Text 2 Film: Part 2 - the Chocolate Factory
Okay, so let's take a look at two well known adaptations of the same work: Roald Dahl's Charlie and the Chocolate Factory.
I've chosen this one for a couple reasons. First, it's a well-known book and they are well-known movies. There are plenty of great movies that nobody knows were based off of previous works (For instance, did you know that, of the first four Die Hard movies, the third was the only one not based off of a book or short story?)
Also, in comparing the two film versions, there are dramatic and significant differences in interpretations. This may not sound like much, but with all of the different adaptations of, for instance, Shakespeare's plays, unless they decide to change the setting—maybe modernizing it—there's not that much variety of interpretation.
Anyway, let's start by looking at the two movies on their own. Keep in mind, however, that I am not trying to point out that one is better than the other, even though you may see that I have my own preferences. I am merely trying to illustrate the different approaches that the filmmakers took in adapting the same work of fiction.
25th Anniversary Trailer
Gene Wilder and the 70's
This version was made while Roald Dahl was actually still alive. In fact, the story goes that he was so upset by all the changes that David Seltzer made to his script that he refused to give permission to film the sequel, Charlie and the Great Glass Elevator. (Personally, I wonder if they even could have filmed that book in that era without major changes, but that's another argument entirely.)
One change, for instance, involves the geese that lay the chocolate gold eggs. In the original story, it was a room of squirrels that have been trained to sort and shell nuts and toss bad ones down the garbage chute. At the time, there were considerable difficulties in filming realistic squirrels either through training them or using animatronics, especially considering the part where they swarm Veruca Salt and toss her down the hole.
So that change is understandable.
But Charlie and Grandpa Joe also each steal a bit of Fizzy Lifting Drink which never happened in the book.
There are two problems I have with this. First, it's a long, slow divergence from the rest of the story. The sequence drags for me and I just wait for them to move on to the rest of the story. Also, it really changes the character of Charlie and Grandpa Joe. And for little real purpose. It seems to have been done so that they can be yelled at by Wonka at the end.
Add to that the fact that the ending has been dramatically changed. In the book, it was a last-man-standing type contest. In the movie that is no longer the case.
Charlie and the various children are approached by a man claiming to be Wonka's main competition: Mr. Slugworth. He offers them money if they will get him a sample of Wonka's new, top-secret candy: the everlasting gobstopper. When Charlie is the only one to return his gobstopper at the end, especially after being yelled at for stealing Fizzy Lifting Drink, he wins the contest and the factory.
This is a significant departure from the book in that the book is rather pointless escapism for children. The book is fun and silly. This new ending makes the whole thing unnecessarily heavy and dramatic.
Now, I say "unnecessarily", but the fact is that people do have more of an expectation of purpose from their movies than their kid's books. (A little odd, since you can get through most movies in two hours or less, when books can take upwards of eight hours without being all that long. You'd think we'd be more okay with a pointless two hours than a pointless eight.)
And in the end, it's telling that the name of the movie has been changed from Charlie and the Chocolate Factory to Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory.
Don't get me wrong. I've loved this version since I was a kid. But after reading the book, these were just some of the things that simply bugged me.
Charlie and the Chocolate Factory Trailer
Burton, Depp and Elfman
In 2005, Tim Burton came out with his take on the story, and despite my liking this version very much, there are still some very significant differences.
First off, they've added flashback scenes that show us bits of Willy Wonka's childhood. These actually could be seen as shifting the focus of the story much more toward Willy Wonka than what was done in the Gene Wilder version. And in many ways it does, but these changes are actually balanced out rather nicely with some of the other changes that have been made.
Primarily the ending.
After Charlie wins the contest and is offered the factory, with the caveat that he can't take the rest of his family with him, Charlie actually turns him down.
He actually says no!
From there, things are dramatically different. Wonka leaves and tries to get back to what he'd been doing before. But he just can't do it. His new candies are terrible. He can't focus on what he loves. Eventually, he comes to Charlie who helps him out by finding and confronting his father: Wilbur Wonka.
The scene is actually very touching. His father, a dentist who had never allowed his son to have candy, turns out to be very proud of his son. There's a very awkward but touching embrace between father and son.
Definitely not an absolutely faithful adaptation.
Wonka vs. Wonka
But how do the adaptations compare to each other?
Let's see where they differ from each other, rather than just the book.
1 - Before the Factory
The 1971 version actually takes quite a while before they finally get into the factory (47 minutes of a 100 minute movie). There are several songs that really don't move the story along and delay the event that everyone is waiting for. (One of these songs is "Cheer Up Charlie", the absolute most boring and slow song in the history of soundtracks.)
In the Burton version, there are actually no songs whatever until the kids arrive at the factory. This helps (1) speed up the arrival at the factory (38 minutes of a 115 minute movie) and (2) set the factory apart from the dreary world that everyone else lives in.
2 - The songs
If you haven't read the book, you might be surprised when I say that the book itself is a musical. There are several instances where characters (especially the Oompa Loompas) are said to break out into song.
In the 1971 version, the only song in the entire movie that uses lyrics from the book is the one that Wonka sings in the tunnel-o-creepiness. All the rest are completely new.
In the 2005 version, the only one that doesn't use lyrics from the book is the song at the factory's front door with the mechanical puppets.
By keeping the original lyrics it becomes much easier to keep the author's original tone throughout the movie. That doesn't mean you can't bring anything new in, but considering the unique creepy/whimsical tone of Dahl's writing, keeping his original words is a great idea.
3 - The Oompa Loompas
The Wilder version has a very, very distinctive look to the Oompa Loompas: orange face, green hair and white eyebrows. This is a significant, though maybe unimportant divergence from the book, where they are described as very short pygmies. The decision was made to choose a look that would not be considered as inconsiderate.
Now, I'm not against being sensitive to other races, cultures and peoples. But I have to ask: what exactly would have been inconsiderate with portraying the Oompa Loompas the way they were in the book? It's not slavery. Wonka is not cruel to his workers. He pays them in cocoa beans which turns out to be the exact thing that they all dream about.
I know there are ways to impose negative implications on that setup. But do we really need to?
The Burton version then stands out greatly through the use of Deep Roy to portray every single Oompa Loompa. A significant and impressive feat.
4 - Wonka himself
Gene Wilder plays Willy Wonka as a silly, playful adult while Depp plays him very much as a child who has simply never grown up. Both are very valid interpretations and very well portrayed.
From there, it will greatly depend on your personal preference as to which Wonka you may prefer. In many ways, the child-in-a-man's-body can be considerably creepier, and that's not a bad thing with Roald Dahl.
So, that covers many (definitely not all) of the differences. Is that enough to declare one of them as "better"?
I say no.
Personally, the additions to the 2005 version feel much more in line with Roald Dahl's sensibilities. When young Willy Wonka shows up at home only to find that his father has already packed up the entire house and moved to a vast snowy wasteland, that feels very Dahl-ish to me.
However, matching the tone of the original is not necessarily the touchstone of a good adaptation.
You may feel that the original work was good, but did border on creepy a bit more than you might like. Or maybe you didn't get a creepy "vibe" from the book when you read it. This kind of thing can be quite subjective. In that case, Gene Wilder's portrayal could easily appeal much more to you.
Basically, the Gene Wilder version decided to focus on making a silly, colorful movie that the family can watch, while the Tim Burton version focuses a bit more on capturing the sense of surreal wonder. Neither approach is better than the other, but they will definitely appeal differently to each person.
Now, don't think I'm just trying to hedge my bets here. I'll admit that I prefer the 2005 version, but I still enjoy the '71 version as well. As I said before, I'm only trying to illustrate the different approaches that each movie took.
In a future hub (maybe the next one) I plan to explain my theory regarding the biggest difficulties involved in adapting literature to the big or small screen.
Also check out parts 1 and 3 in this series of hubs
- Text 2 Film: Part 1
A discussion regarding the difficulties that film makers run into and the decisions they must make when attempting to adapt a pre-existing text for the big screen.
- Text 2 Film: Part 3 - The epistemology of adaptation
Final thoughts (for now at least) on film adaptation and the difficulty of converting a story from literature to film.