A disappointing transition from page to screen: A review of The Book Thief movie

The Book Thief, the movie, image of Liesel holding a book

Starring Sophie Nélisse, Geoffrey Rush, Emily Watson, and Nico Liersch.

After being blown away by the book-to-screen accuracy accomplished so far by the Hunger Games series, I probably went into watching The Book Thief with too high of expectations. Where as The Hunger Games and Catching Fire only cut out what was acceptable, barely altering the storyline, The Book Thief took some unforgivable liberties in my opinion.

Frankly, the movie and I didn’t get off on the right foot from the beginning when they made Liesel the older sibling. After that, I began to expect the worst. And I wasn’t let down, my list of disappointments grew as the movie progressed. A big problem with The Book Thief is it took out a lot of the back story. This would  be a very long post if I were to go through all that was left out, but let me just focus on two very prevalent points that I take issue with. First, Max, the Jew in Liesel’s basement that she befriends, is reduced to a secondary character. He is barely touched upon. There is no mention of his previous life before going into hiding, and interactions with him are limited to only when Liesel comes down to visit. We are never given that telling scene where Max figuratively boxes with the Fuhr, and even worse, the premise behind why Max paints over the pages of Mein Kampf is changed entirely. The movie shows Max painting over the pages with the expectation that Liesel will write her story on its pages, however, in the book this is actually where Max tells Liesel his own story, and it is how she begins to realize exactly what Hitler, his use of words, and this war means. All of this is lost with this seemingly minor change, but it is anything but minor when you get down to it.

Liesel reading to Max in the basement

The second point I have a problem with, which happens to be a particular scene, is how Liesel ends up stealing books from the mayor’s library. The movie, much like it does with Max, completely does away with this back story. If one hasn’t read the book, there is only the faint allusion to the mayor’s wife having lost a son, but it is basically left at that. The struggle with loss that brings the mayor’s wife and Liesel together is never brought up. And instead of getting angry at the mayor’s wife for firing her Mama and being stuck in her grief for years, Liesel is unceremoniously kicked out by the mayor when she is discovered reading in the library. This was just all completely wrong and that relationship that develops after the misunderstanding between Liesel and the mayor’s wife is empty of all it contained so that what transpires at the end of the film has less impact.

But I don’t want to just rant about how this movie failed. Aside from its horrible choice of exclusions, they did an amazing job in casting the main characters. Liesel was exactly as I had imagined her. Rudy was also cast to perfection from his lemon locks to his lovable personality. Unfortunately, Hollywood went a little too far with Liesel and Rudy’s relationship. One: they sped it up, making their developed affection for each other unbelievable (the movie barely aged the two children, which didn’t help), and two: they gave Rudy his last words, “I lov—.” NO, NO, NO! Unacceptable, Hollywood. You ruined the most tear-jerking part in the book by making it a silly “Romeo and Juliet” moment.

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I will give the movie credit for one thing. They cast Hans beautifully. Who knew that the infamous Captain Barbossa was the perfect person to play the loving, accordion-playing foster father of The Book Thief. Geoffrey Rush made the role his own, bringing Hans and all his familiar traits to life, from the teasing husband to the caring man who gave a lot to others and took very little for himself, and who had convictions he would not sacrifice, not even for the Fuhrer. It was during the interactions of between Hans and Rosa, Liesel and Hans, or Liesel and Rosa that I felt I had a purpose in watching the rest of The Book Thief movie. Once again, I felt the laughter, the love, and the heartbreak as I had while reading the book. Finally, the movie had done something right.

Liesel and Hans hugging

I also wish Death had narrated as much as he had in the book. His view and the things he talks about aside from Liesel’s story are fascinating aspects in the book I would have liked to have seen transferred to the screen. He sees what Liesel cannot and really gives the reader a sense of time and place of just what is going on in Germany and across Europe. He is the perceptive and all seeing, who is both repulsed and fascinated by the human race. As a result, Death gives us a curious lens to look through and the movie missed that very important concept in their  only too brief inclusions of Death’s narration. Perhaps this type of narration is difficult to fully develop on screen, but I would have liked to have seen more of an effort.tumblr_mvjs0ohocc1s7fkwpo1_500

I’m not saying the movie is all that bad. Having recently read the book, I am prone to be a bit more judgmental than someone who hasn’t read it in awhile or who hasn’t read it at all. All I’m saying is to be prepared for a lot of change…for better or for worse, you can decide for yourselves, but I am leaning toward the latter.

 

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A blaze of glory: A review of Catching Fire, the movie

catching fire move poster

Starring  Jennifer Lawrence, Liam Hemsworth, Josh Hutcherson, Woody Harrelson, and Donald Sutherland.

I have been patiently waiting for the movie sequel to The Hunger Games to come out. I was also happy, now that I am through with school, that I was able to finish the book this time before watching Catching Fire on the big screen.

I am always wary when books are adapted for film. More often than not some important aspect of the book is lost and, ultimately, the film is ruined because of this deliberate exclusion. Catching Fire did not have this problem.

The story begins where The Hunger Games left off with Katniss and Peeta’s return home to District 12 after winning the 74th Hunger Games. But things are anything but perfect in the winning circle. Katniss is torn between her feelings for Gale and her “fake” feelings for Peeta, and at the same time she is haunted by memories of the Games, specifically Rue’s death.

On the day of the Victory Tour, President Snow visits Katniss’ home to confront her about her obvious defiance of the Capital’s power allowing her to win the Games. President Snow reveals to her that her actions have caused restlessness, inspiring rebellions within the districts. Threatening her loved ones, President Snow enlists Katniss to placate the districts and put an end to the uprisings during her tour appearances. However, Katniss is unable to sufficiently please President Snow as people continue to support her and the rebellion she has unintentionally come to represent.

It is after the completion of their tour that President Snow announces the 75th Hunger Games, which also happens to be a third Quarter Quell. The Quarter Quell incidentally allows the Capital to introduce a twist into the Games. The twist this year is that all qualifiers will be pulled from previous Games victors , meaning Katniss and Peeta must once again face the horrific violence of the Games for a second time.

There is plenty about this movie that has made it a blockbuster hit. It is full to the brim with an interesting blend of drama and action. The newly introduced victors are adequately cast as the movie exhibits the compelling and charismatic features each character that readers would be familiar with from the book.

Peeta continues to be a touching and honest character that one cannot help but fall in love with. I cannot imagine Katniss’ dilemma as I have become a fan of Peeta’s from the beginning, and the movie does not make this difficult for me to do. Josh Hutcherson is adorable in his portrayal of Peeta. However, this easy-to-love version of Peeta is also distracting. The book Catching Fire is not so straight forward. Katniss’ is torn between Gale and Peeta, a rightly so. Gale is just as admirable in his own right — a man with high beliefs and virtues. The movie fails to capture the enduring back-story between Katniss and Gale. Their budding love is easily overwhelmed by what the film has made prevalent: the two in-love victors of the Games.

My last dispute with an otherwise flawless film is the “forgotten pregnancy.” In the book, Peeta shockingly (and falsly) reveals Katniss is pregnant before the Games. However, in the film this revelation is  forgotten in the arena. Pregnancy in such circumstances would not be easily overlooked with all the killing and excessive physical activity. The book makes sure readers are aware of this impediment, even if it is technically a lie (but a lie the Capital must believe in), by having Peeta and the other victors constantly bringing it up in conversation.

Overall, Catching Fire is worth seeing. Few movies stay as true to the book as this one does, which is a nice change to witness and truly an accomplishment in terms of other book-made-movie flops. And Jennifer Lawrence gives another stellar performance as Katniss, embodying the persona in every imaginable way possible.

Katniss will not be returning to the screen until 2014 with the release of Mockingjay Part 1, and the second part of the movie will not be released until 2015. I am not sure how you feel about a part 1 and 2, but I am certainly tired of this movie trend. If The Lord of the Rings trilogy can be one film each then it can certainly be accomplished with Mockingjay.

Either way I will be in line to see how this revolution will fare against the Capital. Will Katniss rise to the occasion? Will she be able to save Peeta? Gale? Her family? And in the end, which man will win her heart?

I better start reading the Mockingjay to find out…