Letters

Are two Willy Wonkas better than one? Is "Battlestar Galactica" the "best show on TV"? Readers respond to Steve Almond's "Me & the Chocolate Factory" and Laura Miller's "Where No TV Show Has Gone Before."


Salon Staff
July 13, 2005 11:14PM (UTC)

[Read "Me & the Chocolate Factory" by Steve Almond.]

For a self-avowed Willy Wonka fanatic, one who has seen the movie 27 times, Mr. Almond is a pretty lousy fan.

The least he could do is actually go back and check his movie quotes. Most of the ones he used from the movie were incorrect.

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People who see movies a bunch of times (like myself) are generally pedantic, and I'm surprised that Mr. Almond not only didn't check, but also didn't suspect that people would call him on his mistakes.

-- Joe Sislow

[Note: The story has been corrected.]

Thank you, Steve Almond!

I may just go see "Charlie and the Chocolate Factory," because the combination of Tim Burton and Johnny Depp has been so pleasurable in the past. But I will go with a wary eye, because as Almond pointed out today, the "Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory" was -- well, just scrumdiddilyumptious.

I've long considered "Willy Wonka" a child's horror film. When an ad came on TV for the new one recently, my mother, sitting next to me, noted that I was obsessed as a child with Violet turning into a blueberry: "You asked me about that over and over again," she noted. I also remember being completely terrified of being sucked up a pneumatic tube (à la Augustus), thinking how claustrophobic it would be. The movie still makes me feel that way. As years have gone on I have recognized the adult references -- Rachmaninoff as a door "key," the "we are the music makers" reference -- and I have grown to love this film even more.

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The thing that irks me the most about this "remake" is this: that there will now be children who will only see the new one and will have to be told about the old one, and instructed that it is worth seeing ... 27 times and more.

-- Randee Dawn

I'm afraid while I completely agree with what Mr. Almond affirms regarding the Gene Wilder film, I disagree wholly with the rest of his article. The most important thing he misses is that the Tim Burton film is not a remake of the earlier film, but a film of the original book. While the earlier film will always hold a special place in my heart, I expect this incarnation of Dahl's story (not a musical, with a darker tone, and apparently closer to the actual book as well) to be excellent.

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-- David Branson

Unlike Steve Almond, I didn't spend my childhood dreaming about candy. I spent it reading books. One of my favorites happened to be Roald Dahl's "Charlie and the Chocolate Factory." I liked the movie based on the book -- Gene Wilder's career-defining role as the eccentric and refreshingly unsympathetic Willy Wonka is, of course, unforgettable. But even at the age of 7, when I first saw the film (shortly after reading the book), I knew that I preferred the book to the movie for the same reasons that original works are almost always better than their film counterparts: it is the original work.

Having said that, I will also admit that I am looking forward to seeing how Tim Burton has chosen to adapt Dahl's novel (the upcoming film is not a remake of the old one -- it is a new adaptation of the novel). Almond's judgment of Burton as unqualified for the job based on the viewing of two of his films, both of which are over 15 years old, is meaningless to me. I say he's qualified based on "The Nightmare Before Christmas" and "Sleepy Hollow" alone.

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Burton's new film may be horrible -- who knows? -- but I at least plan to see it before dismissing it as worse than its predecessor.

-- Abby Dunham

Steve Almond says he's seen the original "Willy Wonka" 27 times. Is there any surprise, then, when he says that he'd be disappointed in the remake with Johnny Depp? What shot would any movie have at somehow eclipsing the shrine at which he's been worshipping since his sugar-coated days of childhood?

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We all have our beloved films from younger days, and we all fetishize them to a degree, but enough's enough. Give Tim Burton, Depp and "Charlie" a chance. Depp's got personality, and teamed with Burton, the pair make interesting, entertaining films.

Imagine two wonderful, classic Willy Wonka films for children of today to grow up worshipping. Wouldn't that be sweet?

-- Kory Johnson

[Read "Where No TV Show Has Gone Before," by Laura Miller.]

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Thanks for giving "Battlestar Galactica" some much-deserved coverage. As a lifelong science-fiction fan continually frustrated by the dimwitted cheeseball antics that pass for most science-fiction television, I'm thrilled by the show's nuanced, indeterminate takes on faith, power and living in the shadow of cataclysm. Your article gets the show exactly right, reminding us that spacesuits and evil robots aren't solely the province of low-budget fanboy garbage.

-- Peter Suderman

"Battlestar Galactica"? Pshaw.

If the Sci Fi Channel had wanted to show one of the most progressive science-fiction shows to exist, it wouldn't have balked at running the new "Doctor Who" series with Christopher Eccleston. One of its consistent underlying themes -- pansexualism throughout the galaxy as acceptable -- is matched with great performances and intelligent and witty stories and dialogue.

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Unfortunately, the Sci Fi Channel found "Doctor Who" "lacking" -- considering most of their previous fare, that comes off like a glowing endorsement.

-- John Mitchell

Laura Miller's article on the new "Battlestar Galactica" is enough to make me watch it next episode around. I was disappointed, though, that Ms. Miller didn't mention what was certainly among the best -- and probably the grittiest -- space operas of them all: the late and lamented "Space: Above and Beyond," which ran on Fox in 1995-96. "SAAB" was not only gritty, but also featured two strong, relatively tomboyish Marine pilots, dealt regularly in moral and military philosophy, and was among the most literary shows ever put out. In some ways, the series as a whole was a better film version of Robert A. Heinlein's "Starship Troopers" than the movie of that name could have hoped to be. So, I'll give Katee Sackhoff's Starbuck a shot, but will always hope for the return of Kristen Cloke's Shane Vansen and Lanei Chapman's "Vanessa Damphousse."

-- Mike Zara

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So the mighty "Battlestar Galactica" is now Laura Miller's destination for a "summer of Friday night appointments"? Sounds good. I might check it out again. However, the first few episodes were rife with the same maudlin melodrama that made "Firefly" the best canceled show of 2002 -- a show I liked, but never really missed. Both suffered from a surfeit of human pathos wrapped in a thin veneer of "science fiction."

Miller's casual dismissal of "Farscape" is really what moved me to write. This is the show that led me to abandon a highly successful career as a mechanical engineer in Silicon Valley. This so that, at the age of 50, I could take out a second mortgage on my home and move far away just so I could study visual effects and 3D animation and start again as a newbie in a field that produced a show that moved me to tears.

As Bill Moyers so aptly put it in his PBS series about the "Power of Myth," the journey of the hero -- as he (or she) evolves from an ordinary schmo to someone who has a pivotal effect on major events -- is as compelling and old as humanity itself. When told well, it's messy and full of dirty laundry. The real strength of "Farscape" was not that John Crichton was so well written -- and Ben Browder so filled this role -- but that every non-human character was given almost equal billing and evolved as John did. Everyone had the dirty laundry, and it was all pretty interesting, and a lot of fun. I haven't seen anything like that in sci-fi anywhere, and "Battlestar Galactica" is sure as hell no exception.

As much as Miller's review is a fan letter to Katee Sackhoff as Starbuck -- who is the linchpin of this series -- I'm unconvinced. I'll have to watch again, and see what has changed this season, but even if all Miller writes about is as well-written and acted as she implies, Claudia Black as Erin Sun crapped bigger ones than Katee Sackhoff. And now that I've learned the ropes, it amazes me how "Farscape" had writing, acting, special effects and production quality that rivaled small-budget movies, and utterly blew away "Stargate," the "Star Treks," and most certainly "Battlestar Galactica."

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"Farscape" is gone. We worked hard to save it, and all we got was closure (albeit a damned fine one). No sense crying over spilled milk. But when I read how "Battlestar Galactica" has moved Miller to such praise, I laugh. I laugh so hard that I spill more milk -- right out my nose.

-- Brad Basler

Thank you, thank you, thank you! I'm so happy to see "BSG" (as those of us in the know call it) get its due. After some of the harsh reviews of sci-fi of late (and I am a stern critic, as well), I was elated to see this amazing show get the credit it deserves from a publication like Salon.

Shows like this are once-a-generation stuff, and hardly the usual fare from poor Sci Fi Channel, which routinely insults everyone's intelligence with simple-minded crap. I hope your article will convince those who normally roll their eyes at the mention of the title to swallow their pomposity and check out the best show on TV.

-- Michael Wray


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