A test screening earlier this year of the Spike Jonze-directed, Dave Eggers-scripted Where The Wild Things Are reportedly scared the bejesus out of the kids in the audience and, as a consequence, rumors have been flying about whether or not Warner Bros. plans to start from scratch with an entirely different director and screenplay. Although costly, this move would hardly be unprecedented. Four years ago, Warner Bros. and Morgan Creek Productions pulled rank in a similar manner when they brought in action hack Renny Harlin to redo Paul Schrader’s too moody Exorcist prequel.
In truth, Jonze probably got off on the wrong foot with the suits from the start, when he insisted on shooting his adaptation of Maurice Sendak’s seminal children’s book using dudes in monster costumes, rather than going the cheaper (looking) CGI route. And so with the film’s release date now pushed back to October, 2009, and with Jonze’s skateboard empire stuck promoting an ill-timed series of Wild Thing sneakers, it’s nice to see that the ex-Mr. Sofia Coppola (unfairly parodied by Giovanni Ribisi in Lost in Translation) is clearly still having some fun.
Jonze, who turns 39 today, is one of his generation’s most underrated auteurs, and this spring, when he might have been making final cuts to what is purported to be his best work yet, he was instead blowing off steam. As documented in the Beauty and the Beast DVD—which, thank god, finally hit New York shops last week—Jonze went on a Pacific Northwest tour with his Girl skateboard team. Although he’s easily the most important director ever of skate videos (and isn’t shabby with a music video either), Jonze handed the reins to capable underling Aaron Meza, and merely contributed some footage. The protégé does him proud, showing a nimble and witty editing touch and his mentor’s penchant for inspired tune selection (including Gary Numan’s “M.e.” and Spinal Tap’s “Rock and Roll Creation”).
Given the purgatorial state of Where the Wilds Things Are, it’s comforting to see clips in Beauty and the Beast of Jonze out front of a roadside motel bunnyhopping gaps on his BMX bike, as if his only care in the world is to drink beer and land sick tricks with his pals. One of these days mainstream cinephiles are going to realize what a master he is, but in the meantime Jonze will always have his skateboard fans. Happy birthday, Spike.—Benjamin Strong