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Fun Joel's Screenwriting Blog


-- On Screenwriting and Related Topics

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Location: Los Angeles, CA

I moved from NYC to LA in October, 2003. And though I still think NYC is the greatest city in the world, I'm truly loving life here in the City of Angels. I'm a writer, reader, and occasional picture-taker.

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

FFFJ: Where the Wild Things Are

Let me preface this screenplay review by stating that I really hope I was wrong. It has happened with one or two scripts before, where when they came out I realized I just didn't get what the screenwriter was going for. And if that happened here, I would attribute it to the fact that Spike Jonze was both (co-)writer and director of this project, and thus may not have fully communicated his vision on paper. This often happens with writer-directors or with writers who are working closely with a director while scripting the film.

Still, I love the Wild Things book, and have been a fan of Spike Jonze's for a very long time. So I really do hope this film turns out to be a really good, fun, imaginative one. But if it does, my guess is that it will be more the result of the various changes they made to it in the time after I read this script.

For starters, I read this screenplay at the end of November 2005, and the draft was dated October 12, 2005. So there was certainly plenty of time to update this script between then and now. But to be blunt, I thought the screenplay was terrible. And yet, I recommended that the company consider the project, solely for the underlying material. Jonze and Dave Eggers' screenplay, however, was really weak, in my opinion. Here's what I wrote back then:

Where the Wild Things Are has only one thing going for it, and that is the underlying book on which it is based. The script does a poor job of adapting the material, and the writers show no evidence of understanding how a script would best communicate the core material. Still, should any attachments be amenable to the essential rewrites, the project may be worth XXXX's attention for the value of the property itself.

It is no secret that Sendak's book is one of the most beloved children's books of all time. But the difficult journey it has taken to silver screen production is equally well-documented. If this script is any indication, the film version would be an unlikely success. If, however, a stronger screenplay adaptation becomes a possibility, XXXX should certainly consider getting involved.

As with such books as Jumanji, the key difficulty here is how to expand a short children's book into a feature length film. Where Shrek was successful in this regard, and Jumanji only moderately so, this script fails. It takes way too long to get going, features a number of extraneous scenes and elements, and fails to gain any momentum. Furthermore, it is sloppily scripted, with characters popping up without introduction and others introduced multiple times. But the biggest technical weakness of Jonze and Eggers' script is the plethora of unfilmable asides that are used to deliver character, rather than actions or dialogue, as is truly necessary in film.

A further issue with the screenplay will likely be its inability to successfully reach the youth market that must be it's primary target audience. While adults will likely appreciate the story's metaphoric aspects, and kids may subconsciously absorb some of this as well, the film's story, on its face, will likely bore children. While certain scenes are certain to please and entertain, too many scenes develop too slowly, and the storyline barely moves at all. It develops slowly, Max is overly passive, and he never really finds a clearly articulated goal.

Ultimately, the only real reason to consider this screenplay is for the potential held by its supporting material. But this is certainly a strong enough reason to warrant some consideration.
Not pretty, eh? So, as I said, I hope I was wrong. But this review makes it seem that instead of fixing the problems with the story, Jonze simply tried to overcompensate with visuals. As it says:

Fleet of foot, emotionally attuned to its subject and instinctively faithful to its celebrated source, "Where the Wild Things Are" earns a lot of points for its hand-crafted look and unhomogenized, dare-one-say organic rendering of unrestrained youthful imagination. But director Spike Jonze's sharp instincts and vibrant visual style can't quite compensate for the lack of narrative eventfulness that increasingly bogs down this bright-minded picture.

I am sure that that sort of strategy will work for many audience members. And by the way, this review is not much different.

The question remains whether a large enough portion of the audience (both adult and kid alike) will find the visuals appealing enough to make them overlook the lack of a solid story. Of course, it will have a good opening just due to people's interest in the film. The question remains, however, whether this will actually be the great film that so many hope it will be.

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Blogger Lisa said...

You might be interested in this story about WTWTA and how Warner Bros. is marketing the film: http://www.thewrap.com/article/where-wild-things-audience-is-8673

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