Magazine article The Spectator

Less Is More

Magazine article The Spectator

Less Is More

Article excerpt

Where the Wild t hings Are PG, Nationwide Here is what you most need to know about this film: it isn't a patch on the book. Usually, I wouldn't put it like that. Indeed, as I have said before, and wouldn't need to say again if only I could trust you had paid attention the first time, a film should stand or fall on its own merits, regardless of the source material, but I can't seem to let it go with this one.

Perhaps it's because I'm just too close to this particular book. I grew up on Maurice Sendak's Where the Wild Things Are, which was first published in 1963, as did my own son, who insisted I read it to him nightly for about a year. I didn't mind. It is short, just ten sentences, which is always good, and the alternative might have been The Big Book of Tractors, which was big, and full of tractors, can you believe. But in just ten sentences, Sendak created something unsentimental, emotionally complex and troublesome in a way this film never is. This film is Where the Wild Things Aren't, starring James Gandolfini in a Muppet suit.

It's directed by Spike Jonze, whose previous films, Being John Malkovich and Adaptation, I liked very much, and the screenplay is by Jonze plus Dave Eggers, the novelist, whose one other screenplay, for Away With Me, I did not like at all. I believe we've spotted the weakest link. Anyhow, this version was, apparently, approved by Sendak, which is fair enough, although it does make you think: what did they give him? Rohypnol? (This sounds mean but I'm telling you: this is making me mean. ) The original story, as you probably know, is a about Max, a rambunctious little boy who is sent to bed without supper and encounters scary-looking creatures with terrible roars and terrible claws when his bedroom mysteriously turns into a forest. It's blissfully Freudian - not boy versus beasts, but boy versus the beasts within the boy - with a power that has everything to do with its very brevity, so how Jonze and Eggers thought they should and could expand upon it is anyone's guess. Why didn't someone stop them? Why didn't someone divert them to The Big Book of Tractors? Why not throw $80 million at that? Why waste it on something that is perfect just as it is?

This starts as a live-action film, with Max Records playing Max, a sulky-faced boy with real anger ishoos and rather unpleasant violent tendencies. …

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