Saturday, 4 June 2005

Charlie & The Chocolate Factory

Charlie & The Chocolate Factory
Tim Burton's latest film, Charlie & The Chocolate Factory, starring Johnny Depp, is an adaptation of Roald Dahl's novel of the same name. This is Depp's fourth leading role in a Burton film, after Edward Scissorhands, Ed Wood, and Sleepy Hollow.

Depp is excellent as Willy Wonka, and there's a very strong resemblance to Michael Jackson. They both have too-pale skin, dandyish clothes, high-pitched voices, and girly laughs. They're both isolated megalomaniacs who have lost touch with reality. They both live in secluded fantasy worlds: Wonka's factory and Jackson's Neverland. They both invite children into these enclosures, and the kids mostly end up regretting it...

When Wonka cuts the ribbon to open his factory, Depp holds the scissors in a reference to Edward Scissorhands (probably my favourite Burton/Depp film). There are also some very funny moments - when the first child tells Wonka her name, he replies "I don't care"; when he's given a business card by one of the parents, he immediately throws it away. (These incidental moments are much funnier than the too-obvious, conscious attempts at humour, like Grandpa's dancing scene.)

The design of the factory, both exterior and interior, is stunning. On the outside, it looks like an Expressionist creation from Metropolis, while inside it resembles the Technicolor Munchkin Land from The Wizard Of Oz (and the Munchkin-like Oompa Loompas enhance the Oz connection). It's refreshing that Burton minimised the use of CGI - the sets are all real, as are the trained squirrels and the river of chocolate. The Oompa Loompas were all played by the same man, but instead of simply being digitally duplicated he actually acted each character individually.

It is never made entirely clear where the factory is located. It looks very much like England, with rows of terraced houses built for the factory-workers during the Industrial Revolution, though in the British-style corner shop the customers try to buy his ticket with dollars. This is distracting, and a bit odd considering that Burton lives in London himself.

Burton takes the opportunity to parody several other films. A miniaturised child shouts "Help me!" in a reference to the original version of The Fly, and there's a spoof of the Psycho shower scene in black-and-white. Most unusually, there is a sustained reference to 2001: A Space Odyssey. Wonka announces that he can teleport a chocolate bar into a TV screen, and we are shown an uncanny recreation of the Dawn Of Man sequence from 2001. Wonka reveals an over-sized chocolate bar, and Also Sprach Zarathrustra swells up on the soundtrack. The chocolate bar is teleported into the TV screen, whereupon it transforms into the 2001 monolith.