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Charlie and the Chocolate Factory (HD DVD)

Warner Bros. // PG // October 10, 2006 // Region 0
List Price: $28.99 [Buy now and save at Amazon]

Review by Joshua Zyber | posted November 20, 2006 | E-mail the Author
The Movie:
Roald Dahl's 1964 children's book had already been adapted into a feature film once before in 1971 (retitled Willy Wonka & the Chocolate Factory), to results that delighted both children and adults. When Tim Burton announced his 2005 remake/re-adaptation, many fans were upset at his audacity. How dare he defile such a beloved classic? The plan, the director claimed, was not to remake the previous film (one that he never cared for) at all, but rather to return to the original text and adapt it from scratch. Burton has made a career out of "reimagining" famous literary and cinematic properties by putting his own unique spin on them, sometimes to good effect (Sleepy Hollow) and sometimes decidedly not (Planet of the Apes), so some trepidation was only natural. Fortunately, in this case the pairing of Dahl's subversive wit with Burton's warped visual sensibilities turned out to be a nearly ideal match.

In this new Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, frequent Burton collaborator Johnny Depp takes over the role of Willy Wonka, the eccentric chocolatier who hosts a most remarkable contest. Hidden in the latest batch of his famous Wonka Bars will be five Golden Tickets granting access to an exclusive tour of his fabulous candy factory. As before, the winning children include gluttonous Augustus Gloop, spoiled Veruca Salt, rude Violet Beauregarde, and obnoxious Mike Teavee (here slightly updated to a video game rather than just television addict). It seems the only of the winners not a miserable brat is our hero Charlie Bucket (played with intelligence by Depp's Finding Neverland costar Freddie Highmore), an underprivileged boy whose only luxury in life is the one Wonka Bar his family can afford to buy him each year. Inside the factory, the children will be overwhelmed with many fantastic sights and sensations. One of them, Wonka announces, will also win a grand prize to be revealed later. Can you guess which one?

A significantly larger budgeted production than the 1971 film, Burton turns this Chocolate Factory into a digital playground filled with all manner of whiz bang visual effects in the service of his signature surreal style. Although the screenplay is in some ways a more faithful adaptation of Dahl's text (and some ways not), the director adds plenty of his own unique touches. The result is both true to the writer's intent and distinctly a Tim Burton film. Among the notable changes since the last movie are the addition of new backstories for Charlie's father, Grandpa Joe, and Wonka himself which help to flesh out their characters. The new film is also more effectively structured to layer in fantasy elements from the very beginning (Charlie's house is practically lifted out of a German Expressionist silent) rather than an abrupt transition halfway through as happened previously.

Most dramatically, the character of Willy Wonka has been significantly changed. As portrayed by Gene Wilder, the candy maker was odd but also rather conniving and sometimes mean-spirited. He was always cognizant of his surroundings and had manipulated events to his intended purpose. Depp's version of Wonka, on the other hand, is almost completely daft, a hilarious mess of neurotic tics and childish pettiness. The actor claims he based on performance on a mixture of children's television hosts, Howard Hughes, and '70s glam rockers. All of that may be true, but I expect most viewers will see the resemblance to Michael Jackson. To be fair, it's my theory that Jackson designed his life on Willy Wonka first.

Practically stealing the movie from right under Depp are the Oompa Loompas, now all played by Deep Roy, one actor digitally replicated several hundred times over. In the prior film the Oompa Loompas were essentially faceless slave labor, but here they're very distinct, quirky characters who underline each scene with a lot of humor and personality. Their songs, written and performed by Danny Elfman at his Oingo Boingo best, play with a variety of catchy beats in parody of several musical genres.

Did Willy Wonka really need to be remade? Perhaps not, but then again it had been 30 years and what's the harm in taking a fresh perspective? For some reason, no one seems to have much of a problem when a theatrical play is revived with a new cast and direction, but heaven forbid you should remake a movie that someone once liked. Tim Burton's new Charlie and the Chocolate Factory may not necessarily replace the Gene Wilder version in the minds of all fans, but it makes a surprisingly worthy addendum to it.

Charlie and the Chocolate Factory debuts on the HD DVD format courtesy of Warner Home Video.

HD DVD discs are only playable in a compatible HD DVD player. They will not function in a standard DVD player or in a Blu-Ray player. Please note that the star rating scales for video and audio are relative to other High Definition disc content, not to traditional DVD.

The Charlie and the Chocolate Factory HD DVD is encoded on disc in High Definition 1080p format using VC-1 compression. The movie's theatrical 1.85:1 aspect ratio has been slightly opened up to fill a 16:9 frame with negligible impact to the composition.

I expected a lot from this movie's High Definition transfer but found it rather disappointing. The picture is soft upon soft upon soft, distractingly so. Detail and texture are only fair even in the best scenes. I will concede that this is at least partly, if not mainly, inherent to the movie's style. I remember it looking similar when I saw the film theatrically, but at the time assumed that the theater was projecting it out of focus. It's also obvious in a number of scenes that certain characters' faces have been digitally smoothened to give them a waxy sheen. I don't necessarily have a problem with that. I find it harder to believe, however, that even the opening credits and all on-screen text are meant to look so soft and dull. It appears that the entire image was digitally filtered after-the-fact. Artistic intent is one thing, but the picture here is just so processed and flat that I can't understand any reasonable sense for it.

It's a shame, because the phantasmagoric colors on this disc are really wonderful. Rich, vibrant, and deep, they leap off the screen in ways that I wish the rest of the picture did. Contrasts and black level are a little light; if not necessarily objectionable, this does contribute to the overall sense of flatness. Film grain is visible in many scenes, which is frankly surprising considering how filtered, processed, and digitally tweaked everything is.

The Charlie and the Chocolate Factory HD DVD is not flagged with an Image Constraint Token and will play in full High Definition quality over an HD DVD player's analog Component Video outputs.

The movie's soundtrack is provided in Dolby Digital Plus 5.1 format. For some reason, the disc producers chose to also include a music-only track in lossless Dolby TrueHD format, but not one for the main soundtrack itself.

On the DD+ mix, Danny Elfman's score and songs fill the soundstage with expansive presence and dynamic range. Intelligibility of his song lyrics comes across better than the theater where I first saw the film, but are still a little obscure. The sound design incorporates many wacky sound effects and an immersive surround presence, which are all very satisfying. There's a bit of room for improvement in fidelity, however, and I wish a lossless TrueHD track could have been provided for the entire soundtrack rather than just the music-only feature.

Subs & Dubs:
Optional subtitles – English, English captions for the hearing impaired, French, or Spanish.
Alternate language tracks - N/A

The disc automatically opens with a lengthy HD DVD promo that can fortunately be skipped but is a nuisance. The interactive menus are accompanied by annoying clicking sound effects for every selection that can be turned off if you desire (and I recommend it). Most of the bonus features on this HD DVD title are recycled from the DVD edition and are presented in Standard Definition video with MPEG2 compression.

All of the important supplements from the 2-disc Deluxe Edition DVD have carried over. Although most of the featurettes are short, they're surprisingly informative and worthwhile.

  • Chocolate Dreams (7 min.) – An overview of Burton's vision for the film. Interesting to learn is that the project was in development long before the director was brought on. Roald Dahl's widow is an executive producer and claims to be quite happy with the finished product (Dahl himself disliked the older movie).
  • Different Faces, Different Flavors (11 min.) – Discussion of the casting for the picture. This is primarily a big love fest for Johnny Depp, but also emphasizes the importance of finding the right children.
  • Designer Chocolate (10 min.) – A look at the movie's elaborate production design and costumes.
  • Under the Wrapper (7 min.) – Analysis of the visual effects, both practical (quite a few miniatures were used) and CG.
  • Sweet Sounds (7 min.) – Danny Elfman describes in entertaining fashion the development of his songs.
  • Becoming Oompa Loompa (7 min.) – A peek at how Deep Roy was multiplied into hundreds of characters. The amount of work required to achieve a convincing effect is a testament to the actor's dedication. Surprisingly, we learn that in addition to the digital replication a number of animatronic Loompas were also used on set.
  • Attack of the Squirrels (10 min.) – The production's animal trainers discuss the extraordinary lengths they went to in preparing the film's weirdest set-piece. A squirrel requires approximately two thousand repetitions of an action to learn it. Animatronic and digital squirrels were also incorporated into the sequence.
  • The Fantastic Mr. Dahl (18 min.) – A biography of the author originally produced for the BBC.
  • Pre-vis Augustus Gloop Dance (2 min.) – Footage from the rough CG animated staging of the first musical number.
  • Pre-vis Mike Teevee Dance (2 min.) – Similar to the above, but with some actor rehearsal footage mixed in.
  • Club Reel (3 min.) – A pointless dance remix video that was distributed to clubs in Europe.
  • Theatrical Trailer (2 min.)
Missing from the DVD are some interactive games and DVD-Rom content. None are significant losses. New to the HD DVD are:
  • Audio Commentary - For some reason this track didn't make the cut for the DVD, so we're hearing it for the first time here. Unfortunately, to say that this is one of Tim Burton's better commentaries isn't much of a compliment. He seems to be a little more collected and prepared than usual, but the track still has too many lengthy gaps of silence.
  • In-Movie Experience - Subtitled "Television Chocolate", this implementation of the IME feature consists of pop-up trivia, interviews, and behind-the-scenes footage overlayed onto the screen while the movie plays. Like most of Warner's other IME tracks, content here is sometimes frustratingly spotty. Unfortunately, this disc has not been mastered with the ability to skip around to each new piece using the Left and Right arrow buttons on the remote, as was available on the Terminator 3 HD DVD for example.
  • Music-only Track - Danny Elfman's music and songs have been isolated in lossless Dolby TrueHD quality. Personally, I'd have preferred the movie's main soundtrack to get this treatment instead.
Final Thoughts:
Call it a remake, a re-adaptation, or whatever you choose, Tim Burton's re-envisioning of Charlie and the Chocolate Factory is great fun and stands up very well along side its predecessor. I found the High Definition picture quality disappointing, and the choice of providing a music-only track in Dolby TrueHD quality but not the main soundtrack perplexing, but this HD DVD has a good selection of bonus features and rates a worthy recommendation.

Related Articles:
Finding Neverland (HD DVD)
Sleepy Hollow (HD DVD)
Tim Burton's Corpse Bride (Blu-ray)
Willy Wonka & the Chocolate Factory (HD DVD)
HD Review Index
High-Def Revolution – DVDTalk's HD Column
Toshiba HD-A1 HD DVD Player

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