Yesterday I had the opportunity to revisit a fairly cherished part of my childhood. Me and my flatmate Jonners watched 'Where the Wild Things Are', the 2009 film directed and co-written by Spike Jonze adapted from one of my favourite books from my early childhood. The story, originally written and beautifully illustrated by Maurice Sendak , focusses on a young boy named Max, who after being sent to his room for bad behaviour, escapes to an imaginary world inhabited by fearsome looking monsters who eventually befriend him. The idea is wonderfully simple yet hugely enjoyable, it taps into every child's (and let's be honest most teenagers and adults) wish that they could escape to a world they created, without parents or rules and with creatures and events that conform to their own wishes.
It's one of the few stories i remember with real clarity from my childhood, one which the mere mention of the title often can make me smile, so when i heard there was to be a film version of it, the fan of the book and the film snob in me both baulked at the idea of a film adaptation. Like with any form of art that is held dear to someone, the idea of someone else, who might not appreciate what makes it so subjectively brilliant to an individual, tampering with and potentially sullying the memory of the piece is rarely welcome.
I sat down to watch the film, braced to dislike it and already coming up with scathing comments about just how bad a decision it was by Jonze to even attempt to make this film. I definitely think doing Film Studies at A-Level has made me more cynical about films than I ever used to be but that's a blog for another time.
Thankfully though, not only was my pessimism unnecessary, it was highly unfair. The film managed to capture the childish escapism of the book pretty much perfectly; the surreal touches, the bizzare yet somehow familiar characters, the spectacular scenery. It was all there, loyal to the book yet adding it's own take on it. That's not to say it's a classic, it's a very good film that probably falls just short of being a great one because, ironically when considering my intense love for it, of the limitations of the source material. It's a brilliant story, undoubtedly one of my favourites even after all these years, but it's a short story, merely 48 pages long, and that doesn't really leave a huge amount of scope for a feature length film. At an hour and 40 minutes it is as long as the concept could have been sustained for, anything longer than that and there'd have had to be a lull in a plot that is moderately serene, if a little unpredictable, already. Also the character's, as figments of Max's imagination, though far from simplistic, are limited. Apart from Carol, the wild thing Max befriends most intensely, the wild things each almost have one individual characteristic, almost reminiscent of the seven dwarves in that there is the angry one, the quiet one, the kind one, the wise one and so on. This works well within the context but is another example of Jonze working within the limitations of the source material and maybe not being able to give the supporting cast the depth and complexity of character that would make this film great. But then again perhaps it simply isn't a story that needs complicating and so should be acknowledged for maintaining the childlike feel throughout, both in terms of characterisation, visuals and narrative.
Overall i can definitely allow Spike Jonze to continue to live, he did a very good job of turning my favourite short story into a beautifully imagined film.
With the upcoming film version(s) of 'The Hobbit' to look forward to/fear, I hope that Peter Jackson pulls off a Jonze and manages to make a successful adaptation of a pretty damn important source text.
Hopefully i'll be writing again soon.