It is not acceptable for a grown man to be getting teary eyed at out of context snippets of a movie played at a comic book convention. And yet there I was, sitting in Hall H, fighting back tears as I watched scenes from Spike Jonze’s Where the Wild Things Are. Introduced by Max Records, the boy at the center of the movie (who relayed a quote from original author Maurice Sendak: “I love this movie. I hope people like it. If not, they can go right to hell.”), the footage worked serious magic on the thousands in attendance.
If Jonze’s entire film matches the heart of the few minutes I saw, anyone who doesn’t like this movie won’t be going to hell since they simply have no soul. Everything seems to be shot at magic hour and the footage was imbued with a deep sense of melancholy. But there was also lots of joy – scenes of a Wild Things dogpile and a group effort to build a castle evoked childhood innocence and fun in ways that connect with you on a completely emotional level.
The Wild Things themselves look amazing; one part Henson suits and one part CGI facial magic, they appear present and alive and real in every way while also have that slightly not of this world Muppet feeling. This, to me, is what CGI should be doing – enhancing what is really there, making things that are real world objects extra special. You don’t look at the faces of the Wild Things and say ‘That’s CGI’ because so much else of the Wild Thing is real. This is the use of special effects technology to create real magic, which is convincing you that something you know cannot be real actually is.
I won’t go into the usual description of every scene, but I’ll say that each moment of the footage showed humor and sweetness. Especially impressive was the work of James Gandolfini; he has the voice of a big sweet monster, and Jonze includes his notoriously heavy breathing into the character. The rapport between Gandolfini and Max Record is incredible, doubly so when you realize this is voice over work and that Gandolfini isn’t in that big Henson suit.
Each of the Wild Things looks amazing, and even in the course of a few moments I could understand their personalities. Jonze has created a complete world here, one made up of childhood dreams and adult nostalgia in equal measure; what I saw hit me on the level of someone remembering what it was like to be a kid, what it was like to be free and unfettered and where the biggest problem I faced was not liking frozen corn. Jonze is making a movie about the twilight of childhood (a scene in a desert, which was once rocks and which will someday become dust, is a metaphor for the slow deterioration of our childhood innocence), and I wonder how much kids will be able to appreciate that.
Of course they could just fall for the wonder and the beauty of what is on screen. If the few minutes I saw are indicative of the whole film (and friends who have seen the whole film assure me they are), Spike Jonze has created a masterpiece.
Behind every great book adaptation is a forgettable first try. — By Ryan Covey