LOS ANGELES TIMES writer Patrick Goldstein's blog paints a troublesome picture for the upcoming big screen feature WHERE THE WILD THINGS ARE from Warner Bros.
Dave Eggers' script, from the classic children's book by Maurice Sendak, received good early reviews. The $80-million film was filmed in 2006 in Australia, originally slated for an October 2008 release, pushed back to fall 2009 and has now disappeared off the schedule.
Rumors have been brewing for months that the film is in serious trouble, including accounts from a screening in December at which children in the audience were crying and leaving the theater.
The story follows a mischievous boy who is sent to his room without supper and creates a world full of exotic monsters. Apparently, the movie's big problem is the boy, played by newcomer Max Records, is almost entirely unlikable and comes off as bratty and mean rather than impish.
Jonze also apparently had problems making the creatures scary or funny, as the actors in furry creature suits with animated faces just seemed blank, without warmth or emotion. CG is now being used to create more life-like monsters.
Warner Bros. head Alan Horn told Goldstein the studio's side of the story, denying rumors that Jonze has been taken off the project.
"We've given him more money and, even more importantly, more time for him to work on the film," Horn said. "We'd like to find a common ground that represents Spike's vision but still offers a film that really delivers for a broad-based audience. We obviously still have a challenge on our hands. But I wouldn't call it a problem, simply a challenge. No one wants to turn this into a bland, sanitized studio movie. This is a very special piece of material and we're just trying to get it right."
Warners isn't in a particular rush, as its trying to fit the 12 to 14 New Line films into its release schedule. But it reveals a weakness in Warners' strategy of combining talented directors to mainstream material. They've had a number of successes, including Christopher Nolan with BATMAN BEGINS and the upcoming THE DARK KNIGHT, Alfonso Cuaron's HARRY POTTER AND THE PRISONER OF AZKABAN and Steven Soderbergh's OCEAN'S ELEVEN series.
They've also had disasters, including pairing the Wachowski's with SPEED RACER and giving INVASION to German DOWNFALL director Oliver Hirschbiegel, both of which flopped.
"We try to take a few shots," Horn said. "Sometimes they work and sometimes they don't. The jury is still out on this one. But we remain confident that Spike is going to figure things out and at the end of the day we'll have an artistically compelling movie."
Goldstein speculates if Warners' gamble will pay off with WILD THINGS, especially if Jonze is set on a dark, disturbing film and the studio wants a feel-good family flick.