A Wonka Box Set and a NY Times Documentary

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Gene Wilder, star of 1971's Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory

“Sooner or later,” the Canadian media baron Moses Znaimer said decades ago, “everything is on TV.” Now it’s all on DVD. Or do I mean Blu-ray? And how soon before discs will be as antediluvian as videotape and all media will be on your computer desktop? Wait, that’s happening now. Yet each Tuesday, several hundred DVDs of new, recent, repackaged, classic and defiantly anticlassic movies and TV shows are issued in whatever video stores are called now and on sites like amazon.com. Each week in this space we aim to shine a light on a few big, worthy or just plain weird releases. Think of us as the prescreening committee for your weekend watching.

Willie Wonka & The Chocolate Factory: 40th Anniversary Blu-ray + DVD Pack—Ultimate Collector’s Edition

The definitive children’s story on the dilemma of taking candy from a stranger, Roald Dahl’s Charlie and the Chocolate Factory spawned two very different films: the grandiose, grotesque Tim Burton version with Johnny Depp in 2005 and, 34 years before, the more modest, semi-realistic Willy Wonka. Why the name change? Because Quaker Oats, which had sponsored some TV work by David L. Wolper, agreed to pay for production of the Charlie film if the title were changed, the better to promote the Wonka Bar the company would produce. Alas for Quaker Oats, the chocolate melted in the wrappers; only Stuart’s chirpy infomercial survived and thrived in kids’ memories. That, presumably, is what justifies this giant box of DVD and Blu-ray editions, a 144-page souvenir book, four scratch-n-sniff pencils, a “Golden Ticket” that will send five pairs of winners to Los Angeles for a tour of the Warner Bros. studio—and the tiniest Wonka Bar.

In the 30-min. making-of extra, director Mel Stuart recalls how he came to make the picture: his young daughter told him to. Gene Wilder describes the terms on which he agreed to take the title role: if he could first limp into view, then somersault and smile for the kids, proving that Willy was not to be entirely trusted. The movie’s kids, deep into middle age (though Bollner, who was chubby Augustus Gloop, looks exactly the same), share their reminiscences about the shooting and the soupy score, which Anthony Newley, who wanted to play Willy, wrote with Leslie Bricusse. When Dahl’s own screenplay needed work, Stuart called on a young doc-film writer, David Seltzer, to provide bridging scenes and the famous dialogue that ends the film. “We really were a bunch of amateurs flying by the seat of our pants,” he says. “And I think the film reflects that. … That’s the flavor of what makes the movie so vital, so vibrant.”

My film-critical opinion? I’ll never tell; I have nieces who have nieces—I also have an editor—with a strong attachment to the film. I will acknowledge that I appreciate Wilder’s easy balancing of Willy the charmer and Willy the potential predator; and I surely prefer his picture to the 2005 version. Apparently that’s the majority opinion. In a 2007 TIME Q&A, Wilder said, “In 2007: I always get comments: ‘Yours is better.’ I know they’re talking about Willy Wonka.”

A mild warning: this three-disc set, which calls itself “Scrumdiddlyumptious” (Ned Flanders must have written the ad copy), mostly duplicates materials in the 2001 DVD edition. The same commentary by the ex-children, the same Pure Imagination, the same four songs with printed lyrics to sing along with—curiously, not including “The Candy Man,” which became a No. 1 hit for Sammy Davis, Jr. (another song-and-dance man who wanted to play Willy). What’s new is a briefer update by Stuart, including chats some of the stars a decade after the first Making-of, as if he were Michael Apted and this a 7 Up series for child actors. Come back in 2021, when the kids are in their 60s and yours are in their teens. We can almost guarantee there’ll be a Golden Anniversary Golden Ticket Edition.

Willie Wonka & The Chocolate Factory: 40th Anniversary Blu-ray + DVD Pack—Ultimate Collector’s Edition
Director: Mel Stuart; Writer: Roald Dahl, from his book
With Gene Wilder, Jack Albertson, Peter Ostrum, Julie Dawn Cole, Denise Nickerson
Warner Home Video, $64.98 / $43.99 at Amazon

Page One: Inside the New York Times

I usually read the New York Times online, scanning its website for stories of interest, then typing the headlines into Google, where I can read the reporting and reviews for free. (Another nice thing about the Internet: the myopic can zoom in until agate type is legible.) Yet my wife still subscribes to the paper and sits down with it each morning. Beyond her nostalgic addiction to newsprint, Mary says that thumbing through the Times as the editors have organized it leads her to pieces she might not have read on her own. Besides, we both see subscribing to the paper as our equivalent of a year-round NPR pledge drive. The Times has been a part of our intellectual lives for decades, and we fancy that our support helps keep it alive in a tough time for newspapers (and newsmagazines). The depth and sobriety of its reporting are an antidote to the scavenger websites that filch the paper’s stories, and to the Internet’s ardor for topless starlets and cute puppies.

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