I generally think of myself as a book person. I read far more books than I watch movies and I generally much prefer the book to the movie. For example, I enjoyed Cooper’s Last of the Mohican’s but hated the movie. Sure the Lord of the Rings trilogy was better than I would have ever imagined but I still prefer the books.
The reason I bring this up is that I recently stumbled upon an example of the reverse: Charlie and the Chocolate Factory. I have always loved the classic Gene Wilder version Willy Wonka & the Chocolate Factory. I love Gene Wilder’s rather schizophrenic portrayal of Willy Wonka; happy and good one moment, sinister and dangerous the next. I love the oompa loompa songs. This was just a classic movie of my childhood.
When an updated version of the movie was released staring Johnny Depp I wasn’t real excited about seeing it. It was bound to disappoint given the iconic nature of the first film for me. But looking for something to watch during the Thanksgiving break with the in-laws we decided to watch it anyways.
Not surprisingly I was disappointed. The biggest flaw in the movie for me was Depp’s Wily Wonka. Perhaps my bias is too strongly tied to Gene Wilder’s performance, but I thought Depp was too pale, too odd, and too flat. Instead of the underlying edge of Wilder we get creepy eccentricity mixed with effeminate dandy. I didn’t think Tim Burton’s invented childhood for Wonka added anything to the story either. And having a digital Deep Roy play all the Oompa-Loompas was off putting. Burton’s dark and grey tone just didn’t seem to work for this story.
Having watched both films I thought it might be interesting to read the books they were based on, so upon returning home I picked up Dahl’s Charlie and the Chocolate Factory and Charlie and the Great Glass Elevator.
Also not surprisingly, after having watched the movies numerous times, the books were anti-climatic. With the basic plot spoiled I found Charlie and the Chocolate Factory rather pedestrian and Charlie and the Great Glass Elevator downright bad. Perhaps, one has to read and appreciate these books during one’s childhood. Or maybe the movies have simply ruined the pleasure of reading the stories; preventing me from bringing a fresh eye to the books.
I understand that Dahl disapproved of the original movie. I admit the remake is more in line with the book, although it obviously adds material as well. Probably its best scene – the squirrels sorting the nuts – is not in the original (instead it is geese sorting eggs). But I still prefer the original. I think this is another case of where trying too hard to bring a classic book to the screen results in a awkward film. Often the most skillful directors make significant changes in bringing a story to life while still managing to capture the spirit of the book. Or maybe I am just nostalgic for my youth.
What say you? Did you read the books as a child or an adult? Which movie did you prefer? Do you generally enjoy movies based on books? What is your favorite book brought to the big screen? What is the worst?