Max Records, Pepita Emmerichs, Catherine Keener, Mark Ruffalo, James Gandolfini, Forest Whitaker, Catherine O'Hara, Chris Cooper, Michael Berry Jr., Lauren Ambrose, Paul Dano
Spike Jonze, Dave Eggers , Maurice Sendak (book)
There's One in All of Us.
"Let the wild rumpus start!" Nine-year-old Max runs away from home and sails across the sea to become king of the land Where the Wild Things Are. King Max rules a wondrous realm of gigantic fuzzy monsters, but being king may not be as carefree as it looks! Filmmaker Spike Jonze directs a magical, visually astonishing film version of Maurice Sendak's celebrated children's classic, starring an amazing cast of screen veterans and featuring young Max Records in a fierce and sensitive performance as Max.
$32.695 million on 3735 screens.
English DTS-HD MA 5.1
French Dolby Digital 5.1
Spanish Dolby Digital 5.1
Portuguese Dolby Digital 5.1
Runtime: 101 min.
Release Date: 3/2/2010
• Eight Shorts By Lance Bangs
• Higgelty-Piggelty-Pop! Or There Must Be More to Life Short
• “HBO First Look” Featurette
• Digital Copy/Standard DVD
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Panasonic 50" TH-50PZ77U 1080p Plasma Monitor; Sony STR-DG1200 7.1 Channel Receiver; Panasonic DMP-BD60K Blu-Ray Player using HDMI outputs; Michael Green Revolution Cinema 6i Speakers (all five); Kenwood 1050SW 150-watt Subwoofer.
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Where The Wild Things Are [Blu-Ray] (2009)
Reviewed by Colin Jacobson (Febraury 24, 2010)
Spike Jonze brings a much-beloved children’s tale to the big screen with 2009’s Where the Wild Things Are. Young Max (Max Records) is an angry boy. He’s angry his dad is gone. He’s angry his mom (Catherine Keener) dates someone new (Mark Ruffalo). He’s angry at his sister (Pepita Emmerichs) and her friends.
After Max has a meltdown and bites her, his mom sends him to bed without dinner. Instead, he runs away and takes a boat that ends up on a special island. There he encounters a group of huge creatures called the Wild Things. Though initially afraid of them, he stands up to them and convinces them to make him their king. The film follows his adventures along with a mix of complications.
Confession time: as far as I recall, I never read the Maurice Sendak book on which the movie is based. That makes comparisons impossible, though I believe the adaptation falls firmly into the “loose” category. Sendak’s tome was a pretty brief picture book, so Jonze and co-writer Dave Eggers needed to expand a lot to flesh out the material to feature length.
I would deem their efforts a success, though I can’t declare the results to be rousing. On the positive side, the cinematic Wild Things creates an inventive, involving universe. The creatures are human enough to make it possible for us to relate to them, but they still maintain appropriately monstrous elements. This is a fantasy setting with a good basis in reality, and that makes it more effective. This is a world in which a maternal figure declares that she loves someone enough to eat him up and literally means it.
The film favors a certain psychological bent, but it doesn’t beat us over the head with character interpretation or themes. One can easily see aspects of Max’s life in the wild things, especially in terms of Carol (voiced by James Gandolfini, acted by Vincent Crowley) and KW (Lauren Ambrose/Alice Parkinson); they seem to stand in for Max himself and his mom, respectively. These semi-doppelgangers allow Max to learn lessons, but the movie doesn’t force those lessons on us; they’re presented in a pleasantly subdued manner.
Wild Things definitely gets a boost from an excellent cast. All the voice actors do nicely – I especially like Catherine O’Hara’s “downer” Judith – and Records proves quite winning as Max. He pulls off the role’s anger in a convincing manner; he doesn’t come across like the usual cutesy Hollywood kid. Records develops the character’s other emotions as well and turns out a solid performance.
I applaud Jonze’s choice to use a combination of “men in suits”/puppetry/CG for the wild things. In this day and age, the standard choice would be to go all CG, but I think that would’ve given the characters a phony sheen. The fact that the creatures actually exist in the real world provides them a heft that otherwise wouldn’t exist, especially given the presence of a young actor with them. I’d guess that Records found it easier to develop his performance with actual beings against which to work; that must be more effective than talking to a tennis ball on a stick.
With all the praise I’ve thrown at Wild Things, why do I still refuse to deem it a “rousing success”? I simply feel the movie lacks a certain magic that would take it to a higher level. Sure, it gives us an entertaining fable, but it fails to deliver a spark that would allow it to burrow under our skin and take us to another place. There’s a certain clinical quality about it that keeps it from achieving greatness.
In a weird way, I get the feeling that Jonze tried so hard to distance himself from tradition Hollywood “movie magic” that he went too far in the other direction. So much of Wild Things feels almost matter of fact; there’s rarely a sense of awe or wonder about it. We don’t really invest in the magic because the film what let us; Jonze so mistrusts sentimentality or audience manipulation that he eliminates much of the story’s emotional potential.
Despite that strangely detached impression, I think Wild Things works. I certainly find many positive elements here and believe the film creates an engaging fable. I just wish Jonze had indulged his inner Spielberg a little more and allowed us to more strongly invest in the characters.
The Disc Grades: Picture B+/ Audio B+/ Bonus C+
Where the Wild Things Are appears in an aspect ratio of approximately 2.40:1 on this Blu-Ray Disc. Though not flawless, the transfer looked quite good.
Sharpness usually excelled. Wide shots suffered from a smidgen of softness, but that was a mild complaint. The majority of the film demonstrated strong clarity and accuracy. No examples of jagged edges or shimmering appeared, and edge haloes remained absent. Source flaws also failed to mar this clean presentation.
Colors tended toward an amber tint, with a very low-key palette on display. Within the film’s design, though, the colors appeared fine. Blacks were dark and tight, while shadows were acceptably good. I thought some low-light shots were a little dense, but that wasn’t a big distraction. At almost all times, this was a very pleasing presentation.
As for the DTS-HD MA 5.1 soundtrack of Wild Things, it complemented the film well. The soundfield opened up nicely, especially during wilder… uh, things. The shots on the island tended to broaden in a satisfying way, and I liked the extensive use of localized speech.
The surrounds contributed a reasonable amount of unique information as well and added involvement to the piece. If forced to pick the best one, I’d choose the dirt clod fight; it used all the channels in an encompassing manner. Music was also more active than usual, as the score came from all around in a satisfying manner.
Audio quality was always solid. Music showed nice range and clarity, while speech came across as natural and distinctive. Effects possessed good heft and punch; those elements showed fine power while they remained accurate. All in all, this was a satisfying track.
How did the picture and sound of this Blu-Ray compare with those of the standard DVD? Both demonstrated improvements. Audio seemed a bit more engulfing and also showed superior dynamics and smoothness.
Visuals boasted the standard positives. Sharpness was significantly tighter, and low-light shots were better defined. The SD-DVD actually was pretty good, but the Blu-ray was substantially superior.
The Blu-ray included all the same extras as the SD-DVD along with a number of new materials. I’ll mark Blu-ray exclusives with special blue print.
Eight Shorts by Lance Briggs appear. These include “Maurice and Spike” (3:15), “Max and Spike” (6:37), “The Records Family” (6:45), “Carter Burwell” (4:39), “The Absurd Difficulty of Filming a Dog Running and Barking at the Same Time” (5:32), “The Big Prank” (3:23), “Vampire Attack” (0:51) and “The Kids Take Over the Picture” (4:57). (Note that the last four also appear on the DVD.) “Maurice” looks at the adaptation of the source book, and “Max” discusses the lead actor’s casting and his relationship with the director. “Records” looks at Max’s family, while “Burwell” tells us about the work of the composer.
“Dog” provides a fun glimpse from the set, as we see the challenges discussed in its title; it’s an extremely minor aspect of the shoot, and that’s what makes it fascinating.
“Prank” isn’t very entertaining, as I suspect it’s funnier to those who were there. “Attack” is just a weird little piece of goofiness with Max Records and Spike Jonze, while “Kids” provides a more typical “behind the scenes” featurette; it shows all the children who were on the set and how this helped Records.
When these clips focus on the production, they’re pretty good. The first five are entertaining, and “Kids” finishes things well. It’s just “Prank” and “Attack” that don’t really go anywhere.
Another adaptation of a Sendak work, Higgelty-Piggelty-Pop! Or There Must Be More to Life runs 23 minutes, 30 seconds. A dog named Jennie (voiced by Meryl Streep) decides “there must be more to life than having everything” and sets out on her own. She wants to be an actress but learns that she needs “experience”, and she attempts to find it.
Life follows the same theme as Wild Things in that it shows the grass isn’t always greener. Of course, kids probably won’t identify with Jennie as much as with Max since she’s a canine, but the moral remains effective. This is a clever, well-executed short.
Next comes a 13-minute, two-second HBO First Look. In this featurette, we hear from co-writer/director Spike Jonze, author Maurice Sendak, co-writer Dave Eggers, cinematographer Lance Acord, editor Eric Zumbrunnen, and actors Lauren Ambrose, Catherine O’Hara, Catherine Keener, and Paul Dano. “First Look” covers the adaptation of the source book, cast and performances, themes, crew and the atmosphere in the set, and general thoughts about the flick.
“First Look” programs exist for no purpose other than promotion, and that vibe does come through here. Nonetheless, it still manages to deliver some good info about the production. It’s too lightweight to really inform us, but we get enough decent material to make the show worth a look.
The disc opens with a few ads. We get promos for the Wild Things videogame and Free Willy: Escape from Pirate’s Cove. No trailer for Wild Things appears here.
A second disc offers two elements. For one, it provides a standard DVD version of the film. Note that this doesn’t simply duplicate the DVD you can buy on its own; it’s a more barebones affair. Nonetheless, it allows fans without Blu-ray capabilities a way to watch the movie until they do take the Blu plunge.
The second platter also includes a digital copy of Wild Things. This allows you to slap the flick on a computer or portable gizmo. Huzzah!
I can’t say how fans of the original book will respond to the cinematic version of Where the Wild Things Are, but I think it works – mostly. The film keeps us reasonably entertained and involved, but it lacks a certain magic that would make it great. The Blu-ray boasts very good picture and audio along with a few reasonably interesting supplements. Wild Things falls short of greatness but still works fairly well, and the Blu-ray brings it home in a satisfying manner.
To rate this film visit the original review of WHERE THE WILD THINGS ARE