Where the Wild Things Are production woes continue

July 12, 2008 at 4:35 pm 1 comment

For a movie that started out with so much buzz, Spike Jonze’s “Where the Wild Things Are” really fell off the face of the internet hype planet. First, people were up in arms after initial test screenings were met with pretty much the worst possible results for a kids’ movie:

The first leaked screenshot of Jonze's "Wild Things"

The first leaked screenshot of Jonze's "Wild Things"

Children cried, were scared and even walked out of the theater. No one liked the lead character of Max, played by Max Records, saying that he was “is almost entirely unlikable, coming off as more mean-spirited and bratty than mischievous.” They said the puppeteer-driven Wild Things weren’t life-like enough.

Ouch.

Warner Brothers pulled the original 2008 release date, pushing the film back more than a year. Major (seriously, Major) reshoots were rumored, but everything was kept intensely hush-hush.

People on both ends were upset, of course. On one end, Jonze is a very respected, artistic and non-mainstream director who obviously wanted to keep his original vision intact. On the other, Warner Bros. is a major Hollywood production company, which poured $80 Million into this project and has since pledged more money to Jonze for reshoots and designs, really can’t afford to release a kids’ movie that will scare the living piss out of its target audience.

And then all news from the flick died.

No updates about the reshoots. No new test screenings. No anything; I personally love Jonze’s work and seriously became worried when all of this went down. I think a dark, moving rendition of “Wild Things” would be a great, great film, especially with Jonze’s directorial skills.

We’ve finally heard Warner Bros. in an LA Times piece after months of tight-lippedness, and the news is bittersweet

“We’ve given him more money and, even more importantly, more time for him to work on the film,” (Warner’s exec. Alan) Horn said. “We’d like to find a common ground that represents Spike’s vision but still offers a film that really delivers for a broad-based audience. We obviously still have a challenge on our hands. But I wouldn’t call it a problem, simply a challenge. No one wants to turn this into a bland, sanitized studio movie. This is a very special piece of material and we’re just trying to get it right.”

And this:

“We try to take a few shots,” he said. “Sometimes they work and sometimes they don’t. The jury is still out on this one. But we remain confident that Spike is going to figure things out and at the end of the day we’ll have an artistically compelling movie.

Let’s break this down, both good and bad news.

The Good News

  • Spike’s still on the project. Thank God β€” there was serious talk of his removal from the project after the initial screenings went so horribly wrong. He needs to be on this project, and he needs to fight to keep as much of his vision in the film as possible. I really want to see how he interpreted the book, and that’ll be impossible if the go all Hollywood on his product.
  • Horn’s words, “no one wants to turn this into a bland, sanitized studio movie.” Well, words are just words, but these are good words. Does this prove “Wild Things” won’t turn out to be just that? No, but at least they’re making an effort to work with Jonze.
  • Warner seems to be very patient with Spike. If they were trying to rush him into throwing something together, I would be worried about the future of Jonze’s original vision

The Bad News

  • He sounds stern about the changes. The Spike Jonze version will never see the light of day, at least not until it goes through the major changes addressed before. The major one being the Wild Things before. The article says they will now be CGI instead of Puppets with animated faces. I was really interested in seeing how Jonze was going to execute with the puppets, but that’s no more, I guess.
  • The original film was shot in 2006. Any reshoots they do might have major complications β€” I mean, kids are known to do that pesky thing called growing, and I’m sure Max Records looks drastically different than he did two whole years ago. That’s a huge problem. Are they going to reshoot the whole movie? Are they hiring a new Max? If the do a complete reshoot, how much of the original tone of the film will be lost forever?
  • Nothing was said about a direct-to-DVD director’s cut. When I first heard what was happening to this movie, my first though was “This is exactly what Terry Gilliam went through with ‘Brazil.’ ” Of course I got excited that maybe Jonze would strike back and get his original film out to the public somehow, but sadly, this doesn’t sound likely, as I’ve never heard of anything pertaining to it other than my own hopeless dreams.

The LA Times piece also had an interesting clip about Warner Brothers’ experimentation with signing artistically acclaimed directors to big-budget, wide-release movies, the latest being Jonze and “Wild Things.” This is something I hadn’t really haven’t put much thought into before I read this article. They’ve had both good luck and pretty bad luck with these mismatched pairings. Take a look:

The really fascinating issue about “Wild Things” is that it shows the pitfalls of Warners’ strategy of marrying gifted directors to mainstream studio material. The strategy has produced a number of triumphs, most notably Chris Nolan’s “Batman Begins” and the upcoming “The Dark Knight,” Alfonso Cuaron’s “Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban” and Steven Soderbergh’s “Ocean’s Eleven.” But it has also resulted in disasters where the filmmakers have been totally miscast with the material, whether it was the Wachowski brothers’ “Speed Racer” or acclaimed German “Downfall” director Oliver Hirschbiegel’s “Invasion,” which underwent all sorts of rewrites and reshoots but still turned out to be a flop.

Let’s just hope “Wild Things” doesn’t take after “Downfall,” even though both went through serious reshoots after the production company first say it. This movie has a ton of potential β€” I really want it to pan out.

Discuss: What do you want to see from “Wild Things”? Do you want to see what Spike Jonze had in mind or a more family friendly version?

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Entry filed under: Warner Bros, Warner Brothers. Tags: , , , .

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1 Comment Add your own

  • 1. Michael Cera  |  July 12, 2008 at 6:38 pm

    The discussion questions are very sixth-grade-teacher-esque. Maybe if they weren’t bold, it would feel less like an assignment for a reflection paper.

    I really liked this post. πŸ™‚

    And I would want to see the original version as maybe a special feature on the DVD, but obviously the more family-friendly version should do better in theaters. It would be really intriguing to see the difference between the two.

    Reply

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