Posted on Friday, July 24th, 2009 by Russ Fischer
As the young Max Records steps out onto the stage of Hall H he looks out at a couple thousand people but is more self-possessed than a lot of the adult actors we’ve seen stroll out into the Comic Con spotlight. There’s a brief ‘wow’ but he never looks shaken. Records, who we saw briefly in The Brothers Bloom and stars as Max in Where the Wild Things Are, has a quote from Maurice Sendak written on his hand. “You know I really love this movie and I hope people like it, because if not they can all go straight to hell.” Beyond that Max didn’t talk much; instead he introduced three long clips from Wild Things that suggest the movie is tender, adventurous and, yeah, dark and maybe even a bit dangerous.
In a short video showing behind the scenes footage and interviews with Spike Jonze and original author Maurice Sendak, that author says that Jonze’s film has an emotional, spiritual and visual life that embodies the book. The footage certainly displays a deep emotional life; there are intimations of death and decay that you don’t often find in a film based on a kids’ book.
Basically, we saw three big sequences. The first is the one that follows from the moment that opens the trailer, where the wild thing Carol (James Gandolfini) is carrying Max through the forest. He’s introducing Max to his kingdom, and as they wander from forest to desert the conversation goes from funny and wry to a surprisingly touching discussion of how things end. Carol laments that the desert was once rock and will eventually be dust; Max shocks him by mentioning that even the sun will eventually die. How could that be, asks Carol? You’re the King, and I’m big! Let’s live!
Then we saw another sequence hinted at in the trailer, where the wild things are thowing each other around, playing in the forsest. They form a big dogpile with Max at the bottom; he’s initially almost frightened, then grows comfortable as the piled wild things form a safe little cave in which he hides. Face to face with KW (Lauren Ambrose) Max talks a bit about his home life and we see a lot of the range of emotion that Records can really project. Frankly, I’m shocked that there was ever any doubt about his performance, because what we see here looks really impressive.
Finally, we saw a third sequence clipped in the trailer, where Max is directing the wild things to build a fortress. It’ll have tunnels, and a laboratory where they can build robots and all sorts of great stuff. They create that sweeping, massive structure of sticks and trees that you might have seen in the trailer and a few stills; here Spike Jonze’s visual sensibility really leaps forward, as we get to see what could be the perfect fantasy childhood fortress of solitude.
Throughout, there was music that sounded at times like additional Arcade Fire songs, but also some of what must be the music created by Carter Burwell and Karen O from the Yeah, Yeah Yeahs. Everything we heard fit the footage very well and added to the sense of a fantasy land that is built on a less than stable foundation. None of the sequences we saw directly showed how things must eventually fall apart; you could watch these moments and wonder where the movie’s drama comes in. But look at the trailer again and you’ll see Max’s kingdom crumbling, and I can see why Sendak might describe the movie as dangerous. Where the Wild Things Are appears to have a real emotional depth, like a dream of a strange, wild forest withbright grottoes and shadowy, frightening reaches.
I’ll say this: people have evidently felt completely transported by Avatar, which left me relatively unmoved. So far, Where the Wild Things Are is the movie that really seems to have been shot in a totally new environment, with creatures and places actually exist outside the film frame.
Also: Apple now has the behind the scenes featurette online.