Tag Archives: Books vs Films

Books vs Movies: We’re Going On A Bear Hunt

By Tony Allen

“We’re going on a bear hunt. We’re going to catch a big one.”

The famous couplet from Michael Rosen’s classic children’s picture book is ingrained in the memories of scores of people, young and old. Unfortunately, the recent festive cartoon adaptation leaves much to be desired in comparison to the book, mainly because it tries to deal with far too much and fails at its fundamental purpose of providing entertainment.

If you didn’t watch it then I’m sorry to have to break this to you, but We’re Going on a Bear Hunt has been tragically desecrated and I was shocked by what I saw.

If you’re going to make a children’s story ‘adult’, you have to do it properly and this adaptation, animated not dissimilarly to The Snowman and shown at primetime on Christmas Eve, is therefore never going to fulfil this task. Of course, any picture book would need padding out to fill twenty-odd minutes of screen time. But the TV version just doesn’t seem to know who its target audience is.

The whole first part of the adaptation is new, in which the parents of the family leave, and it is truly woeful. It feels as if everything added to this adaptation is a metaphor. The new hero of the story, the second eldest sibling in a large nuclear family, is let down by every independent male she encounters. Her parents desert her to deal with the mechanical ineptitude of the grandmother, even when their own children need their help the most.

Later, our protagonist’s ham-fisted elder brother fails to listen to her sensitive pleas to stay with her new bear friend and forces her away from the bear. Her brother’s unwelcome intervention leaves both girl and bear perpetually miserable; isolated and lonely with precious little hope of change.

She is also let down by her grandmother who more or less tells her that she is destined to be unhappy, as passive misery is part and parcel of life. This is despite the fact that it is her grandmother who is culpable for the root of the problems by calling away the girl’s parents and leaving her in her brother’s less than capable hands.

The animated characters are so stereotypical they may as well have come from an age or gender studies textbook. Old woman can’t manage with car. Adult children come running to help. Eldest brother takes charge. Girl just sits back and follows. Aren’t these concepts becoming a bit worn out now? The story has been changed, but it hasn’t been modernised.

You can’t help but wonder if the bear is used as an elaborate animalistic metaphor for EU economic migrants in the wake of Brexit. We are the comfortable, middle class family, and we’re happy to go and visit them in their own habitat, but as soon as they pass through the threshold of ‘our’ territory, they somehow turn into a threat that must be kept out at all costs.

While using different mediums to highlight and call out the twin scourges of the patriarchy and our dog-eat-dog, selfish, capitalist society would normally be a positive move, in a seasonal adaptation meant for children, this is somewhat excessive.

The long and the short of it is that an albeit cautionary tale of a fun family adventure is turned into one of neglect, pure and simple. Let’s not even talk about the borderline criminal treatment of the poor baby.

Of course, the original story was no bed of roses. But, crucially, the bear is never personified, and is certainly never explicitly called “friendly”- it is an unarguable adversary, not a character offered up to us as a potential ‘goodie’, that is then cruelly whipped away.

Granted, perhaps the themes I have discussed are present for those who want to find them, but in nowhere near as obvious a way. I can enjoy the book, as a form of escapism, as much now as when I was a child. I’m not so sure that would have been the case with the animated version – a thought borne out by the reactions of some bemused parents on social media.

Along with its good animation, the score, which includes George Ezra’s theme song Me & You, is one of the redeeming features of this badly planned adaptation. But Channel 4 even spectacularly dropped the ball here, overlaying their continuity announcer above Ezra’s song on the closing credits and rendering it unlistenable, consequently depriving many of the sole aspect they tuned in and sat through the soul-destroying narrative for.

The genius of the book lies in its simplicity. The repetition, the onomatopoeia, the simple yet vivid adjectival descriptions mean that it is more about the reader than the characters. Therefore, it serves its purpose as a children’s story with an intended audience of those influenced more by the Teletubbies than Karl Marx or Simone de Beauvoir. If I was Rosen, I would be ashamed to have sullied the reputation of my masterpiece twenty-seven years later by volunteering to narrate this shambles. The animation is completely devoid of joy and for this reason I would far rather any children I knew stuck firmly to the book.

All in all, the increased complexity of the screen version ruins the story. There is not even a hint of a resolution or a happy ending, either for the story or for the little girl’s future in a world where she seems fated to be controlled, cheated and denied autonomy forever. This programme left a bitter taste in my mouth, because it is a con and not what we want to see on our screens at this time of year.

But, hey, maybe I’m just overthinking things. My New Year’s resolution is to get out more…

Image from Flickr

Books vs Films: The Hobbit

By Charles Armitage

The Lord of the Rings is, in my opinion, the best trilogy to have ever been made. Peter Jackson created an (albeit being very long) masterpiece in visual effects, action and storyline adapted from J.R.R Tolkien’s novels. So why then could he not do the same thing for The Hobbit? Set in the same universe and by the same author, Jackson produced a trilogy of films so disappointing that it made me seriously doubt my love of Tolkien’s novels.

It is unfair to say the entire trilogy of The Hobbit is bad, however, as there is some real excitement on screen in the movies. For instance, Martin Freeman’s performance as Bilbo Baggins is possibly the greatest casting choice ever. His comedic value and likeable personality makes audiences connect with the protagonist and hope he succeeds in the quest – even though we know he does as he appears in The Lord of the Rings. The dragon Smaug is also excellently portrayed by Benedict Cumberbatch as his voice creates a sense of fear whilst simultaneously having the typical “Britishness” of a villain with his softly spoken dialogue and very good manners towards Bilbo. Andy Serkis reprises his role as Gollum in the first movie and is, as always, brilliant to watch in his performance. It is also pleasing to see, from someone who absolutely loved the novel, that some scenes imagined in my head became a reality on the screen. The barrel river scene, although rather ridiculously portrayed, did make me nostalgic as it reminded me of reading the scene in the book and thinking how this would look on film.

This, however, leads me on to my criticisms of the Jackson adaptation. Let’s start with the elephant in the room – the fact it is a trilogy. The 1937 novel The Hobbit by J.R.R. Tolkien was a singular book, around 300 pages long. So why feel the need to split a short book into three 3 hour movies filled with cringeworthy action, slapstick humour only a child would find funny and over the top references to the original Lord of the Rings? The answer is simple: money. Hollywood can make the most of paying customers by forcing them to pay a rather pricey fee to hear a character put fruit in his top to simulate breasts and hear him say: “Abandon the cripples!” (an actual quote from The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies). Whoever wrote the script for these movies, although credit is due for using direct quotes from the book, needs to be fired as Middle Earth language would not stoop to 21st Century dialect.

Overall, the book is a lot better than the movies. My favourite of The Hobbit trilogy is the first movie (The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey) as it is the only one that reminds us of why we loved The Lord of the Rings. Maybe I am being too harsh on Jackson as The Hobbit was never going to be as good as The Lord of the Rings, so I may just be comparing the two, rather than looking at The Hobbit on its own merits. But when compared with the book, the film does not live up to the excitement as the added in characters and storylines by Jackson show little desire from him to truly show Tolkien’s creation on the screen and instead just make a trilogy that will make money. I could go on and on about how the book is a lot better than the film – the introduction of Legolas, the terrible finale movie, flimsy portrayal of action and ‘danger’ – but I only have a finite amount of paper. So, I’ll just finish with this: read the book because it is awesome but only watch An Unexpected Journey and parts of The Desolation of Smaug for comparison. Don’t bother with the third one, it’ll spare you the pain.

Image “The Hobbit Character Poster” by Jakarta Fail licensed under CC BY 2.0

Books vs Films: The Great Gatsby

By Charles Armitage

A common complaint within the film community at the moment is, when a book is adapted for the cinema, the producers and director change and leave out parts of the book in order to make the film more fitting for a modern audience. This causes outrage to loyal fans of the book who miss out on properly experiencing their novel on screen. For instance, the 2009 action movie Sherlock Holmes seems to have misinterpreted how violent and prone to action Mr. Holmes and Dr. Watson really were in Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s original stories. Robert Downey Jr. and Jude Law do not use the powers of deduction as often as they use their fists and guns to solve a problem in the movie. This troubled many fans, myself included, at the “Americanisation” of the movie as in the original stories of Sherlock Holmes, although it is hinted he was a good fighter, did not see the need to use violence all the time as the 2009 movie portrayed.

Movies and books do not often stick to each others storyline, however, when they do, as proved in Baz Luhrmann’s adaptation of F. Scott Fitzgerald’s classic The Great Gatsby, the results are positive. The movie sticks to the storyline, character development and overall flow of the original text which produces an aesthetically pleasing spectacle with fantastic acting from Leonardo DiCaprio, as the titular character, and Tobey Maguire as Nick Carraway. The emotions that are conveyed through their performances really shine through and encapsulate the struggle Gatsby felt in the 1925 novel of the same name. Maguire comes across very likeable and it can be said he steals the “protagonist” label from DiCaprio as his character is the one we, as an audience, relate to and sympathise with the most even though he is the narrator of the novel as he is telling the story from his first person perspective.

Luhrmann takes great inspiration from the novel, keeping to the original plot, using direct quotes, and emphasising key plot points. This is not to say, however, that the novel and movie are 100% identical. There are some occasions where Luhrmann has missed Fitzgerald’s main argument. For example, a famous quote from the book is when the author writes “’Can’t repeat the past?’ [Gatsby] cried incredulously. ‘Why of course you can!’” However, DiCaprio delivers this line in a sort of whisper, much different from crying out “incredulously”. Another thing that troubled audiences is Luhrmann’s portrayal of the 1920s as glamorous and a general prosperous era to be living in. This is not what Fitzgerald wanted to say, however, as the novel criticises the 1920s and the people’s habits during this time. But, because Luhrmann directs the movie in such a way, it comes across as very flaunting and overblown, which although is entertaining to watch, may not make the original author very happy.

Nick’s romance with Jordan is also never explored in the movie as well as it could have done, possibly due to the fact that this could take away the spotlight of Gatsby and Daisy’s relationship. The decision to use modern music also seems an odd choice. The film is set in the 1920s yet we hear Jay-Z and Lana Del Rey music being used. This could suggest that the continuity of the time period does not matter, so if that is the case, then Nick could be writing his story on an iPad and not a typewriter.

Overall, both the book and movie are entertaining and produced with such a high level of quality that it is very hard for me to decide which is better. My earlier complaint about how the message of the movie is not faithful to the message of the book is just about enough for me to say that I personally prefer the book to the film, but I guess it depends on whether that is important to you or not when going to a movie adapted from a book.

Image From The New York Times