Friday, July 30, 2010

It's so disappointing when you are disappointed

"Never judge a book by its movie."
J.W. Egan

The boys and I recently finished reading Roald Dahl's James and the Giant Peach, which we thoroughly enjoyed.  I can remember Mrs. McGinley reading it to us in fourth grade after we had come back in from lunch recess.  Amazingly, we would all sit quietly while she read to us for a good 30 minutes.  Most of us would draw pictures while we listened, while a few were content to just put their heads on their folded arms and listen. 

I realized quickly that I did not remember a lot of the story, which was strange to discover since I distinctly remember drawing a picture of a rather large peach rolling across the landscape...
Anyway, it didn't take long for August to become completely enthralled with the fantastical story and characters, nor did he tarry in discovering similarities between it and Charlie and the Chocolate Factory.  The short chapters were notorious for leaving us hanging and so it wasn't uncommon to find ourselves stilled wrapped up in the story an hour later (wonderful on a lazy afternoon, not so wonderful when you realize it is suddenly 10:00 p.m.).

As we sprinted through the book we found ourselves pausing, every now and then, just to muse on what images were coming to mind.  It was fun to listen to each other and build upon one another's fantasies.  And every once in awhile, one of us would say, "I wonder how they would make this into a movie...?"  Inevitably, each of us would slowly grin as we wandered back into our own reveries, imagining how what we "saw" might come to life.  Somehow, in some deep, intangible way, I knew that it wasn't possible to pull off the craziness of this book.  It was as if the story, as it played out in my brain, was only truly capable of existing within that realm--in my head.

We discovered, much to our disappointment, that we were completely right.  The movie version (1996) that we watched this evening was partly live action, partly animated.  The boy who played James was good enough, I suppose, but all of the other characters simply failed to live up to their bookish counterparts.  Aunt Sponge wasn't nearly as obese as we had imagined and Aunt Spiker, although sufficiently frightening, was not tall and skinny enough.  Needless to say, there were many changes to the plot which meant that important details were left out, confusing scenes that were not part of the original story were added, and the overall mood just didn't fit.  At one point I actually said, out loud, "Why are they doing this to the story?  I don't understand."

After the movie was over and I was tucking the boys in bed, Aidan shared that he "did not care for that movie one bit!"  When I pressed him for details he paused, shook his head and said, "It was just so different from the book and it was not at all what I imagined."  He was right and I suddenly regretted that we had watched the movie at all.  I felt like I had stolen his interpretation of a wonderfully crazy tale and replaced it with a very cheap knock off.  I wanted to take back the cinematic experience and go back to the place where the real story lived.

Oh well, lesson learned.  I believe that I will think long and hard about watching a movie version of a beloved book from now on.  It's so hard though.  Books are these incredible living organisms that breathe into you, become part of you, change the way that you look at the world around you and it is only natural to want to make that experience tangible and real.  Short of acting it out myself, I watch a movie (and its production company with its much bigger budget and its computer graphic capabilities...) to, hopefully, make some of that happen. I suppose that the best place for that to really blossom is where it belongs anyway, in my head.

"Having your book turned into a movie is like seeing your oxen turned into bouillon cubes."
John LeCarre

1 comment:

  1. Yeah. I totally get that. This has happened to us twice. First with Charlotte's Web and then again with Stuart Little (which was nothing like the story). I did do my best to turn it into a lesson of comparison and contrast. But I saw how it stole their pictures and imaginings of the book story.

    I now understand why my mother didn't let us watch a whole lot of movies of books and even music videos for that matter. She would always say, "the picture in your head is better."

    And it is. And as you've shared....lesson learned! :D