Saturday, June 26, 2021

WILLY WONKA & THE CHOCOLATE FACTORY (1971) (WBHE 4K UHD Review)

WILLY WONKA & THE CHOCOLATE FACTORY (1971) 

Label: Warner Bros. Home Entertainment 
Region Code: Region-Free
Rating: G
Duration: 100 Minutes
Audio: English DTS-HD MA 5.1 with Optional English Subtitles
Video: 1080p HD Widescreen (1.85:1) 
Director: Mel Stuart 
Cast: Gene Wilder, Jack Albertson, Peter Ostrum, Roy Kinnear, Julie Dawn Cole, Leonard Stone, Denise Nickerson, Dodo Denney, Paris Themmen


Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory (1971) was directed by Mel Stuart (Mean Dog Blues) from a screenplay by Roald Dahl, based on his 1964 book Charlie and the Chocolate Factory. It was a bomb when it first arrived in theaters in the early 70's, but the movie has since gone onto become a beloved sort-of children's classic, one that I made sure t share with my own kids when the came of age. I didn't discover it till it sporadically aired on TV in the mid-70's and then became more familiar with it when it arrived in VHS in the late-80's when I was a teenager. In the early 90's I had  somehow illicitly acquired a rental copy of it on VHS and it  fast became one of my favorite watch-on-repeat movies, I would watch it back-to-back with Stanley Kubrick's A Clockwork Orange, and I still think that is a pretty great subversive double-feature. There's always been something so deeply perverse about this flick, the lunatic candy-maker inviting a group of largely unappreciative, over-priveleged brats into his factory, most of whom meet implied horrific ends, be that burnt alive in an incinerator, miniaturized, or turned into a human blueberry or whatnot, it seemed quite subversive to me, and gave me the chills as a kid. 

The film stars Gene Wilder (Young Frankenstein) as mysterious candy-maker Willy Wonka who hides five golden tickets inside his signature chocolate Wonka Bars,  distributing them around the world, causing quite a fervor.  Whomever finds the tickets will be granted a tour of the Wonka Factory, where no outsider has stepped foot for decades. 

The five kids who find the tickets are poor paperboy Charlie Bucket (Peter Ostrum) who is accompanied by his Grandpa Joe (Jack Albertson, Dead & Buried), spoiled brat Veruca Salt (Julie Dawn Cole) and her father Mr. Salt (Roy Kinnear, Taste the Blood of Dracula), the petulant gum-chewer Violet Beauregarde (Denise Nickerson, Smile) and her car salesman father Mr. Beauregarde (Leonard Stone, Soylent Green), the gluttonous Augustus Gloop (Michael Bollner) and his enabling mother Mrs. Gloop (Ursula Reit, Schulm├Ądchen-Report 9), and finally the TV-obsessed Mike Teevee (Paris Themmen) and his mom Mrs. Teevee (Dodo Denney, Splash).

Arriving at the factory they are greeted at the gate by Wonka, played wonderfully with a mix of menace and mischief by Gene Wilder in a crushed-velvet purple jacket and a top-hat. They're invited inside the factory and are given a surreal tour of the candy factory that is fraught with awe, wonder, lots of candy, and more than a bit of frightful menace, the latter highlighted by a acid-tinged underground boat ride with Wonka giving an unhinged monologue.

The production design of the factory and it's edible candy interiors always brings a smile to my face, but the underlying sense of dread is palpable throughout. Seeing these truly wretched kids meet their fates as the break rules and fail to heed warnings from Wonka is fun, but also unnerving, it's a classic slice of kinder-trauma. Which brings me to the Oompa Loompas, a race of pint-sized orange-skinned, green-haired, white eye-browed factory worker who carry-on with musical numbers of their own that tell the kids to "be good, or else". Not all the kids are awful, we see the film through the eyes of the impoverished Charlie and his Grandpa Joe, both are quite likable, especially Jack Albertson as the kind but cantankerous grandfather. 

This along with Annie were probably the first two musicals that I remember watching as a kid, and the songs are pretty iconic even today, from the opening tune "The Candy Man" sung by a not un-creepy sweet shop proprietor, Grandpa Joe's "(I've Got A) Golden Ticket", Wonka's wonderful "Pure Imagination", and my personal favorite, Veruca Salt singing "I Want it Now!", which ends with the brat being declared a "bad egg" and then falling to her presumed death into a fiery basement furnace! 

Audio/Video: Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory 
arrives on 4K UHD from WBHE in 2160p UHD framed in the original 1.85:1 widescreen, and benefitting from High Dynamic Range (HDR) color-grading. Interestingly, the 2009 Blu-ray was framed incorrectly at 1.78:1 widescreen, and had more visible information in the frame. This new scan corrects that, tightening up the framing, which might be off-putting to those who are accustomed to the Blu-ray framing. I did not come across any information about the new scan and the source elements but it's a sharp-looking transfer all around. Right away you can see a natural looking layer of film grain present throughout, the fine details are more lush and nuanced, and the candy-colored visuals are better balanced and more natural looking. Prior to Charlie arriving at the Wonka factory the visuals are appropriately drab and dismal looking by design, lots of earthy browns. Once we get to the factory things liven up considerably, plenty of garish candy colors and eye-popping vibrancy with HDR highlights that are tasteful and not over applied, but it's still a tasty looking color palette. The resolution looks fantastic, I was picking up on detail and textures of Wonka's clothing I don't think I'd ever noticed before. The edible chocolate river, lollipop flowers and acid-trip boat tunnel ride are look fantastic, as does the fizzy-lifting drink room with the myriad of bubbles floating around, it's certainly a world of pure imagination like you've never seen it before. 

Audio comes by way of English DTS-HD MA 5.1 Surround with optional English subtitles. The 2009 Blu-ray features a Dolby TrueHD 5.1, which is also featured on the accompanying Blu-ray, which is a recycle of the 2009 Blu-ray disc, sadly, but I could not detect much if any difference between the two. I think it's shame that we could not get a Dolby Atmos restoration for the audio track for the film's fiftieth anniversary release, but the playful Walter Scharf (Ben) score still sounds terrific. As we do not get a audio restoration we still have the same issues with the audio that were present on the 2009 Blu-ray, there's some sort of damage to the elements that causes distortion in the mid-ranges particularly during the musical numbers by 
Leslie Bricusse and Anthony Newley. What we get audio-wise is serviceable but Dolby Atmos original mono would have been an outstanding upgrade, we've never had the mono soundtrack for this film on any digital home video format that I can recall, and the 5.1 remix, while mostly front-centric, can sound a bit forced. 

There are no new extras on this release, the recycled Blu-ray features the same 2009 Blu-ray extras, only the Wonka Kids audio commentary is included on the UHD disc. Sadly, this UHD release does not feature the 14-minute Mel Stuart's Wonkavision or the 13-minute A World of Pure Imagination featurettes that appeared on the 2011 40th Anniversary Ultimate Collector's Edition, so hang onto that if you're an extras and packing whore. What we do get is the group commentary with the grown-up Wonka Kids, a 30-minute making-of retrospective with director Mel Stuart, producer David Wolper, actor Gene Wilder and the Wonka kids, a vintage 4-minute featurette from 1971, five sing-a-longs, and a full frame trailer for the film. 

The two-disc UHD/Blu-ray arrives in a black eco-case with a single sided sleeve of new artwork with some faux-glitter highlights on the logo, which is replicated on the accompanying slipcover. Inside there's a redemption code for a UHD digital copy of the film which includes some of the extras, but not all, at least when I redeemed it on Movies Anywhere.
 
Special Features;
- Audio Commentary with the Wonka Kids: Peter Ostrum (Charlie Bucket), Julie Dawn Cole (Veruca Salt), Paris Themmen (Mike Teevee), Michael Bollner (Augustus Gloop) and Denise Nickerson (Violet Beauregarde)
- Pure Imagination: The Story of Willy Wonka & The Chocolate Factory (30 min) 
- Vintage 1971 Featurette: The Moviemakers (4 min) 
- Scrumptious Sing-Alongs: Pure Imagination (4 min), I Want It Now! (2 min), I’ve Got A Golden Ticket (3 min), Oompa-Loompa-Doompa-De-Do (1 min) 
- Theatrical Trailer (3 min) 

The film still holds up, a weird kinder-trauma classic that to my mind has only gotten better with age. I watch it at least once a year, and this UHD is the best home video presentation we've had yet. I do wish we had a properly restored Atmos mono mix and some new extras to celebrate the 50th anniversary, but just having it in 4K resolution with the vibrant candy-colored HDR is fantastic and is well worth the upgrade.