Wednesday, October 14, 2009

To see or not to see WHERE THE WILD THINGS ARE

It’s time for a confession.

I’m not entirely sure I want to see WHERE THE WILD THINGS ARE.

There. I’ve said it, it’s out there, and I’ll suffer the consequences. This is not to say I won’t see it (I reserve the right to change my mind) but I’m find I’m waiting for it with apprehension rather than in anticipation.

If you look at my movie-viewing history, you’ll find I’ve avoided many filmed versions of my favorite childhood books. I generally try to come up with some kind of academic, incontrovertible reason for doing so, but more often than not it comes down to fear that my internal vision won’t be reflected on screen.

I skipped the two films of The Chronicles of Narnia because I know what Lucy and Mr. Tumnus and Reepicheep look and sound like and I wasn’t willing to accept any substitute. And I remembered that C.S. Lewis never sold the film rights himself believing that a film wouldn't be able to do the fantastic elements of his books justice. For me, that was reason enough not to see the movies. The author was alive when film was an established medium (unlike, say, Oscar Wilde) and he said no. By not seeing the movie, I was not only stubbornly preserving my childhood vision, I was honoring the wishes of the creator of that world. (Though I do concede that Tilda Swinton was perfectly cast as the White Witch.)

I also said no to THE GOLDEN COMPASS (the text and some themes had to be softened and Lyra didn’t seem spunky enough), TWILIGHT (I am solidly team Jacob, and I do not like that casting), CLOUDY WITH A CHANCE OF MEATBALLS (what’s that scientist doing there?), and a resounding no to A WRINKLE IN TIME (the IT in my imagination is plenty scary, thank you).

There are yeses. HOLES I allowed because I knew that Louis Sachar had written the screenplay. While HARRIET THE SPY wasn’t quite mean enough, I couldn’t resist Eartha Kitt as Agatha K. Plummer. And I was thrilled that Tim Burton returned some of the edge to CHARLIE AND THE CHOCOLATE FACTORY.

But Aunt Feather, I hear you asking, why no to WHERE THE WILD THINGS ARE? You love Spike Jonez (I do), Dave Eggers is brilliant (he is), Sendak gave his seal of approval (he did), and this is one of the most important books of your life (absolutely).

And therein lies the problem.

This is one of the most important books of my entire life. It was regularly checked out of the library throughout my childhood. My folks gave me tickets to see the opera when I was in high school. When I left teaching and bookselling for an office job, I kept a copy of the book at my desk just in case I needed it. Over the years, I developed my own ideas about Max and his mother’s backstory, cemented clear thoughts about the personalities of the Wild Things, and honed specific ways of delivering the dialogue when I read the book aloud. And I’ve had all 300-odd words memorized for as long as I can remember.

Frankly, I’m scared to lose all that. I’m concerned that I’ll move away from my gruff read of “We’ll eat you up—we love you so!” to the soft way that line is delivered in the movie. I worry that the landscape of the island (for that’s where the Wild Things make their home in my mind) will change irreversibly after seeing what Jonez and company have created. Even from the preview, the presence of a desert confuses me beyond measure. There’s no desert where the Wild Things live. And of course I worry that I’ll learn things about Max which will change my relationship with him.

I don’t doubt that Sendak’s story and art have been beautifully expanded upon and built up for the film. I’m sure that the backstory and additional details enrich the world and give it additional depth and heart. And I’m sure that the performances are unparalleled. But I’m not sure that the filmed version will enrich the landscape that I’ve been building since I was a toddler.

Long and short, I’m worried that the magic of the film will tarnish the magic of the book. And when I have a choice, books win.