First Time at the Movies – Willy Wonka & The Chocolate Factory

Willy Wonka posterWhere I knew I would be most tripped up in this series be in the following categories: sequels, remakes, adaptations, and iconic classics.

Willy Wonka fits two of those categories – the adaptation and the icon. Personally, I’m of the opinion that an adaptation should (at its finest) take what was brilliant about the original, hone it as highly as possible, and alter it as necessary to suit the medium. There’s a reason the property was picked up for adaptation. It’s special, not just as a work, but to the people who loved the original.
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First Time at the Movies – Escape from L.A.

Escape from LA

I sat here, in the same chair, looking at the same monitor I watched Escape from New York on. The opening credits began. The same director, producer, and star returned for the sequel. Shirley Walker, the composer for Batman the Animated Series and my personal favorite TV composer ever was involved with the score.

Sure, co-writer Nick Castle left, but surely that’s not reason enough to worry. And yeah, the script for the movie was commissioned in 1985, with the final product released in 1996, but that surely means it was just given more love and attention. Kurt Russel produced the movie, but it’s not like a star being involved in the production has ever been associated with poor quality. Yes, someone warned me away from the movie, but I came in wanting to give it a fair shake. I was untainted by nostalgia. I was ready. My mind was open.

That’s a mistake I won’t be making again.
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First Time at the Movies – Escape from New York

Escape From New York (1981) Original v2

Escape From New York was probably just the right thing for me to start this series with. It’s an action movie by a well known writer/director, so the story is elegantly streamlined in a way that is perfectly suited for the big screen.
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Intro – First Time at the Movies

I don’t watch many movies.

I’ve never been sure why, really. I hear people talk about their favorite movies, how they have movie nights, how much a certain work influenced them. But it was never like that for me. I grew up with television, and prefer that medium above all others. There are so many facets to the way one can tell stories with television, so much investment in the characters on screen. Never have I experienced a story the way I did with the DC Animated Universe, which lasted from 1992-2006, across seven television series and four movies.

I’m not averse to other kinds of stories. Books, comics, video games are all things I will happily indulge. But I shied away from movies, seeing them only rarely after the age of ten. Even now I only go to the theater a few times a year, with the caveat that I always see two movies at a time – to double the chances of enjoying myself.

“If only it were ten, twenty minutes longer,” my friends would hear when I came back and engaged in the obligatory post-game discussion/argument. When I first watched The Breakfast Club just a few months ago, I found myself baffled by the movie’s editing. A scene would stop, and I would wonder where the ending had gone. Hints and buildup would permeate scenes, hooks I was sure would be followed up on – but the payoff never came. It was as though the script had been gutted. Sure enough, the original cut was 150 minutes long, trimmed to 97 minutes for its theatrical and DVD release.

I wish I could watch that cut.

My goal in life is to work in television as a writer, and eventually, a showrunner. I have no interest in writing for films. Anywhere from one to three years working on a script over which I have zero ownership or creative control? I cannot imagine a more nightmarish existence. But the more I talk with and learn about people who tell stories, the more I see how much movies mean to them, and the more I find myself frustrated that they don’t mean that much to me.

But as I said, I rarely watch movies. It was only this year, after much prodding and a bit of yelling (“You’ve never seen Raiders!?” was a phrase uttered with the same intonation as “How can you not know what indoor plumbing is!?”), that I saw the Indiana Jones trilogy. Further interrogation of my viewing habits by friends and family led me to realize one thing:

I’ve never given any real attention to movies. I’ve taken general education film courses in college, but they focused more on the history and technical aspects of film, and I was using them largely as an avenue to better understand television. My actual experience as a film-goer is almost nonexistent, and as such I have managed to deny myself an entire medium of storytelling.

To rectify that, Review or Die will have a new feature – First Time at the Movies. The column will run every Sunday, Tuesday and Thursday, starting tomorrow.

The rules are simple:

If I haven’t seen it as an adult, it’s fair game.

Nothing I write will be spoiler free.

I’m not an objective reviewer, I’m a viewer with an opinion (to ape SF Debris), so don’t look at this as an attempt to declare what is empirically good or bad. This is all a learning experience on my part.

If I have different cuts to choose from, I will stick with what people would consider the truest viewing experience, such as the Final Cut of Blade Runner and the theatrical release of Alien.

I’ll be focusing on movies that have proven influential in some way, be it through cultural osmosis or sheer quality, which means older films are the primary focus for now. Suggestions are welcome, and I hope you enjoy the show.

Next time: Escape from New York