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***Please note that there is no actual footage of the scenes screened at Comic-Con, as this would violate all kinds of copyright laws.  This is our opinion and description of what was shown.  Please check out our Where The Wild Things Are section for more pictures and videos***

Friday morning, Warner Bros. kicked off their presentation at Comic-Con in the massive Hall H by presenting a monstrous amount of unseen footage from Where The Wild Things Are.  The footage was presented by Max Records, the young actor who plays the story’s hero, Max.  The screening began with a short documentary on Spike Jonze and Maurice Sendak’s visions for the movie, and was followed by several complete scenes from the film.  Check out our first response to the footage after the jump…

  • The Filmmakers
  • The Story
  • The Monsters
  • The Feelings
  • The Footage (Contains Spoilers)

From the moment it was announced that Spike Jonze was going to direct a film adaptation of Where The Wild Things Are, with Dave Eggers co-writing the screenplay, the odds were in its favor that it was going to be a pretty strange picture. However, the potential for utter greatness was undeniable.  How could the combination an Oscar nominated director, known for making some of the most original films of his time, with a Pulitzer winning author, whose ability to find intensely profound moments in the tiny and precise details of everyday living is unmatched, be anything but a success?  Then there were rumors that Warner Bros. had demanded that the film be recut entirely, because it was too dark, sad, and scary for young audiences.  This only reinforced the idea that the pair were taking the story in an entirely different direction than the standard childrens book adaptation format that has shattered such childhood favorites as The Cat in the Hat, or the upcoming Cloudy With a Chance of Meatballs.  Finally, after seeing the footage presented today at Comic Con, it is completely certain that this movie is going to be tremendous.

In the short documentary featurette that screened before the completed scenes, Maurice Sendak and Spike Jonze both discuss that they wanted the story to be one that was kind of dangerous.  They wanted it to be something that challenged children, and respected their ability to understand the scope of such a story.  Because ultimately, the story of Where The Wild Things Are is about the eventual loss of rampant childhood imagination that almost every person experiences.  And it’s not something that can’t or shouldn’t be explained to a child, the fact that one day they’re going to grow up and forget about impulsive playfulness, but it is an unpleasant reminder to those of us who haven’t looked back on that age in a long time.  Maybe that’s why the soulless executive types at the studio were initially so hurt that this wasn’t the big colorful children’s book romp they had hoped for.  But the footage put on display covered a wide range of emotions that don’t normally get felt by most grownups in daily life, and it was refreshing and unnerving all at once.  The most significant is a sense of curiosity with only a tiny twinge of fear, but the kind that only makes you want to learn more.

Then there are the Things.  The Wild Things.  Giant imaginary monsters, constructed by the Jim Henson workshop, which blow the lids off all previous Muppet technology in the past.  Sure it’s only because Max is a small child, but these things look enormous.  It’s all the way they move, as if the act of carrying their own massive weight takes more strength than a human could have.  They don’t look scary, but they do look monstrous.  The most amazing thing about these creatures, though, are their facial expressions.  I don’t ever recall muppets being so readily able to emote in such delicate ways.  The sudden, subtle crook of an eyebrow, or a well timed flare of the nostrils, or the transition from a puzzled inquisitiveness into a giant ecstatic grin conveys more about their response to Max and his whims than any kind of dialogue could.

Standing in a press pit full of jaded, cynical, and generally unpleasant reporter types, and hearing some of the weighty sighs, giggles and gasps they let out should be a good indication of how hard this film hits the heart.  The teaming up of two of the most sensitive contemporary artists in their fields has resulted in a movie that is perfectly calculated to lead you to an amazing emotional place without being overtly manipulative.  Many things often get said about a childrens movie that “has plenty of material to keep adults entertained,” generally in the form of pop culture references and sly raunch, but this is a childrens film that is going to seriously engage adults.  Believe it or not, my personal anticipation for this film is just about neck and neck with James Cameron’s Avatar.  I simply cannot wait.

***If you want to remain in some sort of a media blackout, or would rather be surprise, then go no further.  If you want to read a description of the scenes that were screened, then go on.***

The scenes screened included one in which Max wakes up in the arms of Carol (voiced by James Gandolfini), where all we see is an upward view of the forest, and we all hear is Carol’s breathing.  “I didn’t want to wake you, but I wanted to show you this,” he says.  The two of them explore the forest together, and Carol tells Max that everything is his.  The dirt, the animals, the trees–everything.  Except the hole in that tree.  That’s not his.  Also, that rock.  But everything else.  This is his kingdom.  The world of his imagination.  It gives a sense of infinite possibilities.

The next scene shown was of Max and Carol walking through the desert together.  This is where things get sad.  Carol explains that things aren’t going so well in this part of the kingdom.  It used to be dirt, then the dirt turned into sand, and eventually the sand will turn into dust.  Max expresses a similar fear to Carol by telling him that even the sun will die one day, something that terrifies every child the first time they hear it without understanding that it’s billion’s of years away.  But Carol realizes that he has a duty to his King, and reassures him by saying “Look at me!  I’m big!  How can big guys like you and me worry about a tiny little thing like the sun up there?”

The next scene was of Max and KW, voiced by Lauren Ambrose, and Max getting ready for sleep.  They talk about his family as if they’re gone forever, and she asks if he ate them.  “Eaters are worse than biters,” she tells him.  As they drift off to sleep, the other wild things climb on top and say goodnight to each other.  These things all sleeping in one big pile on top of each other shows us the kind of unspoken love that makes us melt when litters of puppies sleeping together.

In the final scene shown, Max tells the monsters that he wants to build a fortress, and they all get to work gathering materials.  Max grabs as many small rocks as he can hold, while the monsters hurl boulders over the hill.  They break down enormous branches and drag them all into a pile, which they begin to weave into a giant tunnel of fauna.  One of the monsters stands on top of a giant cliff and jumps up and down, breaking off a large section piece of its face off, and the others cheer at this brilliant idea.  The whole while the voices of these grown, adult sounding creatures are full of the same kind of excitement that a child who is certain he has just had the best idea of his life.  It’s infectious, and incredible.  The joy of this collaborative creation is then concluded with a huge clawed hand delicately placing wildflowers across the whole thing.  The final structure is this huge, beautiful structure that seems otherworldly, yet completely intuitive all at once.

This film is going to be a real achievement, both for its visuals and its storytelling.  I cannot overstate my excitement for this film.  Everyone should have such a warm, fuzzy feeling.