We’re on the verge of losing a movie. Spike Jonze’s version of Where the Wild Things Are is a film with an uncertain future as executives behind the scenes at Warner Bros and Legendary Pictures are right now trying to figure out whether or not to essentially reshoot the entire film.
If the entire film gets reshot you will hear that the decision came because of technical issues, specifically the animation of the Wild Things’ mouths and facial features. The film uses people in huge Jim Henson Creature Shop suits, and the plan was to shoot the suits and animate the Wild Things’ faces later. That has been proving to be more technically difficult than anyone had foreseen, even though test footage had been shot (a leaked clip from the movie that hit the internet this weekend was in fact some of that test footage, according to a statement from Spike Jonze). This is a bad situation, obviously, but one where some footage could be salvaged, meaning that a complete and total reshoot of the film wouldn’t be necessary.
Yet I’m hearing that just such a massive reshoot is what is on the table right now. And it’s not because of technical issues, unless you want to consider the lead kid actor and the script technical issues. Sources tell me that the suits at Legendary and Warner Bros are not happy with Max Records, the actor playing Max, the mischievous boy who is crowned King of the Wild Things. Worse than that, they don’t like the film’s tone and want to go back to the script drawing board, possibly losing the Spike Jonze/Dave Eggers script when they do it. Apparently the film is too weird and ‘too scary,’ and the character of Max is being seen as not likable (check out some of the test screening responses that Slashfilm is running).
Where The Wild Things Are screened for a test audience in Pasadena late last year; my friend BC, who watches a horror movie a day, caught the screening and liked what he saw, but I’ve also been told that the movie is ‘subversive,’ which is just the sort of thing that drives studio suits up the wall. The film, I keep hearing, is pretty great at this early stage of post-production, but it could very possibly not be a commercial movie. You can imagine the panic at Warner Bros when they realized they’d made a reportedly 75 million dollar kiddie art house film.
Can Warner Bros force Spike back to do the sort of massive reshoots they want? I’ve been on the phone to Warner Bros and Legendary and have not been able to get official statements about the status of the film, or whether Spike has final cut. A less reliable source has told me that he does in fact have final cut, which means that if he doesn’t want to go back and do the reshoots he doesn’t have to – but Warner Bros could still fire him and assign the reshoots to someone more compliant. Spike has a crew he likes to work with and they have not yet been told to gear up for additional shooting although they do know that it could be coming.
The scary thing is that this wouldn’t be unprecedented for Warner Bros. Just a couple of years ago they scrapped Paul Schrader’s Exorcist prequel and sent Renny Harlin out to remake the thing using the same sets and some of the same actors. Both versions ended up being terrible, but this studio has shown their willingness to do something just this nutty before.
There has been a glimmer of good news, and it’s that Spike issued a statement about the leaked clip. For a little while I contemplated the idea that it had been leaked by Spike as some sort of move against the suits, but what could that move have meant? The fact that Spike is making statements about the clip – and that he’s making statements at all about the movie – is a sign that not all is lost.
Everything points to Spike Jonze’s Where the Wild Things Are being a unique and fascinating film. It’s not a cookie cutter kid movie, and I know that was part of the original appeal to folks at Warner Bros – why the hell else do you bring Jonze on? I didn’t make it out to that Pasadena test screening, but now I wish I had so that I could report to you just what sort of a movie Spike has made. The reality, though, is that it doesn’t matter since I tend to come down on the side of the great talent in these cases, and there’s no question that Spike is a great talent. I don’t trust the money people to look at a movie that’s different and non-comformist and to understand it. Of course they’re afraid of it. You can make movies where you don’t take risks, but in this case they’ve decided to take the risk. They should let it play out and see what happens.
It’s important to keep in mind that as of this weekend nothing was decided or set in stone. Hopefully all the behind the scenes stuff will settle soon, Spike will get to release the movie he wants to release and Warner Bros will strongly support the film with marketing and advertising. Meanwhile I’ll keep my ear to the ground and let you know what I hear.
The trash-art film of the year. — By Travis Newton