Where the Wild Things Are Review

Growing up is not cool. The process that nearly always results in reproduction, mortgages and the eventual betrayal of your civil rights by your own flesh is a terrifying one that begins with moments of revelation in childhood. It's not simply the dark secrets of tooth fairies and Santa Claus or the absence of sympathy when you wet yourself. It's bigger things which shake your fundamental trust in the cosseted, all loving and safe existence that you've accepted. It's when you learn that parents can and will screw up, that siblings are more interested in their fun than yours, and that you are solely responsible for yourself that life truly begins to suck.

Max, the focus of the film on review, discovers that his need to be the centre of his sister's and mother's universes is not reasonable. He responds to the crushing disappointment of this revelation by escaping to a world where his fantasies seem real and where his wildest hopes can be made flesh. As a self-appointed king to the lovable monsters he discovers, Max comes to experience the joys of being the responsible adult along with the pitfalls of being in charge.

Where The Wild Things Are is therefore a parable where an eleven year old boy can learn the lessons of approaching adulthood and where family is reaffirmed with his new found wisdom. As the viewer, we are asked to identify with Max's dreams and fears, then to enjoy his escape but finally to appreciate his return to the fold of normal life. This is all done in American indie style with cool alternative music, choppy camerawork and this edgy presentation is meant to distract you from the thought that this is simply sugar coated conformism in a crazy wrapper.
But in truth, it is exactly that. Spike Jonze's film teaches obedience much as adverts teach consumption, and much like adult life teaches misrepresentation and compromise as virtues worth learning. So radical edgy film-makers do this kind of thing these days - advocating conservatism and comfortable morals. If I were a parent, then Jonze's work would be a great way to scare children into docility and prepare them for an adulthood that will come too soon. Similarly, if I were an adult, Where The Wild Things Are would leave me feeling guilty for the spirit I have lost whilst reassuring me about the sense that I have gained.

That's if I were an adult, but I have never wanted to grow up as maturity and time remakes the old into something more acceptable. Where once Maurice Sendak's book was controversial for the message of adventure it gave kids, many years later Jonze's adaptation into a motion picture will just remind kids that there's a video game and who knows what other merchandise that they can buy to still those quiet voices of doubt in their heads. Kids will learn to give their parents an even break, to become mature and to leave childish things behind much as their formerly liberal parents before them.
You might think that's a good thing but I don't, and the more children who refuse to grow up and ignore this doctrine the better. Jonze's film is well made, visually imaginative and basically a sad comment on the adults responsible for it.

Technical Specs

Using almost 30 GB and boasting full HD extras, this blu-ray is region free. The main transfer is encoded using the VC-1 codec and presented at 2.4:1 with a file-size of 20 GB. There is very mild grain visible and the image is slightly soft especially with effects shots. Colours are a little de-saturated in keeping with the autumnal appearance of the film, shadow detail is adequate but not perfect and the darker blacks always carry a hue of blue or brown depending on the lighting. The presentation is naturalistic with a lack of edge enhancement and obvious filtering, and overall this is a very good transfer.
Lots of language options are offered in standard definition along with an audio descriptive track in English. The master audio track has decent surround qualities although the music is ever present bar a few scenes where the ambience of scenes can be fully appreciated so I wouldn't describe the sound as three dimensional. Bass is never overwhelming and dialogue is always clearly mixed around the soundstage appropriate to where it's coming from. This is a decent lossless track which complements the fantastical mood of the film.

Special features

The extras include lots of very short featurettes put together by Lester Bangs, along with an HBO featurette and another short adaptation of a Sendak tale. The short is a mixture of live action and animation from Canada and features the voices of Meryl Streep and Forest Whitaker. If you remember Jim Henson's The Storyteller then I would describe the execution and quality as very similar, and personally I far preferred it in terms of tone and execution to the main film.

First look is an HBO featurette on the film with Jonze talking about convincing writer Maurice Sendak to let him transfer his book to the screen. The piece covers how Jonze directed Max Records, other cast and crew chip in and Maurice Sendak calls Jonze a "throwback" to people he knew in the 1960's. The two men talk more in a short featurette which recycles some of the HBO piece, but also expands on Sendak's view of Jonze and his seemingly sincere appreciation of the film. Further space is given to the director's relationship with his child lead in another short piece with footage of the two larking, and Max Records being alarmingly precocious. A short on Max's real family reveals that his younger brother Sam is even scarier in the large personality stakes.

Moving on, Carter Burwell's work on the score is appraised and his stated aim is to make otherworldly music which he does through a mix of classical instruments and much more improvised sounds. Next up is an on location featurette illustrating how difficult the dog barking scene was which would be fascinating if all these very short featurettes weren't starting to get on your nerves. A practical joke played on Jonze by his crew, his Vespa is lowered into a shot and he is gunged, is the next extra, and a prank played on Max by Jonze follows it too. Finally, all these shorts captured by Lester Bangs end with one concentrating on the kids in the picture which reveals that the movie set was littered with the offspring of cast and crew.

This release also comes with a digital copy which is available for the next year.

And that's your lot, if you like the movie more than me and want to be charmed by Jonze and Max then you'll presumably find the extras a little less tiring than I did.

Summary

I rather disliked the film for it being a sheep in counter-culture clothing but this package is full of extras and if you are more taken with the conservative kookiness than I was then you'll enjoy a good transfer and lossless sound as well.

Film
5 out of 10
Video
7 out of 10
Audio
8 out of 10
Extras
9 out of 10
Overall

7

out of 10

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