film adaptations

Audiobook – Ender’s Game

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Ender’s Game was originally written as a novella, then expanded as a novel to allow Orson Scott Card to introduce his Speaker of the Dead books.  Ender Wiggin is a six year-old genius shipped off to Battle School, where he and other children are trained in anticipation for the next attack by aliens known as Buggers.  Ender garners the attention of his new teachers quickly and soon outshines the other children in Battle School.  Ender’s Game follows him as he moves up in Battle School and learns to be a young commander, with the action culminating at Ender’s tender age of twelve.

I made no secret that it was hard for me to finish Ender’s Game.  I only picked up the book in the first place because of the upcoming movie, and I wanted to read the book before I were to go see the film (reading the book first, however late to the game I am, allows me to be unjustly upset when they change key plot points.  I have faults.  I know).  The book sat unfinished on my iPod for several months, as I worked up the courage to continue with the onslaught of hopelessness and witnessing a young child beaten down by responsibilities far beyond his years.

I cannot deny that Orson Scott Card really is a masterful writer; you care about Ender and Valentine from the beginning, and you feel so against all that happens to both of them because Card makes you care.  That being said, it is incredibly difficult, knowing that the children are so very young, to read how many hardships each face.  I kept asking myself if Col. Graff would ever allow Ender to just be a child, if the torture was going to end any time soon. The fact that Ender just never spoke like a child either was more than a bit disconcerting for a girl that believes in children being children.

One of the responses I got from a friend about finishing the book was that she felt more adult at a young age because she was intelligent.  While I can see that Ender, burdened with great intelligence, would not feel like a child either, the book does make you wonder how far we should push our true prodigies just to gain an end.  Think of those in history like Mozart, a boy denied a childhood by his father because of his gift and who suffered greatly for that loss.  Ender himself ends the book by telling Valentine he would like to move on from the world they have built with the colonists simply because he has not known a life without pain.  That he was so used to pain he had to now seek it out.  There is perhaps no line more tragic than that.  When you couple that with the fact that *SPOILER* the buggers never planned on attacking Earth again, and Ender’s entire mission was therefore unnecessary, what does Card want us to take away from the story?  (This is a major portion of the plot that if they remove from the movie will make the entire main question collapse, in my opinion.)

I am  no fan of SciFi, but I found that Card does not overload his story with the nuts and bolts.  Instead Card gives you just enough to grasp the futuristic pieces of his world, but not enough to overload those in his audience who could care less about the details.  This combined with the more hopeful nature of how Ender’s Game ends makes me almost want to read more in the series.  Almost.  While he might torture his main characters, Card sure does know how to pull you in and make you invested in his creations.

Overall, technically a great book, but not my particular cup of tea.

Rating: 7/10

Audibook: 8/10

Hunger Games – Film

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Main Cast:

Jennifer Lawrence – Katniss
Josh Hutcherson – Peeta
Liam Hemsworth – Gale
Woody Harrelson – Haymitch
Elizabeth Banks – Effie
Lenny Kravitz – Cinna
Donald Sutherland – Pres. Snow
Stanley Tucci – Cesar Flickerman

I want to warn you readers right now that I will be talking about the movie here as if you have read the books or seen the movie.  If you don’t want spoilers on plot lines, steer away.  (For those that have read the book but not watched the movie, there’s nothing to spoil in the movie really.)

Jennifer Lawrence was superb.  Already an Oscar nominee at 20, Lawrence has a stellar reputation as an actress with an immense natural talent.  You might have seen her in last summer’s blockbuster “X-Men: First Class”.  Even as a young Mystique she was very good, though the role did not give her as much chance to showcase her talent as “Hunger Games”.  You are transfixed by Lawrence and you never see her act.  After the movie my friend pointed out that she simply embodies the part, she is Katniss, or at least she makes you believe that she is.  She makes you believe in Katniss’s fear so much that your heart cannot stop pounding.  There are intense scenes throughout the movie, but it is her performance that makes you feel the fear of this 16 year-old girl.

You don’t see much of Gale (Liam Hemsworth, brother to “Thor” actor Chris Hemsworth) in this installment, but what we do see is ok.  His acting is fairly subtle and informs enough of things to come, but he cannot compete with Lawrence when they are on screen together. Actually, not even Stanley Tucci could compete with Lawrence and that’s saying something.  Josh Hutcherson was good as Peeta, and for his part you can tell how Peeta feels about the Girl on Fire.  I thought Hutcherson brought some good nuances to the part, and I’m interested to see how he’ll portray the problems coming his way.

For the mentors of the “kids”, Woody Harrelson, Elizabeth Banks, and even Lenny Kravitz were pretty amazing.  Banks particularly disappeared into Effie so much that you were struggling to believe it was really her.  While I love Haymitch as a character and thought Harrelson was good, it was really Kravitz that you are drawn to, probably because our heroine finds more comfort in his friendship.  Who knew the rocker could act?

Now, as to the movie itself – wow.  I have a friend, Joni, that will tell you until your ears bleed that books and movies are two different mediums.  She is absolutely right.  But when it comes to adaptations, this has probably been one of the best book-to-screen jobs I have ever seen.  Books like Harry Potter suffer partially because of the extensive source material, partially because of poor directorial choices (I’m looking at you, Chris Columbus).  Hunger Games is a relatively short, fast-paced novel, so it is much easier to get the important pieces into the film.  While we might miss out on some of the nuances, such as Katniss’s playing up the romance in the arena, you still get a pretty good picture of it.  Not only that, with the movie we were allowed outside of Katniss’s mind and that gave us a very interesting look at the Games behind the scenes.  I particularly loved the exchanges between Donald Sutherland’s President Snow and Wes Bentley’s Seneca Crane.

I was glad that the violence was short and not graphic.  It would have to be to secure the PG-13 rating, especially since it is kids killing other kids.  If you could call violence tastefully done, “Hunger Games” certainly did it.  It was enough to bring out the outrage you should feel, but not enough to glorify the violence you are supposed to be hating.

After the movie last night, I was discussing it with a friend and she was questioning why Katniss becomes this symbol for hope.  I expressed to her that Katniss is the result of this horrific tradition – she is closed off and will not allow herself to have normal human emotions, besides her sisterly affection.  She is the type of person the Games creates, whether or not she would ever compete.  Her open affection and rescue of her sister coupled with the love story with Peeta allows the average watcher in the districts to feel there is hope for Katniss, hope for these children whose futures have been robbed by the Capitol.  That hope spreads like a fire, burning in these forsaken districts that things could be different.  Snow makes an interesting comment in the movie about how the tiny seed of hope is necessary, but too much hope causes problems.  When Rue dies, instead of sending bread we see District 11 break out into a riot.  Katniss and her determination has sparked outrage and a hope that if Katniss can prevail against the Gamemakers, they could against the Capitol.  She shows how bleak and terrible things really are, but she survives.  That is what lights that fire.

I am not sure the books really got that across as well as the movie was able.  That might be because we were always with Katniss in the books, and she does not understand why she must be the symbol.  But in the film, with an omniscient view, it is so much easier to gauge the emotions and reactions of Panem, and especially how they view this very interesting 16 year-old girl.

Now, for you critics of the film.  If you didn’t like Hunger Games because it was violent or because you thought it was only about kids killing kids, you have entirely missed the point.  While some critics thought the movie version downplayed the satire, I thought it did a very good job of holding a mirror to our current society.  We put a man on television and make him act like a jerk while he dates 25 women.  People are pitted against each other, showing their worst characteristics, in a remote location so one person can win money and fame.  For money, people will do degrading acts in front of millions of viewers.  We call this entertainment in our world.  Jennifer Lawrence made a very insightful comment a few weeks ago about watching the Kardashians (don’t pretend you don’t know who they are).  She was sitting there watching this woman’s short marriage crumble in front of cameras and it was all so we as a society could be entertained?  I am not saying that Hunger Games is solely an indictment of our so-called reality television, but even Suzanne Collins will tell you that it started that way.  Hunger Games is no different from any other piece of fiction that is meant to shock us out of a terrible behavior.  Books such as 1984 or Brave New World were not written to shock us for the sake of it – they were written to warn us of the reality that could be ours if we do not guard ourselves against it.

So, despite the fact that it was “kids killing kids”, I really enjoyed the “Hunger Games”.  Not because it was an action film or a love story, but because of how well done it truly was.  I loved it because it made me think about our motivations, about what we would do to survive for our families.  I loved it because it instills a hope that things can be better if we fight for that.  I loved it because the acting, story, characters, music, cinematography, everything, moved me.

Rating: 10/10

Jane Eyre – 2011 Film Adaptation

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Main Cast:

Mia Wasikowska – Jane Eyre
Michael Fassbender – Mr. Rochester
Judi Dench – Mrs. Fairfax
Sally Hawkins
– Mrs. Reed
Jamie Bell
– St. John Rivers

Rating: PG-13

If I have to describe the plot of Jane Eyre in great detail, I’m not entirely sure why we’re blog-friends.  Jane was raised in a home where she was loved by her uncle, but despised by her aunt.  Upon her uncle’s death, her aunt Mrs. Reed sends her off to a strict school.  There Jane grows up and trains to be a governess.  Her first position is with Mr. Rochester teaching his French ward.  Jane grows close to Adele and in turn, to Mr. Rochester.  But a secret hides in the dark corners of Thornfield Hall.

I came to this version with a lot of skepticism.  I was first introduced to Jane Eyre with the ’96 film version, which was very good.  It hit the main points of the novel, it flowed nicely, and the acting was good.  Having read the book a few times, I hold the story close to my heart.  The real version to beat, for me, is the 6 hour miniseries that aired in 2006.  It is beautifully done with fantastic acting and a palpable passion between the leads.

Wasikowska fell flat.  Jane is quiet and reserved, but underneath her kindness lay a fire that burns brightly, especially for Mr. Rochester.  Fassbender was working hard to draw it out, and he did a superb job at his character (definitely the most attractive Mr. Rochester to date), but his Jane was altogether too quiet, too timid.  There were moments in the movie that you could see Wasikowska might have had it in her, and I am not sure if the fault lay with the director or with the actress.  I have always loved Jane because she carried herself with quiet confidence.  She was kind and noble, but she was not willing to be put aside and forgotten.  There is a line in the book, and in the movie, where she mentions that she must and can be free.  But it is not delivered with any kind of passion.

As I said, Fassbender proved to be a good Rochester.  He really expresses the man’s inability to forget a mentally ill wife and his struggle to come to terms with what has been dealt to him by life.  He would have been better had there been more time to really get to know him.

That was probably the most irksome thing about this movie for me – there was no time.  Things moved quickly through parts I felt were important, and the flow felt disrupted because of it.  The framing device the filmmaker chose was especially unfortunate.  They open with Jane running away from Thornfield and being discovered by St. John and his sisters.  I have always disliked St. John anyway, and so the fact that they spent so much time dwelling on Jane’s time with him and the girls was frustrating.  Yes, we see how Jane copes without the passionate romance, but we also don’t get enough time to really believe in the romance because of it.  Make the movie a little longer and give it the time to prove to your audience why these two were really meant to be.

I did find the dark lighting of the scenes to be perfect.  I swear the movie is not that bad that I can only praise the lighting, but the lighting really does lend itself to the Gothic origins of the novel.  Realistic of the times?  Sure.  But what it really does is create that dark, brooding atmosphere and so well reflects Rochester’s character.

I know it is hard to compete with a miniseries, where each vital part of the story is allowed to be kept in.  And I understand why this version did away with some of the background information – including why Rochester cared for Adele.  However, I do believe that you can make a faithful adaptation in just a couple of hours.  Take Pride and Prejudice, for example.  While I enjoy the five hour miniseries, I actually feel the 2 hour Keira Knightley version was better done.  Maybe not to all the little plot points of the novel, but certainly to the spirit of it.  The miniseries plays much too seriously and without the jesting spirit that makes P&P one of the best novels in its genre.  With little time, the Knightley version does a much better job of understanding its source material and getting its point across.  It could have been that with this version of Jane Eyre, if only they had understood their main character a little bit more.

Rating: 6/10