Welcome to this blog of my film reviews. Some have been drafted carefully on paper, others I have sat and typed. I'm going to make it clear right now that I don't expect you to agree with my (re)views, or to like my style of writing. However, I want my views to be just out there and open, as a person who wishes to express himself from deep within. Feel free to comment and debate with me, but I do ask that you are civil and not harsh, as any comments which are basically swear words and insults will automatically be deleted. Also any text that is in orange (and often bold) is a Hyperlink to either a source, or a previous post for background reference.

Sunday, 20 March 2011

Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory


When poverty stricken kid Charlie (Peter Ostrum) finds a Golden Ticket in his chocolate bar he wins a tour of Wonka's Chocolate Factory, lead by the great Willy Wonka himself (Gene Wilder), a tour which will change his life and fortunes forever.

Visually this film is quite a treat. The special effects are very good, especially for a 1971 film with a $2.9 million budget, with the highlights including Violet Beauregarde (Denise Nickerson) expanding into a giant human blueberry, which is done with some well executed gradual colour changes and inflations; and Wonka's great elevator crashing through a glass roof in a lovely slow motion shot coupled with a bold shattering sound effect. The sets are also of a beautiful design, but none more so than the Chocolate Room, a gigantic edible meadow inside the factory, which combines numerous colours that never overlap or threaten to become garish, but are brought together like a wonderful oil painting; and is made with such care and detail that the moment Wonka opens the door to it is a moment most will always remember.

The songs, I have mixed feelings for them. The lyrics are different to those of Roald Dahl's book, as in very different, yet they are still quite enjoyable thanks to their catchy tunes. However, how the song sequences are created is what doesn't work. The frames of the Oompa Loompas (to date only about 3 of the 200+ dwarf actors survive) singing is shrunk on to a black canvas and the lyrics flash up in big colourful letters to make a sing-along, and this just doesn't work as it looks too much like a comic strip without the characters being hand drawn. Disney never tried this with their many animated musicals, so why should Mel Stuart do this here, even if the lyrics are decent?

The main problem is the film's pacing, which is most likely damaged by the fact that the film is very unloyal to the book. The book is about a life-changing tour of a magical factory, after a long period of family suffering that for a while looks to be getting worse and worse. Instead it all rushes to the factory a little too quickly - the five Golden Tickets are all found within about 25 minutes, and the space between the findings are as minimal as possible, resulting in there being little emotional development of Charlie, who ends up becoming a depressed little kid, instead of the ever optimistic boy in the book. As for Wonka's grand tour, it is all just sped up so much that the children's personalities which result in life-changing experiences are rather understated. For example, Augustus Gloop (Michael Bollner) is a greedy kid, whose greed teaches him a painful lesson, but there is no emphasis at all on his greed except for his first 30 seconds on screen and last 60. It speeds through the events leading to a lack of character development, lead by a totally misadapted Willy Wonka. Our "tour" is not lead by a borderline magician, but by a camp, not too excitable singer, which means that the character has little magical quality. However, Gene Wilder proves his acting skills as he still makes Wonka very loveable, a real fatherlike figure who has a wonderful charm and even charisma to him. A character you cannot help but love.

Flawed this film may be, and nowhere near as magical as the source material (actually entitled Charlie and the Chocolate Factory), but as a viewer you can't help but feel warmly for this brave first attempt at adaptation, and there are many quite uplifting moments in this film that you will never forget.

Peter Ostrum, Gene Wilder, Jack Albertson, Julie Dawn Cole, Paris Themmen, Denise Nickerson, Michael Bollner, Diana Sowle, Dodo Denney, Leonard Stone, Roy Kinnear, Ursula Reit, Gunter Meisner, Aubrey Woods, Werner Heyking.

Oscar nomination: Best Original Song Score and Adaptation (Leslie Bricusse, Anthony Newley, Walter Scharf).

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