Tuesday, October 13, 2009

The critical importance of fear...


I was reading today that Spike Jonze, the director of the new film adaptation of Where The Wild Things Are, is being criticized for making his movie... you know... actually scary, like the book.

From the linked article:

Spike Jonze recalls how Maurice Sendak urged him to make the movie version of "Where the Wild Things Are" as dangerous as the book was when the children's classic came out in 1963.

The question now is whether Jonze made it too dangerous.

The article goes on to say:

At a test screening of an early cut, some children found the wild things creepy and scary.

Rather than snatching the $80 million project away from Jonze, Warner decided to give him more time. Jonze reshot some scenes, and he spent the past year applying computer animation to create the facial expressions on his wild things, which were shot live on set using actors inside giant monster suits.

The result certainly is more challenging, and potentially more rewarding, than many family films.

Creepy? Scary? Well... DUH! Good for you, Warner Brothers, for accurately interpreting a classic book and not bowing to lowest-common-denominator fears about what is or is not too intense for a kid (particularly when the story is as complex as Sendek's classic tale).

I remember WTWTA very, very well. I had a love/hate relationship with the book literally since the first time my Dad read it to me, one that I still retain. Any time I open the book, even as an adult, I get a chill. There's just something so creepy and otherworldly in the sequence when Max's room transforms into a forest. It freaked me out as a boy and it's still, in my opinion, simply captivating.

And then, when Max decides to sail away home, and the Wild Things stand on the shore and scream "we love you so much we'll eat you up!" (presumably so they can rend him limb-from-limb in the intensity of their devotion)... Shudder.

The evoking of fear here was crucial, and is why I no doubt remember the book when hordes of others have been forgotten. As a writer myself, one that deals with fear issues in his work all the time, I'm still hopeful that I might create something a fraction as enduring as Sendek's story.

Fear and dread is not, to say the least, the usual reaction a children's book evokes, but it's one that definitely set in my child's mind an expectation of just how engaging a well-written story can be. Now it looks like I can expect some of the same challenges in the film. Yay!!

I was excited to see the film before, but now I'm practically jumping out of my seat. As the father of a young son, I wonder if he'll find the film as terrifying and spellbinding as I did when my Dad read it aloud to me.

One can hope...

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