Adapting a popular children’s book that is only 10 sentences long can be a tricky thing, but writer/director Spike Jonze managed to do that with “Where the Wild Things Are,” a completely endearing and original adaptation of the popular Maurice Sendak classic.
Here’s a film that manages to stay true to its roots, while expanding it into new depths that will surely please all the book’s fans.
“Wild Things Are” tells the story of Max (Max Records), a disobedient boy who runs away to a magical world inhabited by ferocious wild creatures.
Max quickly strikes up a friendship with the creatures, convincing them that he is their long lost leader.
At first Max enjoys the idea of being king of this strange new world, but soon finds himself longing to return to his family.
My son was a huge fan of the book, so I was very familiar with the material heading into my screening and not quite sure how Jonze could pull it off.
To his credit, Jonze (the man behind “Adaptation” and “Being John Malkovich”) proves to be quite respectful to the material while managing to add much more.
Jonze creates a back story, bookending the story with scenes between Max and his family that really set up the main plot. He also expands on the island of the wild, creating a beautiful world that is a visual feast.
Records is also good in the lead, capturing the highs and lows of a child full of anger and imagination.
I will admit the story is probably a little darker than some parents might anticipate (and I get the feeling that Jonze may be suggesting Max’s anger could be rooted in some darker places), but I still think it’s a film that children can appreciate. It’s smart and clever and very trusting of its audience.
And like Disney’s “Up,” it’s not just an excellent family film, it’s among the best films of any kind in 2009.
DVD dandy of the week
With Halloween around the corner, this week’s dandy is “Orphan” (B) - a creepy and effective thriller that features some strong performances and a neat little twist.
The movie tells the story of John and Kate (Peter Sarsgaard and Vera Farmiga), a married couple dealing with some serious problems.
Already the parents of a preteen boy (Jimmy Bennett) and a deaf younger sister (Aryana Engineer), the couple decide to adopt after Kate suffers a miscarriage.
They adopt a 9-year-old Russian girl named Esther (Isabelle Fuhrman), a shy but very smart little girl whose only quirk seems to be her insistence on wearing clothes that make her look like Little Bo Peep.
The family soon learns Esther brings much more baggage than her wardrobe choices - she may not be the sweet little angel she appears to be.
For the most part fans of horror films will probably be able to see where “Orphan” is headed, but to its credit, the film works, thanks to David Johnson’s screenplay and a talented cast that adds authenticity to the story.
Johnson and director Jaume Collet-Serra really take their time setting up the story - something that may frustrate some in the audience, but adds to the suspense. I was also impressed with Johnson’s little additions - like Kate’s past struggles with alcohol and a family accident that has obviously created a huge rift between the spouses.
It’s the kind of plot details that wouldn’t work with an inferior cast, which is fortunately not the case with “Orphan.”
Farmiga is very good and Sarsgaard, although not up to the level of some of his previous work, also has some nice moments.
The real star is 12-year-old Fuhrman, who is absolutely perfect as Esther. She exudes the creepiness with plenty of confidence, making the character quite believable, and giving a performance that reminded me of Kirsten Dunst in “Interview with a Vampire” or Natalie Portman in “The Professional.”
I will concede the film probably drags a little bit at the end (after delivering a pretty clever twist) with Collet-Serra resorting to a fairly cliched final showdown. The ending takes a little wind out of the film’s sails - but not enough to keep “Orphan” from being a worthy entry into the horror film genre.
“Orphan” is rated R for disturbing violent content, some sexuality and language and will be available Tuesday on DVD.
— Sportswriter/movie reviewer Micheal Compton is still trying to figure out what is with all the hype behind “Paranormal Activity.” To get his thoughts on that film or anything else he decides to see, visit his blog at mcompton.wordpress.com or his Twitter page at twitter.com/mcompton428. You can also e-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org.