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Charlie and the Chocolate Factory

Hollywood: The Land of Pointless Remakes

Remember a few years back when Gus Van Sant re-made Psycho? Shot for shot? One of the most classic films of all times, re-made, shot for shot, by a director who has at least some chops of his own. Pointless. Not bad, really, as it was basically the exact same thing as the original, a little worse I guess, but not exactly bad. Just pointless. And in retrospect, it seems to have kicked off an entire era of pointless remakes and sequels.

Let me honestly say to you that there's nothing terribly, expressly wrong with Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, but on the other hand, there isn't much that's right with it either. The original, titled Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory, was just that -- original. Its tough to re-invent a true original, even with a talented director at the helm.

I'll assume everyone has seen the original film, which stars Gene Wilder as the child-shunning Willy Wonka. Whether you were a kid at the time or an experimental teenager dropping four-dollar blotter acid in your buddy's basement while his parents were gone, most of us have seen and appreciated the original (even if those Oompa Loompas seemed a little too orange for anyone's good).

It's hard to tell who is excited for this film, even though it is a Tim Burton joint and it does star Johnny Depp, Captain Jack Sparrow himself. Still, it just seems a hard project to get really pumped about. But again, it is not a bad film. The plot is essentially the same: five golden tickets are wrapped in "regular Wonka Bars", and the five lucky children who find these golden tickets are cordially invited to Willy Wonka's Chocolate Factory, a place of sufficient mystery and intrigue.

Remember Charlie Bucket in the original? That geeky, tow-headed goober of a child with the goofed-up facial expressions? It was hard to like him. The name of the actor who played Charlie Bucket in the 1971 original is Peter Ostrum. I didn't like Peter Ostrum much then. He is now, according to the IMDB, a veterinarian to large farm animals, like cows and horses, somewhere in the rollicking, rolling hills of rural New York. I like Peter Ostrum more now.

The name of the kid who plays Charlie Bucket in this one is Freddie Highmore. He's much more likeable. He represents all that is good, right, and responsible in the world. We are to discover this right off the bat, basically, when Charlie shares his birthday Wonka Bar with his six roommates. His six roommates happen to be his mother (Helena Bonham Carter), his father, and his four grandparents. The Buckets eat gobs of cabbage soup, they are quite poor.

Tim Burton seems to enjoy plumbing the depths of atypical father-son type relationships. In Big Fish, Billy Crudup tries to come to terms with his tale telling father (Albert Finney). Edward Scissorhands is essentially the story of a boy whose father dies before he can become a man, stunting his growth, emotional and physical, forever. Burton's angle of originality in the remake of the nearly un-remakeable Chocolate Factory is the addition of psychological trauma endured by a young Willy Wonka as a child living under the strict rubber-gloved authoritarian thumb of his father, one of England's best dentists. It makes for some very funny flashbacks to Wonka's early years, but their relationship and the consequent wrapping up of the story is pretty thin on substance.

On another note, for a nation of obese people, Americans sure do feast on fat jokes. Augustus Gloop, the fattest, most German of the kids who win their golden tickets, is morbidly obese. I'm actually surprised with the extent to which Burton torments this poor kid and his unfortunate glands. It's convenient that he is German so that we can also laugh at his accent, but most of the jokes around Augustus had to do with his enormous size. I was somewhat disappointed that my favorite line from the original was omitted. As it happens, the line concerns young Augustus, as he cranes his head into Wonka's stream to gulp greedily of its chocolate waters: "Augustus!" his mother roars, "Save some room for later!" Not, mind you, "Augustus, you're being a dreadful slob," but rather, "just take it easy, dumpling, so you have room to eat more."

Anyway, that's probably enough about that. You get the picture, or at least, I hope you do. I could talk about Johnny Depp's performance, but it hardly matters. I could talk about some of the cool visual things in the film, the art direction, the color schemes, or the Oompa Loompas, but what's really the point? Blah blah blah.

Rating: 2 out of 5 stars