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Explaining the Boat Scene from Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory


Who here was terrified by the boat scene in Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory? In a film where child after child brushes with death, only to survive “off-screen”. With foods so dangerous to eat they blow up your whole body, and a tall strange man trying to coerce kids into stealing secrets for him in alleyways. With claustrophobic tubes that trap, and all run by a madman, in this film, the only really scary thing is a boat ride.

The scene is infamous and has horrified kids for decades now. The Tour of the factory moves swiftly along after losing Augustus Gloop, and the party take their seats as the Oompa Loompa's row them down a dark tunnel. Willy Wonka, already starting to make some of them nervous with his demeanour, insists that they row faster, and the passengers begin to panic. Lights and images flash around them, of bugs and eyes and a chicken being decapitated (making this one of the rare mainstream films depicting the on-screen death of a real animal), and Wonka begins to recite a shamanistic poem, which turns into a loud chant, and finally a shriek: “There's no earthly way of knowing, which direction we are going... ARE THE FIRES OF HELL A GLOWING, IS THE GRISLY REAPER MOWING, YES, THE DANGER MUST BE GROWING!” Violet Beauregarde said it best; “What is this, a freak-out?”

Everything about this scene, from Gene Wilder's slowly mounting delivery of the ominous lines, to the looks of panic on everybody's faces, to the very nature of this sort of satanic corruption of the cheerful tunes the factory dispenses otherwise, is pure nightmare fuel, and nothing like the rest of the film. Another thing that makes the sequence seem out of place is how abruptly it ends- the boat just stops, and no one brings it up again. So how come it's in the film?

Before we ask why anyone wanted it in the film, it's good to ask how the scene made it into the final cut in the first place, without anyone raising concerns about appealing to the target demographic of candy-loving kids. Well, Willy Wonka was made on a shoe-string budget by a rag-tag group of misfit film-makers, funded by a confectionary company to promote their upcoming Quaker Oats ‘Wonka Bars'. For the record, this promotion was a failure, because by the time the film was out, Wonka Bars were being recalled and altered because they melted at room temperature all over store shelves. Under these circumstances, the filmmakers experienced an unprecedented lack of studio interference, so they could do mostly whatever they wanted. Some of the makers of the film, released in 1971, had been stewing in the psychedelic late 60's, and probably channeled their experiences with bad trips (freak-outs, as they were known) into the scene, because there was room for it, and especially because it was cheap. It's hard to say no when you need to film the tunnel from the book, and someone comes up with an idea that only needs stock footage, coloured lights and back projection.

On a story level, Wonka seems to have a sinister mystery about him which keeps us on our toes, played up heavily by the incomparable Gene Wilder, who was attracted by the conman quality he felt the character could have. He even suggested that Wonka be introduced stumbling with a cane, only to reveal it was a ruse. The boat scene is the ultimate extra layer to Wonka's potential psychopathy. I mean, the boat has the perfect amount of seats for everybody, how did he know Gloop and his mother wouldn't be joining them? We really have no idea what he'll do next.

Some seem to think the scary boat ride is one of Wonka's tests, to see if there are any kids too fragile to end up running his factory. Doubtful. If the film, or more accurately the original novel, wanted to illustrate that, there would have been an extra terrified tot, who'd wet himself, or jump into the water to escape, and be serenaded by the Oompa Loompas as he floated on his way. The only element that seems to support this appears to be that Charlie and Grandpa Joe are the only captives who manage to enjoy the ride.

There are, as there always seem to be, some fun fan theories. One suggests the tunnel is a form of deterrent for thieves, who would have to make it through the tunnel to get to the factories' secrets. Who would brave all that for Slugworth? Not to mention how difficult it must be to navigate to the invention room in the pitch black.

What's appreciable about the scene today, outside of it being a very well judged mix of the unsettling and silly that introduces an element of intrigue at a junction into the film, is that it is so indelible. No-one forgets the scene, and whilst the images that flash swirl around, and out of order, everyone remembers how it felt. It's irreplaceable, especially in a kids' film today (though Coraline is sort of if the boat scene were the entire film), and that's why the remake didn't even try. If we celebrate this classic for it's incredible imagination when it comes to whimsy, we ought to celebrate it for its inventive shock too.

 
Talking Movies Reaches 400 Episodes with Spling!


Spling's segment on Fine Music Radio, Talking Movies , has reached its 400th entry. The bi-weekly additions of Talking Movies are straightforward reviews for three movies out at the time of release, fitting into a tight 6 minutes. You can catch them at 8:20 AM on Fridays and 8:15 AM on Saturdays. They dispense insightful, unpretentious and direct looks at the films, providing an ideal service in this modern landscape of glut when it comes to choosing what's worth watching.

400 talking movies episodes

A contemporary problem with being recommended a film is the game of roulette you play in hoping you'll be able to find it somewhere to watch. Lately, with streaming services being the main source of our entertainment, Spling has adopted the helpful approach of highlighting films from an array of different streaming platforms and channels, leaving no movie fan behind.

The show has been running for almost 8 years. An argument could be made that anything that provides, time after time, for this long, is something of an institution. When listening on FMR 101.3, every one of the instalments starts with those familiar notes from the American Beauty score, and signs off with the mantra “Don't WING it, SPL!NG it!”.

You can catch up on the latest Talking Movies episodes, presented as podcasts at splingmovies.com or check out archived episodes. Many of the films covered on Talking Movies receive longer form written reviews, but the archived entries supply transcripts of Spling's brief takes, if you prefer.

This 400th entry covers: News of the World , which stars Tom Hanks as a civil war veteran who reads the news from town to town, and must escort a young immigrant girl raised by Native Americans across the country to her family, in a largely frank western. He has excellent chemistry with co-lead girl, but Hanks, in typical fashion for his recent films, carries.

Next, sure-handed political drama Official Secrets; the true story of a British whistle-blower who leaked information to the press about an illegal move designed to sanction the 2003 invasion of Iraq, starring Kiera Knightly, and directed by South Africa's own Gavin Hood.

And lastly, a documentary called One Child Nation , uncovering insights into the reality of living under China's oppressive one-child policy, policing the intimate lives of the Chinese citizenry, which director Nanfu Wang has had the unique experience of once being a part of. From this unique position, the film takes a powerful biographical perspective, making it the best film on this edition of Talking Movies .

We look forward to number 500, the 10 year anniversary of Talking Movies with Spling, and every episode till then.

 
Animation for Adults


Animation predates cinematography itself, and as long as there has been animation, there has been animation aimed at adults. Yet, the medium has never shaken the public perception as kids' stuff, even with the occasional Bojack Horseman, mostly due to the absolute domination of the Walt Disney animation studio, and its myriad imitators. Of course, these days even those films throw in a joke or two for the parents, but if you've ever wanted to see a movie meant for you, like any other, but with that beautiful, otherworldly look only possible in animation and its many forms, here's what's waiting:

Some animations don't even bother to do away with the animal heroes from children's films, leading, I'm sure to some very upset family movie-nights. Watership Down and The Plague Dogs are both adaptations of Richard Adams' penchant for fables that don't skimp on the realities of animal life; hunger, brutal fights to the death, cruelty inflicted by, well, us. In Felidae, the violence takes a more stylistic approach, as the new cat in town has to solve a spree of murders in the neighbourhood, in classic murder-mystery fashion. The Fritz the Cat series originally got by mostly on the novelty of a cartoon cat so vulgar, but in a post South Park world, its charm today is as a fantastic time-capsule of hippy humour, a counter-culture so counter to culture they got sick of and started parodying themselves.

Animation for Adults

I'm not too sure if Richard Linklater's films A Scanner Darkly or Waking Life completely count, considering they were filmed first, and then animated overtop of the footage. If they do, these two are wonderful, Scanner is zany and Waking Life is contemplative.

Strictly speaking, you could show your kids The Triplets of Belle-ville, the hilarious almost pantomime about an elderly French mother rescuing her cyclist son from the mafia with the help of their obese dog and three music hall singers from the 1930s. Though its uniquely gloomy appearance and offbeat comedy are best left appreciated by mom and dad. Another French classic, the sci-fi experiment Fantastic Planet, about bizarre aliens keeping us as pets, and a revolution which begins to unfold as a result, is a simple story that lends itself well to allegory concerning race subjugation, animal rights, and the like. Everyone in the film is strange, humans included, best to bathe in its surreal world instead.

Japan has been importing intelligent work in the form of anime, most of them technically still kids' films, for ages. Belladonna of Sadness provides psychedelic imagery of witchcraft to match its artsy sensibilities, while Akira gives you fast and electrifying sci-fi street racing thrills. Ghibli has made the leap a few times into outright adult fare, to spectacular results. There's the infamously depressing war-time survival meditation Grave of the Fireflies, and Princess Mononoke, a brutally violent and intense fairy-tale, epic in scope and creativity, and featuring some of the studio's absolute best takes on their typical fair (man vs nature, supernatural creatures, strong-willed women, etc.) It remains one of the best animated films ever made. Miyazaki's latest film, The Wind Rises, is quiet and gorgeous, a reflective look at the life of a genius with a complex relationship with his creations; planes which will be used as weapons of war. In his advanced age, Miyazaki has focused on elevating and appreciating the beauty in life; moments of finding inspiration, or love, helping strangers, understanding each other and especially, as he always has, in the trickling streams, and waving fields of grass in nature. (I know this article is meant to focus on adult-oriented animation, and I've done that here, but if you haven't seen his kids' films either, watch them ASAP. They are all on Netflix, and the man can do no wrong.)

Most of these heady and multifaceted animations are quite recent. Persepolis tells the story of a young girl finding herself set to the jet-black and white backdrop of the Iranian Revolution. The Night is Short, Walk on Girl tells the story of a young woman finding herself set to the colourful backdrop of a night out. There's the dark crime comedy Have a Nice Day from China, and the French film I Lost my Body, which sort of escapes genre. It's about a pizza delivery boy who becomes enamoured with a stranger, whilst across town a severed hand searches for its body. It's quite absorbing, though the animation styles of these two aren't the most compelling to look at for two hours. The first ever entirely painted animated film, Loving Vincent, is worth it just for the spectacle of seeing the titular Vincent van Gogh's worlds come to life, as a perfectly serviceable mystery around his death plays out.

The stop-motions Mary & Max and Anomalisa, both about lonely, socially damaged men making a connection to young women who revitalize them. In Mary & Max, Max is middle-aged and Mary is 8, and the two begin a friendship as pen-pals. They offer each other unique perspectives, and the film has a wonderful goofiness to it, appreciating the wonder of companionship, whilst still having time to go about as dark as a comedy can get (alcoholism, suicide, etc.) Anomalisa, is a Charlie Kaufman movie, and therefore the damage is not exorcised. It is a thoroughly realistic film, down to its visuals (probably the most realistic a stop-motion film has ever looked). It concerns a customer service guru, Michael, who seems to view everyone in the world as the same person (literally), including his wife and child. He meets Lisa, who is unique, and incredibly anxious. He becomes infatuated with her. Sometimes it seems sweet and intimate, more often uncomfortable and selfish.

We'll end on a more uplifting note; a film teetering right on the edge between for kids and for adults: Isle of Dogs. On one hand, it has the twee look and premise of a kids' movie, but the violence and mature approach of adult fare. It's wall-to-wall quirk, elevated by the incredible effort expended to create the stop-motion world.

 
Jurassic Universe... from Jurassic Park to Jurassic World


The Jurassic Park movies are a thinly veiled collection of answers to the same question: “In how many places and ways, in and out of the park, can we get dinosaurs to chase down our main characters without them dying?”. And they’re awesome. We’re all set to get the next instalment; Jurassic World: Dominion, sometime in the next year, having gotten the short film Battle at Big Rock to tide us over. But, what can we expect from the film, considering the trajectory of the franchise so far?

It’s hardly necessary to describe anything that actually happens in the original Jurassic Park, everybody’s seen it! If you haven’t, congratulations, you have one of the great simple joys of the movies to look forward to. It’s a perfect monster movie, emphasising exhilaration over scares, with interesting characters whose arcs don’t get in the way of the real focus here; great thrills. It’s a classic that just stacks terrific moment after moment on top of each other; tense, funny, sentimental, exciting, sharp. A combination of mixing effects and hiding imperfections means that the '90s CGI still holds up pretty well, especially in the action scenes (where Dino’s moving fast means there’s less time for you to pick apart how they look and more time to worry about the kid who’s about to be munched). A scantling of viewers and critics weren’t impressed by what they considered “flimsy” characters, overpowered by the special effects. I can’t imagine how they felt going forward.

The Lost World is an overly maligned sequel. Many of the essential ingredients of the first film are here. Same director, same screenwriter, arguably a better cinematographer, and the same all-important composer (half of Spielberg’s fortune should be in John Williams' pockets). Yes, it’s not as good as the first one, but how many movies are? People forget that this is still a Spielberg movie, and he lends his flair to what could’ve been uninspired sequences. The T-Rex overturning the RV and leaving it dangling over the edge of a cliff with Malcolm and others inside, stands up to any sequence from the original film. And whilst Malcolm is a less satisfying protagonist to spend an entire film with, he’s still funny, and the addition of his daughter, a kid who’s not such a nuisance, is a welcome one (yes, Velociraptor vanquishing gymnastics and all). It overstays its welcome to include a second climax involving a T-Rex parading around San Diego. All in all, it’s a second rate Jurassic Park, but that’s hardly a bad thing.

Third rate Jurassic Park on the other hand. Jurassic Park III is largely still the worst of the bunch, regardless of the ludicrous antics of the latest films. It’s a repetitive franchise, but here it really feels like everybody involved was going through the motions. Not excitedly scheming up new perils, but reaching forgone conclusions. Less “Oh, OH- What if..!”, more “Well… we haven’t done anything with Pterodactyls yet.” It’s also the first film in the franchise to jump the shark and decide that the old dinosaurs are boring now, we need super dinosaurs to convince the audience that it’s actually dangerous this time, because the filmmaking sure isn’t going to do that job. So we get a scene where the main bad dinosaur, a Spinosaurus stalking the characters like a shark in a Jaws sequel, conveniently kills a T-Rex. “Okay guys, this is serious, this dinosaur, this one, is actually super dangerous.” Jurassic Park III was made by a new crew noticeably picking up the reigns from visionaries. The “Park” trilogy, sputtered to a conclusion.

Jurassic World is an excellent example of a basic reboot. It is, on a tonal level, just the 2015 version of the original film. It is bigger, it is bombastic, it swaps out the cantankerous main character for a suave but obnoxious Chris Pratt stock performance, and most of all; it is dumber. That is not the worst sin a dinosaur action movie could commit. A woman outruns a T-Rex in high heels. The super dinosaurs are now genetically advanced. The Velociraptors help out the heroes. It was an absolute smash hit, and audiences were largely won over by its formulaic but impressive spectacle. It’s hard to resist the idea of seeing Jurassic Park, but this time the park is open, and crawling with customers. It is perfectly acceptable escapism. You’ll have a decent time, and forget nearly everything about it once you’re done. The film even seems to want to address that its over the top additions don’t improve upon the original (whose spirit it slavishly attempts to recapture). The original film’s T-Rex comes out and serves an ass-whooping to the new genetically enhanced Dinosaur, with some help from the Velociraptors. Nevertheless, fun.

Fallen Kingdom seemed to get over its hang-ups about ridiculous over the top additions, because that’s mostly what it is. Volcanoes! Underground dinosaur black market! Genetically enhanced... little clone girl? The writers were so preoccupied with whether they could, they didn’t stop to think if they should. Despite this, it manages to be more forgettable than Jurassic World and approaches Jurassic Park III levels of mediocrity. Nothing much new is happening between the holdover characters from World and some of the new side-characters are genuinely annoying. There’s not much to say other than that it’s basically a bridge film to get us to the upcoming third instalment, now that dinosaurs have been set loose on mainland USA.

So what we should expect in Jurassic World: Dominion is a world overrun with dinosaurs. Not in cities necessarily, but in nature or suburban areas, invading roads and camp grounds. Sounds crazy enough. The architect behind this World trilogy, Colin Trevorrow, has said that this is the movie he’s wanted to see, and it took the two other to get there. At least we know he’s excited. All of the movies have their moments, the only real concern we should have is their ever expanding scope. There will be a ceiling where it stops being dumb fun and starts just being dumb. But, we’re not quite there yet. Jurassic Park, uh.... finds a way.

 
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