Saturday, 17 October 2009

Fox clever

Next weekend, the film adaptation of the Roald Dahl book Fantastic Mr. Fox opens in cinemas across the country. When I first heard about the film earlier this year I was intrigued and interested to see how it would turn out. When I heard that Wes Anderson was the director, my interest grew. But it's only now that the film is receiving a fair amount of attention, more than I personally expected seeing as Anderson is often considered to be an indie director, that I realise how excited I am to see the film. I've been a fan of Dahl's books since I was very young; Anderson too is a film maker whose work I have thoroughly enjoyed in the past. So, to see them brought together on the big screen is an exciting prospect, and could be a very special film.

But the more I thought about how exctiting the film potentially was, the more I started to worry. Anderson, whilst being one of my favourite directors, has moved to a film medium in which he has never worked before: animation. And not only animation, but stop-motion animation. Anderson has shunned the CGI revolution of cinema and opted for a more traditional, old-fashioned method of animated film. Anderson therefore faces potential criticism on a number of fronts. From mainstream cinema-goers for actively going away from a style of animation which is successful and popular; from animation traditionalists who will be scrutinising the film against past masterpieces of stop-motion; and from his fanbase, who will want his move into a whole new style of film-making to be just as wonderful as the films already in his canon.

And then there is comparison to previous adaptations of Dahl stories. Arguably, so far we have never seen a truly fantastic film adaptation of a Roald Dahl. We've seen some masterful attempts (Tim Burton's Charlie & The Chocolate Factory), some very enjoyable ones (the 1990 version of The Witches and 1971's Willy Wonka & The Chocolate Factory) and some that really didn't do a lot to capture the magic and mastery of the original (Danny DeVito's flimsy and twee adaptation of Matilda). None of these were awful - many were very good - but we have yet to see a film which reaches the heights of the original Dahl book.

Fantastic Mr. Fox, whilst being a book I have read, is not one of Dahl's books that I know the story of inside out. It is certainly at least ten years since I've read the book, probably closer to fifteen. But I'm purposefully choosing not to re-read the novel before I see the film in this instance. Anderson is a director who does things very much his way, and I would be very surprised if he chose to do everything exactly as Dahl writes it in the novel. By not reading the book again before seeing the film, I'm giving the film a fair chance to make the statement that it wants to make, rather than simply comparing it to the book.

To provide some sort of conclusion to this entry, which has ended up being several threads on the same theme, I'm still very excited to see the film but certainly will be walking into the cinema with more trepidation than I have for a while. I really hope Anderson does Dahl justice, but I also hope that he does himself justice too. Essentially, the film could be a riproaring success on all counts and one of the most original pieces of cinema of the year, or it could be an embarrassment for both the director, his source material, and fans of both. I have faith, and I hope, that the outcome will be closer to the first scenario.

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