No, we’re not referring to the film’s environmental record or its box-office prospects, but rather the intriguing color palette used by Where the Wild Things Are director Spike Jonze for his ambitious adaptation of Maurice Sendak’s classic children’s book.
One of the more striking aspects of the film is its distinctive look, which director of photography Lance Acord achieved in part by avoiding use of the color green whenever possible. “We decided, after looking at scouting photos, that we weren’t going to have green in the film,” Acord explained recently at the film’s press day. “That was a big decision, and it really does affect the emotional response to the film.”
“Rather than say, ‘Here’s our palette,’ we began by saying, ‘What’s everybody expect? This is not going to be our palette,’” added Wild Things production designer K.K. Barrett. “There will be no green.”
Check out our Where the Wild Things Are photo gallery for more examples of the film’s green-free palette.
Where the Wild Things Are opens everywhere October 16, 2009.
Where the Wild Things Are director Spike Jonze’s (Being John Malkovich Adaptation) ambitious adaptation of Maurice Sendak’s classic children’s book has been referred to variously as “experimental” and “art-house” — and only occasionally in a derisive manner — by numerous movie critics and journalists. For all of their negative box-office implications the labels do come with certain benefits the most important of which is a little-known loophole in the filmmaking code that renders certain films largely exempt from standard rules of story structure to which more orthodox films are expected to adhere.
That is they’re expected to have a structure. Where the Wild Things Are is above such trifles. Sendak’s source material with its 10 lines of text is largely devoid of any real storyline so the task fell to Jonze and his co-writer Dave Eggers to manufacture one. Given essentially a blank slate with which to work they used the opportunity to explore the id of a child reeling from the painful aftermath of divorce. And what a mind-bending journey it is.
Newcomer Max Records stars as Max a rambunctious young boy with a taste for mischief and an overabundance of energy. It’s a volatile combination if left unchecked and it eventually erupts in disastrous fashion one evening when Max’s exasperated overworked mother (played by Catherine Keener) has the audacity to invite her boyfriend (Mark Ruffalo on screen for all of a nanosecond) over for dinner.
Confronted by the alarming sight of his mother sneaking a kiss with a man who clearly isn’t his dad Max acts out in hideous fashion prompting a similarly hideous overreaction from his mortified mom. Stung by her harsh words Max makes a break for it running away to a wooded sanctuary on the bank of a river where he climbs aboard an unattended sailboat and is transported to a strange and distant land.
It’s there that he meets the titular Wild Things a close-knit if highly dysfunctional group of furry gargantuan beings with oversized heads and normal unaltered human voices. There are seven in all: sensitive temperamental Carol (James Gandolfini); amiable level-headed Douglas (Chris Cooper); skeptical smart-alecky Judith (Catherine O’Hara); patient avuncular Ira (Forest Whitaker); meek insecure Alexander (Paul Dano); tender affectionate KW (Lauren Ambrose); and mysterious intimidating Bull (Michael Berry Jr.).
And that’s it. There’s no villain to be found in Where the Wild Things Are. (At least not a tangible one anyway. I suppose “society” or “fear” might be considered among Max’s antagonists; then again “fear” may also have been Gandolfini’s character. I can’t remember.)
Together Max and his new companions play games destroy trees build forts and bicker — to what end it’s never exactly clear. As Max frolics about his imaginary world with his crew of overgrown H.R. Pufnstuf rejects each of whom is meant to symbolize an emotion of some kind it becomes increasingly apparent that there’s no real point to the proceedings.
Which is why there’s no resolution to Where the Wild Things Are either. And shame on you for expecting one. If you want a neat and tidy resolution go see Couples Retreat or some other “mainstream” release philistine. This is Spike Jonze’s playground and if you dare subject him to rules or limits of any kind he may just pick up his genius ball and go home.
The real brilliance of Where the Wild Things Are is how its director aided by the extraordinary work of cinematographer Lance Acord and his production design team is able to plug directly into the amygdalae of adults of a certain age and background effectively disabling their capacities for critical thinking. It could be the greatest Jackass prank Jonze has ever pulled.
Where the Wild Things Are is not a movie for kids and not because it’s particularly violent or scary — indeed it’s downright tame compared to the last Harry Potter flick. Children by definition aren’t nearly as susceptible to the film's naked appeals to nostalgia and as parents’ eyes well up while they watch it behind rose-colored lenses their offspring will be texting “WTF?” to their similarly bored friends as the film meanders toward its disappointing conclusion.
Freud on the other hand would absolutely adore Where the Wild Things Are particularly during its climactic sequence in which Max frantically fleeing a rampaging Carol literally leaps into KW's gooey womb which presumably represents the comfort and safety of a mother’s unconditional love. I wouldn’t be the least bit surprised if several years from now the movie becomes a fixture at child psychologists’ offices serving as a sort of multimedia Rorschach test to help therapists better understand their young patients. But that’s pretty much the extent of the film’s utility.
Here’s the real symbolism inherent in Where the Wild Things Are: Max symbolizes Jonze while the mother represents the director’s expectations for the audience. After Jonze runs off and blithely plays with our emotions for a few desultory hours giving us only ambiguity tinged with melancholy in return he expects us to reward him with a loving embrace and a hot bowl of soup.
It’s all rather childish.
The film follows the journey of the title character (Kirsten Dunst) the winsome sweet-natured teenage archduchess of Austria who is dispatched by her family in the late 1700s into a politically advantageous marriage to Louis XVI (Jason Schwartzman) the future king of France. While the trappings of the royal palace at Versailles are as extravagant and glamorous as any traditional historical biopic the heart of the film is Marie Antoinette’s smaller more emotional world as she struggles to fit in with the puzzling customs and often-stern judgment of a foreign court. She must also fulfill her duty to her own nation—namely producing an heir to safeguard their political status a task that proves increasingly frustrating as she romances her maddeningly reticent new husband. Much like any modern young woman in our era of airhead heiresses she initially soothes her angst by indulging in excessive shopping sprees wild parties and flirtations with a hunky war hero. But she also eases into her role on the throne only to find that her starving angry peasant subjects have taken a harsh view of the gossip surrounding her profligate behavior as they mount the French Revolution. As a child actress who worked steadily into her teens and early twenties Dunst has always been a fresh sunny presence on screen in popcorn films like Bring It On but who could also reveal an ability to access darker corners as she did in her debut performance in Interview with the Vampire and in Sofia Coppola’s directorial debut The Virgin Suicides. But after her breakthrough role in 2002’s Spider-Man most of Dunst’s subsequent efforts seem to have be chosen more to build her Hollywood stardom than challenge her acting skills and perhaps unchallenged she delivers performances more competent than compelling. Marie Antoinette is a welcome return to a more complicated and conflicted role and she rises to the challenge admirably with her most appealing and most affecting turn to date. Utterly capturing the queen’s evolution from naïf to sophisticate gaining wisdom and maturity from her youthful frustrations and overindulgences Dunst makes Marie’s plight utterly relatable and imbues virtually every scene of the film with a watchability that outdoes even the luxe production design. In only her third—and most ambitious—film writer-director Sofia Coppola continues on her hot streak. Already one of the most atmospheric and subtle helmers working in Hollywood she not only marries her modern dreamlike style to the opulent visuals of a historical drama she effectively redefines Marie Antoinette in a way that any alienated over-her-head teen of today could appreciate while also showing just why the population at large might have considered her a monster. As Coppola is the quiet introspective daughter of a revered famously over-the-top filmmaker she too was thrust into a sophisticated world at an early age and was with her much-panned acting turn in The Godfather Part III certainly misunderstood by the public if not reviled. One is tempted to think a certain reliability applies to her success with her story. But her assured skills as a filmmaker are what really make Marie soar—even her experimental touches such as the use of anachronistic music on the soundtrack (the Strokes Bow Wow Wow New Order and others appear alongside Vivaldi). It make perfect sense in context the kind of tunes a disaffected adolescent might play in her bedroom while wondering why no one understands them. That’s just the icing; the rest of Marie’s delectable cake is well worth eating.
Sometimes you make a certain connection with someone. You aren't sure how it happens or whether that person will stay in your life or not but you know once you meet them that you'll never forget them. For the aging movie star Bob Harris (Bill Murray) the moment comes when he crosses paths with the twentysomething Charlotte (Scarlett Johansson) one night in a luxury hotel bar in Tokyo. Lost In Translation succinctly captures this life moment and eloquently paints an exquisite portrait of these two people. Bob neck-deep in a midlife crisis is in the Asian capital for a week because as he explains "[he is] getting paid $2 million to shoot a commercial when [he] could be doing a play somewhere." Charlotte on the other hand is also having a what-do-I-do-with-my-life? dilemma and is in Tokyo with her workaholic photographer husband John (Giovanni Ribisi). Bob and Charlotte's meeting is fortuitous and soon turns into a surprising relationship albeit a fairly chaste one. The two simply enjoy each other's company and begin to have one hilarious misadventure after another on the streets of Tokyo. Unfortunately though their time together is short-lived as each must go back to the realities on their own lives. Yet through the strong bond between them they each develop a new belief in life's possibilities.
It's about time someone gave Bill Murray a leading juicy role the talented actor could sink his teeth into. Throughout his career he has made moviegoers laugh themselves silly in broad comedies such as Ghostbusters and Groundhog Day but only small parts in independent films have allowed him to show his more sensitive side. Many said Murray should have been nominated for an Oscar for his performance in the underrated Rushmore but maybe that just paved the way for his Oscar-worthy turn as Bob. The actor has moments in Translation where he is the Saturday Night Live alum we all know and love; he is excruciatingly funny especially as the over-six-foot comedian improvises with the smaller Japanese people in his usual deadpan style. But when Bob connects with Charlotte the funny guy is put on the back burner while the more complex lonely Bob emerges searching for clues to make his life right again. Charlotte is looking for her own signs and Johansson (Ghost World) is nothing short of amazing in the role. The young actress is achingly honest either sitting around her hotel room in her underwear or observing the odd Japanese culture and she let us know that Charlotte has a whole life waiting for her to take hold of. And when the two actors finally come together the combination is electric. In one particular moment in what will most likely be the film's signature scene Bob and Charlotte sweetly sing karoke songs to one another--his Roxy Music's "More Than This " hers the Pretenders' "Brass in Pocket"--both knowing the physical attraction could never happen but knowing they are sharing a romance nonetheless. In the supporting roles Ribisi does a nice job as the ambitious husband while Anna Faris (Scary Movie) makes a hilarious appearance as an actress hawking her latest B-movie in Japan.
With Lost In Translation writer/director Sofia Coppola who made her directorial debut with the critically acclaimed understatedly poignant The Virgin Suicides has proven her talent behind the camera wasn't a fluke. While Translation is a brilliantly written character study of two lost souls finding redemption in one another it is also clearly a love letter to Tokyo where Coppola spent some time when she was younger. As the atypical Americans Bob and Charlotte can at times stick out like sore thumbs. It's not hard to miss that the Japanese view things a little bit differently than the rest of the world--and the film revels in this from the technologically advanced arcades that populate the city to the whacked-out over-the-top television programs. Yet Translation never becomes an "us against them." On the contrary Coppola wants the audience to love the city and culture as much as she does and affectionately paints Tokyo in its various incarnations with series of long shots and panoramic views. The young director also lets us see a bit of the Japanese countryside as well when Charlotte visits a Kyoto garden and Buddhist temple. Although beautiful some of these indulgent moments drag on a bit too long but soon you realize their significance within the theme of the movie.