Sunday, March 17, 2024

Wonka: The movie review after actually seeing it


There are a number of things I don't usually do here at clerkmanifesto:

1. Review movies

I might exult wildly over a movie, or conduct societal analysis with a movie, but just... review a movie? Not really my thing.

2. Talk about art I have mixed feelings about.

I am more inclined to exult wildly, or condemn bitterly, the complex middle ground isn't usually of great interest to me.

3. Open my comments with a list of things that I don't usually do here, but am proceeding to do anyway.

And yet here we are!

A few months ago I wrote a review of the movie Wonka, despite not having seen it. But now I've seen it. So I feel a kind of responsibility, a compulsion even, to set the record straight.

In my quite favorable review of the movie without having seen it here is what I really liked:

1. Hugh Grant as an Oompa Loompa.

2. The casting in general, though aside from Hugh Grant, most notably Timothee Chalamet as a younger Willy Wonka.

3. The colorful setting and whimsey created by the brilliant director of the charming Paddington movies, Paul King.

Having seen the movie here is what I liked:

1. Hugh Grant as an Oompa Loompa.

2. The casting in general, though aside from Hugh Grant, most notably Timothee Chalamet as a younger Willy Wonka.

3. The colorful setting and whimsey created by the brilliant director of the charming Paddington movies, Paul King.

So one would think we were all set and I'd be urging everyone to rush off to see the movie.

But it wasn't a very good movie despite all of the above. And this I would pin down to three basic reasons:

1. Fan fiction is not good fiction.

There is an old truism, I think reasonably now debunked, that the book is always better than the movie. Indeed great movies can be made from good books (The Godfather? Or how about Paddington!). But you know what is ruinously difficult, and so rare that no proper examples leap to my mind? 

Making a movie out of the world of a previous, fully completed work of art created by other people.

This is always a kind of fan fiction, no matter how much money or artistic power is put into it.

There is nothing wrong with fan fiction. If I want to write myself a new Pooh story, more power to me. But I am just doing it as a fan wanting more and ultimately trying to imitate or failing to capture. This is why fan fiction is not good fiction. Its power of creative invention is dampened. If one is truly faithful to the original it is stiff and repetitive in a new story, and if it is inventive and creative it too easily betrays the source material.

2. Too many villains.

The lovely Charlie and the Chocolate Factory (CCF) had, let's see, technically, zero villains. Oh, it had a bunch of bad kids. And I'm open to critiques about the virtues of all kinds of characters in that movie or book, but the one true, and rarely appearing, villain in the movie wasn't, late spoiler alert, actually a villain! He was testing Charlie's character. Zero villains! It is actually part of what is clever and great about that book and the movie. 

Wonka, on the other hand, has three, count them, three whole sets of villains. There are the boardinghouse villains, the chocolate cartel villains, and the police villain. There are seven distinctly drawn, unredeemed villains in this movie. 

It's a fucking fan fic movie that misses an essential point and beauty of its source inspiration!

3. It's magic is magic.

Magic is great. Though I'll note that Charlie and the Chocolate Factory (CCF) didn't exactly have any real magic at all, it was science and advanced candy making. It was about the metaphorical magic of candy. But if one has actual magic, that magic has to have rules. Wonka violates this relentlessly. For instance, if Willy Wonka can produce something like endless chocolate from his lovely velvet frock with no access to kitchens, sugar, cocoa, time to work on it, or really anything other than a small steampunk case with delightful mechanisms and small vials of colorful liquid in it, why doesn't he just conjure up wads of banknotes to free himself and all his friends?

In fact, there are so many ridiculous examples along these lines where the impossible regularly becomes conveniently possible when required, that I'd instead like to compare and contrast in this section one notable thing that appears in the two movies (Wonka and CCF): 


Chocolate that makes you fly is big in Wonka. It's used many times and at important points. It is the result of... a random magic liquid that exists somehow? Besides violating my "magic being magic" rule, it also betrays the later events of CCF. In CCF flying inducing candy is just then being developed and is in an experimental and tentative stage. It cleverly comes from a soda. So it doesn't make much sense that Wonka had an easy to use potion for flying when he was younger. Ingeniously in CCF the soda bubbles are lighter than air and they make a person float (wonderfully, burping is what gets a person down!). An act of careful story engineering in the book, treated with careful scientific trepidation, and an actual explanation of how it works, becomes, in the prequel: 

Roald Dahl had flying candy (soda), so we have flying chocolate!

Ah, so now I have worked myself up into a lather of fury towards Wonka

But you and I both know what that really is all about:

I just really, really wanted it to be good.

It so almost was, and,

It wasn't even close.

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