Tuesday, March 11, 2008

Movie adaptations

I spent parts of Saturday and Sunday running around to Hollywood and Blockbuster in search of Into the Wild, which just came out on DVD last week. My timing had been great--four of my classes had just finished reading (or pretending to read) the Jon Krakauer book, and I promised to show parts of the movie in class this week. My timing was good, but not perfect, because I couldn't find the movie anywhere.

Some students accused me of not really trying, and I was like, "I even checked at the Red Box outside of Jewel!"

Lucky for me there were a ton of copies at my local Hollywood when I checked after school today. So I rented it and just finished watching it. And my feelings, I have to say, are mixed.

I don't know if there has ever been a movie adaptation that I've liked. In fact, just today I was talking to one of my students about Like Water for Chocolate. The book is good, and one of my classes will be reading it next. The movie, though, is awful. My biggest problem with it is the lead actress, who is not at all like I pictured when reading. The only movie I think I like as much as the book is One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest, although I don't think that counts because I'm pretty sure I saw the movie first. (Which leads to today's challenge, readers: Name one movie that's as good or better than the book. And please don't say The Princess Bride, because then I'll have to disown you.)

The problems with Into the Wild are many, mostly dealing with the writing and direction. I hate how so much of the focus is on the relationship Christopher McCandless had with his parents. In the book, it's there, but not as the overriding reason why this young kid took off without a trace to roam the U.S. until he ended up in Alaska. In the book, he's an explorer, someone looking to live in the world. In the movie, though, Alex seems to just be running from his abusive parents. I guess Hollywood needs an easily explained reason for everything.

Another problem is the pace of the movie. And length. At 2 hours, 20 minutes, there's no way I can show enough of it in class. (To get a taste of how slow moving the movie is, check out the official website.) Which leads to my biggest problem: You really have to watch the whole movie to get anything out of it. In the end, it really is quite haunting, but not unless you've sat through the whole thing. Which my students wouldn't be able to do, even if I let them.

But I am curious to hear what they will have to say about it. The ones who did read were quite baffled. They just couldn't get their heads around the idea of someone giving up everything to just roam. These are teenagers who barely roam away from their neighborhoods.

When we were discussing the concept of exploring in one of my classes, one student said, "That's such a white thing to do." I wonder. Is it?


Anonymous said...

Look me in the eye
Then, tell me that I'm satisfied
Was you satisfied?
Look me in the eye
Then, tell me that I'm satisfied
Hey, are you satisfied?

And it goes so slowly on
Everything I've ever wanted
Tell me what's wrong

Maybe white kids..or more accurately, kids with enough of their basic needs met...are the only ones able to afford ennui and the pursuit to rid themselves of it...

appopt said...

great job of sneaking in the Replacements and of using the type of word that, if I ever use, students say, "Now you're just making shit up."

I was thinking about which parts of the movie to show and which to avoid. And there's one scene with a couple of Germans at the Grand Canyon, which could be a good opportunity to teach about cultures. "Yes, it's true, German women often hang out topless at the beach." But that's just another part of the movie that has nothing to do with the book. And the whole thing about Chris being chased by the river police ...

Exurban Mom said...

I think that Brokeback Mountain is very close to Annie Proulx's short story, and captures the essence and feel of it very well. I've been generally pleased with the Harry Potter adaptations, which are a tall order, considering the length of the books and the huge cast of characters.

But I'm with you at being disappointed by most adaptations of books into film.

Kathy said...

The only movie that I think is better than the book is The Bridges of Madison County. Of course, the book sucked. :-)

Anonymous said...

Interview with the Vampire did a great adaptation, but that's probably only because Anne Rice wrote the screenplay herself. Smart move on her part.


Anonymous said...

Only 2 movies I have seen are better than their literary source.

Brokeback Mountain, a superb movie, surpasses the exquisitely crafted short story at its core.

Sugar Town, a cute movie with some residual charm, was a vast improvement on the mediocre novel it was based upon.

spacedunce-5 said...

To me, A Beautiful Mind was the only movie to surpass the book, even though the book was fabulous!

PS Sorry 'bout the hiatus, Spokeo is a bit screwed. (Google it!)