Children's classic 'Wild Things' arrives on big screen

(AFP)

The long-awaited movie of the children's book "Where the Wild Things Are" finally arrives in cinemas this week after a three-year journey every bit as arduous as the imaginary voyage of its hero.

Author Maurice Sendak's beautifully illustrated classic -- about a mischievous boy called Max who sails away to an enchanted kingdom populated by monsters -- has delighted millions since its publication in 1963.

Yet the jury is out on whether director Spike Jonze's adaptation will weave a similar spell at the box office when it arrives in North American cinemas on October 16, three years after cameras first started rolling.

The film, shot on location in Australia in 2006, reportedly first ran into problems a year later when Jonze showed a rough cut to Warner Bros studio, where executives were reportedly alarmed by the tone and mood of the film.

In 2008, movie blogs buzzed that the film -- which reportedly cost 80 million dollars to make -- might be shelved altogether after its release was delayed twice, before a 2009 release date was eventually fixed.

Speaking to reporters at a press day in Los Angeles, Jonze, the quirky director behind offbeat hits "Adaptation" and "Being John Malkovich", admitted that the production process had been wearying. But the 39-year-old insisted that he had been given the final say over the film.

"In the end it wasn't always easy but I got to make the movie that I wanted to make," Jonze said. "The movie required a certain scale."

"I feel like in a way we got away with murder. We got to make this movie that's very personal and intimate yet on a scale that's very big and epic.

"So I feel like for all our difficulties that we had last year they (the studio) have really come around and embraced our movie."

Jonze was hand-picked to direct the project by Sendak, who insisted that the film-maker be given freedom to adapt his book as he saw fit.

Making a film tailored for children, however, was never going to be an option. "I would rather not have had a film than turn it into a kiddie movie," Sendak told Entertainment Weekly.

Jonze, meanwhile, says he set out with the intention to "make a movie about what it feels like to be nine years old.

"I think the idea was not to make a children's movie but a movie about childhood," he said. "'Wild Things' has feelings that you recognize as being true to childhood. I think kids respond to things that don't condescend to them, and Maurice's work doesn't condescend to them. And that's what Maurice told us is in this movie -- don't pander to children."

The central problem of the film -- how to make a two-hour feature from a book which consists of just nine sentences -- was tackled by Jonze and screenwriter Dave Eggers in a series of brainstorming sessions.

"Most kids in movies are 'de-fanged,'" Eggers says. "They have no wildness. What we figured out pretty quickly was that we all clearly remembered what it was like to be a boy, to be a little wild and get into trouble."

To bring the monsters to life, Jonze opted for a combination of live action, puppetry, and computer animation, which left Max -- played by newcomer Max Records -- romping amongst nine-foot-tall (2.7 meters) creatures.

Providing the voices to the monsters are an all-star cast which includes James Gandolfini, Oscar-winners Forest Whitaker and Chris Cooper as well as Lauren Ambrose and Catherine O'Hara.

The stellar cast acted out the scenes before cameras without costumes, before unknown actors later performed in the suits, and melded body language to the dialogue. The faces of the costumes were then digitally enhanced to reflect expressions and actions.

"I knew it was going to be a complicated process," says Jonze. "It seemed that every choice we made turned out to be the hardest possible way to do it."

rcw/sah-ns

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