well, is that Jonze and Eggers have not tried to adapt or recreate Sendak’s version of Max. Their protagonist is one that feels culled from the depths of their own childhoods, their own pains, and their own spirited imaginations.

Jonze’s films are about retreats into interior – almost abstract – space. It’s hard not to see each Wild Thing as demonstrable of a particular aspect of Max’s reality or his personality, as if the film is an adventure through his subconscious.

It is only by retreating to this fantasy space that Max, young as he is, is able to confront his own idyllic fantasies and perhaps understand how it feels to play parent to rambunctious children.

Spike Jonze is a director who understands how to balance the innate reality of the film image with the paradoxically innate fiction of the film image. Rarely giving in to artistic excesses or succumbing too heavily to the story’s neuroses, Jonze instead melds a quiet work of affecting soulfulness.

It is a film where the fiction is crafted to feel almost painfully real. “Where the Wild Things Are” is a beautiful work of transportive power that could make any adult cry, if only for the nostalgia of their own Wild Things.

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