Of grazed knees and open skies

How do you adapt the unadaptable? That’s a challenge that an increasing number of film-makers are willing to take on in these days if increasing technological advances. Lord Of The Rings set a pretty high benchmark, and recent years have seen a slew of films that have taken on the challenge of bringing to the screen what was previously thought to be impossible. It’s not just adaptations – The Matrix broke new ground on action sequences. James Cameron said it took him years to develop the technology to show what was in his head – sadly he didn’t seem to realise that a sense of wonder is more than just impressive visuals.

If anything’s un-filmable, then it may well be the classic children’s book Where The Wild Things Are. That’s partly because you mess with a much loved children’s book at your peril, and also down to the length. Just how do you make any sort of meaningful film out of an original with so few words in it? The answer is you take a director who understands the need to escape from claustrophobic and limiting environments (Spike Jonze), a screenwriter who’s creative with rhythm and syntax (author David Eggars), and don’t get too wedded to special effects. The wild things here are large furry monsters brilliantly voiced – especially by the inspired casting of James Gandolfini; the boy is simply brilliant – all wild, boyish exploration and tears.

The film does tell a story of a sort, but it’s more about evoking a mood of childhood – watching it I could feel again the warm tears associated with the grazed knees of games enthusiastically played, the exciting possibilities of wild spaces and open skies and the constant wish to escape somewhere more exciting. This film evokes all and more beautifully – and as such, this is no children’s film. It’s for anyone who is or has been a child. Like Avatar it’s aiming at a wide market. Like Avatar, it’s trying to put on screen what many might naturally shy away from. Like Avatar, story isn’t the most important thing about it. Unlike Avatar, the emotions and themes it evokes are more deep, wondrous and beautiful than anything in the film people are putting on a new set of glasses to watch. You don’t need new glasses to see things differently with Wild Things. James Cameron should have taken lessons.

Avatar: Getting What We Deserve

I quite enjoyed this at the time. James Cameron’s massively hyped, almost a generation in the making, film that’s supposed to change the face of film-making: its not all bad. I was gripped and on the edge of my seat at times. I was truly blown away by a film that looked genuinely stunning (although, like all the other 3D films I’ve seen, it doesn’t benefit from the third dimension). It was baggy, but I was more or less held for the duration of the two and a half hours. So, all told, pretty diverting.

It’s only when you step away and think about the ‘big picture’ of this very biggest of pictures that you realise what an offensive, hypocritical piece of self-righteous nonsense this is.  Cameron has spent a vast amount of money on bringing to life what he says was in his head. From that point of view, the money is well spent – its brilliantly realised with depth and imagination. Which it makes it all the more offensive that no attention was paid to a baggy plot, a script that could have been written by any idealistic 16-year old. Or to peddle a philosophy that talks peace and love, but builds to what is essentially a big action-movie, let’s blow stuff up pay-off. Or to talk the talk of new, sane and urgent environmentalism in the face of so-called progress and corporate greed, while running a production that must have had a carbon footprint the size of a city. If Cameron’s such an environmentalist, can he come out and tell us how much of an impact his production had?

Let’s be clear – Cameron’s made a couple of films I really enjoyed and one or two classics. Avatar, though, is what we deserve – a movie perfect for the age of politically spun smoke and mirrors: have your mind blown by something amazing, all the while smuggling under the radar a money-making machine with no soul and no concern for anything other than a quick buck or surface sheen. I did enjoy it, but it just goes to show how much we get taken in; empty, good-looking and soulless. It spin, it’s pornography, it’s hypocrisy. Cameron may have tried to change to industry, but if this is what we’re going to get then he’s ruined it.

James Cameron: hang your head in shame.