Where the Wild Things Are Blu-ray Review
Warner's disc carries the film's 2.40:1 image via a VC-1 encode.
The resulting picture is swathed in earthy tones of brown, yellow and green, the environs of the Wild Things taking the dominant aesthetic. Colours, as such, appear to be muted, or down-played. The overall cast is like the dwindling light of dusk and this twilight sheen is entirely deliberate and, as it happens, appropriate.
The hand-held vibe and the naturalistic hues are also lent texture with ever-present grain. Flesh-tones for the humans look very accurate. The various colourings for the Wild Things, turgid browns, anaemic whites, rusty orange, are also doled-out with an emphasis on realism. Nothing and no-one is bright or garish or flamboyant here. Colour elsewhere, in the real world, is a lot brighter and more overt. The primaries are bolder, although this is possibly only the case because there actually some primaries here - on the Wild Things' island, you just don't get reds or blues. Even the elements of flames seem a little blown-out. In fact, Jonze has a fair amount of his contrast heightened, which rips away any last stubborn vestige of colour saturation, although his blacks remain deep and unaffected by anything other than the most minute evidence of crushing on only a couple of occasions. Some minute filtering, or blocking can occur in the shallower shadows, although this should not prove distracting.
Don't go looking for finite detail anywhere other than the intricate model that Carol has constructed or the texture on the bark of the trees, or the twig and leaf-strewn woodland floor, because the image can be quite soft. The fur of the Wild Things has some degree of separation in the closest of close-ups, but nothing compared to material seen elsewhere. This isn't the kind of movie that wants to be crystal clear and razor-sharp. We are talking dreams and fantasies here, and that dusk-like dry-light does not cater for hi-def pop.
Three dimensionality is solid enough, but depth of field isn't the greatest around. Again, this is down to that softened, dream-like sheen that keeps the image delineated well enough, but somewhat hazy at the same time.
Finally, I had no problem with edge enhancement, banding, noise (or the reduction thereof) or artefacting. Warner's Where The Wild Things Are looks like a fine and faithful transfer that should please fans no end. A strong 8 out of 10.
You shouldn't have much to complain about with this DTS-HD MA 5.1 track. It packs a punch where necessary and conveys the soft mumblings of the odd melancholy Wild Thing here and the mighty rage of another Wild Thing there. The mood of the film is brilliantly replicated by the score from Carter Burwell and Karen O, with the soothing vocals carried luxuriously across the soundscape and the diverse and ramshackle instruments that Burwell's limited ensemble utilise coming alive around the channels with fine separation and warmth. Indeed, it is the presentation of the music that I was most smitten with. There is such warmth to the songs and to the sustained notes of Burwell's score that, even if the track didn't supply anything of worth in the action and effects departments, you would still feel totally immersed in it.
So we should feel positively flattered, then, that the track does do a fair bit with the action and the effects. Which is great, isn't it?
I was genuinely surprised and impressed with the level of bombast - both depth of bass and steerage of percussive effects - during the dirt-clod skirmish, which features deep impacts and great whooshing directionality. But just about any occurrence when Carol gets riled and starts smashing things to bits boasts some aggressive aural savagery. It you listen to when he is hammering dry sticks mounds and tree-trunks etc, you can hear the detail of debris being torn free and scattered. Likewise the clarity of stomping footsteps and movement through foliage. The rears are engaged fairly often, from ambient atmospherics to catching score-bleed, haunting vocals and the odd impact's shock-wave. Trees are brought crashing down with resounding clout, the surf pounds away at the rocks and the wind whistles across the speakers and flutters leaves. Panning is well handled and the track is terrifically engaging, even if it doesn't have the amazing all-round coverage and remorselessness of, say, Rambo 4.
This is a meticulously well-presented track that hits all the right notes. Given the nature of the film - from alarming activity to slow-drip heartache and emotional stalemate from one minute to the next - the patches of quiet feel all the more the intense and pregnant with things left unsaid, and the wild action all the more resounding and rock-crunching due the splendid balance of this mix.
An excellent lossless experience, folks, that just about scrapes a lucky 9 out of 10.
Perfectly replicating its American counterpart, Warner's region-free UK 2-disc release carries a DVD and a digital copy of the film as well as the BD, all wrapped up in a nice slip-case.
A fairly lengthy list of special features actually belies the fact that Wild Things is not all that comprehensively stocked. The majority of these are little featurettes that tend to strike up a more comical, left-field approach to what went into the making of the film. Along the way, we get a fun-but-irritating look at the difficulties of working with animals in The Absurd Difficulty of Filming a Dog Running and Barking at the Same Time, a practical joke involving slime in Crew Pranks Spike, and an on-set invasion of crew members' offspring in The Kids Take Over The Picture. All are charming, but somehow rather composed of “going nowhere soil”.
There is, thankfully, a HBO First Look “making of” that shows us a decent level of “all-departments” involvement in the production. Spike Jonze is on-hand to chat about various aspects, and Sedick discusses how the book and the adaptation came about. The voice cast are shown diving - quite literally - into their characters on a stage filled with props to show us how Jonze thought it important for them to interact with things as opposed to merely sitting at a microphone in a recording studio. The approach certainly seems to have paid off. James Gandolfini is clearly enjoying himself, and the sight of them all prancing about amidst the soft cushions and spongy things is frivolous and fun. Jonze has a lot of love for this project and it comes across well.
We meet composer Carter Burwell and his limited ensemble of players in a brief featurette. It is great to see, and hear, how they incorporated a trio of flexible hoses to create some of the more unusual effects.
Another nice segment introduces us to Max Records and his family with a sort of condensed set of behind-the-scenes footage and overview from his father about the opportunity that his son had been given. Over and over again, the conscious decision to make this film totally “for the kids” comes across with the freedom that Jonze allows his young cast and their families. Another little featurette focusses on Spike Jonze and his relationship with Maurice Sendak, but there is a bit of repetition here with the making of.
But there is also the excellent, and weird, animated short adaptation of Sendak's “Higglety Piggelty Pop! Or There Must Be More To Life” that was produced with the funding of The National Film Board Of Canada. This features the voices of Meryl Streep and Forest Whitaker, again, and offers up some rather unsettling imagery and an agreeably creepy tone.
Whilst it may sound strange to say this, I am actually quite pleased that Jonze didn't provide a commentary track for this film. He has one of those exquisitely annoying nasal, back-of-the-throat voices (rather like the sound of crinkly paper being, well, crinkled) and sitting through it would definitely have been a chore. As it stands, then, this is not a bad little selection of extras, but the emphasis is on soppy, production whimsy and you are hardly going to return to anything here again.
Where The Wild Things Are was always one of those new wave children's fables that stuck to conventional moralities, but did so in a completely unorthodox manner. So it is not surprising that its film adaptation struck a similarly offbeat tack. Spike Jonze's movie is part fantastical whimsy, part indie angst-flick. Its titular creatures are wonderful - both enchanting and intimidating - and the lead performance from youngster Max Records is outstanding. You don't want to say anything bad about this, but the weirdness of the material and the lack of actual plot may well anchor the film on the sidelines of the genre. There is a feeling that the screenplay simply becomes a little too complacent and just settles in its melancholy mood without performing any of the unfortunately all-too necessary cathartic moments that make the journey satisfying come the end titles.
Warner's disc is a well packaged release, although the addition of DVD and digital copies seems like overkill. The extras are a pleasant bunch but, like the film they support, there is little actual meat on the dish. The transfer is a strong one. This isn't the most colourful film you will have seen - indeed it seems rather dry and parched - but the image is faithful and offers some fine moments of eye-roving detail. The audio, on the other hand, can be surprisingly dynamic and this helps bring a slight story to life with vigour and excitement.
To be honest, I'm still not sure just who will appreciate Where The Wild Things Are the most - you, or the kids - but this is still an experience that is refreshing, original and bitter-sweet.
A trip to Where The Wild Things Are is certainly well worth taking.
Suggested retail price when reviewed: £22.99
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