Wonka and the Chocolate Factory on DVD
A Dahls House?
By Jim Bray
Warner Brothers initial DVD release of this classic
Roald Dahl story suffers from a couple of major problems.
First, it's Pan&Scan instead of anamorphic widescreen, and this is
unforgivable in this day and age of the DVD revolution. Fortunately, it's
said that a widescreen edition will follow shortly and if you're into
this film that would be the version to get unless you aren't planning
to switch to a widescreen TV - ever - and hate the black bars of letterboxing.
Second, I don't think I've seen such blatantly preachy moralizing in
a movie since The Contender, though I wouldn't be surprised
if Spielbergs A.I. won't be far behind. You can't blame the DVD
release for that, of course; it's the fault of the writer and producers.
The story follows Charlie Bucket (or Bouquet, as Hyacinthe
from Keeping Up Appearances would prefer it pronounced), a
severely poor yet precocious child who lives with his mother and four
bed-ridden grandparents in a life where a loaf of bread is considered
Wonkas is a world famous brand of candy, but the Wonka factory
has been closed to people coming and going for years and has therefore
built up a delicious mystique. Then one day, Wonkas decides to mount
a global promotion thatll see five lucky winners gain a tour of
the mysterious factory as well as a lifetime supply of chocolate. Charlie
decides it would be nice to win
Except for the songs, which seem to slow down the story, the first half
of this movie is really entertaining. It's off the wall and more than
a tad bizarre, and thats fine. And I loved the way Dahl and director
Stuart showcase the media feeding frenzy surrounding the Wonka promotion.
The media look really stupid and absorbed, almost as if this part of the
movie were actually a documentary
The five winners (naturally, Charlies one of them) run the gamut
from spoiled brat to spoiled brat to spoiled brat to spoiled brat to
Charlie! All the other winners are poisonous personalities and you really
hope they get a comeuppance.
But once the lucky winners actually get inside the factory the movie
changes gears and becomes a dark and extremely preachy tale of morality,
reward and punishment. Each of the contestants meets some kind of horrible
fate, we think, and are sent off unceremoniously to somewhere else.
We never see them again so we don't know if they're okay, dead, made into
candy filling, or whatever.
Whats worse, while each of these kids definitely had it coming,
when it does come the Oompah-Loompahs (a race of little people who work
Wonkas factory) suddenly start singing a moral lesson about how
people should be living their lives. I happen to agree with most of the
lessons they impart, but what the heck are they doing cropping up, lecture-style,
in what started out as a charming childrens fantasy? Especially
since they're so unsubtle that you feel as if you've been beaten over
the head by them.
It's the sort of stuff you'd expect from liberals, except that it's sending
what today would be perceived as a conservative message
It's too bad, because theres lot to like here, and the message
it sends is actually a positive one despite its heavy handedness. The
songs are okay, but as mentioned they slow down the movie, and the casting
is first rate except for Gene Wilder as Wonka. Maybe it's just me, but
I found it hard to buy Wilder as Wonka because of his manic Mel Brooks
work. It isn't as if his performance doesn't work (and he starts off promisingly
enough), but I could never suspend my disbelief enough to forget it was
Gene Wilder and look at him as Willie Wonka.
The DVD, as mentioned, is presented with Pan&Scan video, which is
unacceptable. The picture quality is fine, but you miss whatever's happening
on the edges of the screen - and if you have a widescreen TV you have
to stretch zoom the picture to fit the 16x9 aspect ratio or risk burning
in the bars down the sides. On the upside, the audio is Dolby Digital
5.1 and the sound quality is very good as well.
Extras include Pure Imagination: the Making of Willy Wonka and
the Chocolate Factory, a feature length commentary with the Wonka
Kids, four sing along songs, a 1971 Behind the scenes featurette,
and a photo gallery.
Willie Wonka and the Chocolate Factory, from Warner Home Video
100 min, Pan&Scan, Dolby Digital 5.1
Starring Gene Wilder, Jack Albertson and Peter Ostrum, Roy Kinner, Julie
Dawn Cole, Leonard Stone, Denise Nickerson, Dodo Denney, Paris Themmen
Produced by Stan Margulies and David L. Wolper
Written by Roald Dahl, Directed by Mel Stuart
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