Friday, July 25, 2008

Spiderwick - The Tangled Web...

A while back, Bart, Cassidy and I went to see the movie of The Spiderwick Chronicles. We all loved it. Me? I had nothing bad to say about it. Not a single critique. Those who know me are well aware that I can be particularly harsh, demanding, expectant… (whatever you wish to call it) of stories such as these. Usually there is a “Why didn’t they just…?” or a “That didn’t make sense..” of some sort. Not this time. Okay, if we’re going to nitpick…I did have a slightly jarring moment. But nothing that tainted the movie or story. I cannot say what it is without giving the ending away. Suffice to say I had the thought, “Is that the only way to do deal with ___?” The ___ of course being omitted so as not to spoil it for you. But since it stayed in tune with fairy tale lore, I didn’t mind it at all. Not a rolling eyes moment, a cocking head moment. SO, I thought since I loved the movie, I should read the books. I finally have.

If you’re not aware, The Spiderwick Chronicles is a series of five books by Tony DiTerlizzi and Holly Black. They’re each very short, each of them amounting to about 80 pages all told. The type is quite large and there is a full page picture about every 4 pages and large pictures taking up as much as quarter of a page throughout. Thus, the movie consisted of all five books.

Before I begin to compare, let me say: I thoroughly enjoyed the books. No issues there.
But now, naturally, I have some qualms with the movie. *sigh*

I realize…movies are different from books, adaptation and alterations need to be made. At first they were understandable changes. For instance: In each, three kids move into a dilapidated many story (ha!) house. They wind up involved with a “war” of and with various creatures from the faerie world. Now, in the movie, one of the boys finds a big book, Arthur Spiderwick’s Field Guide to the Fantastical World Around You in a secret library. It is wrapped and tied up with a big rhyming warning to NOT open the book. (Of course, he does.) I knew from the tiny exposure I had to the series that it had such warnings on the books themselves. So, it seemed right. Ok. In the book, however, the boy finds the secret library and a cryptic poem…one he takes the time to decipher the clues of…leading him to the book. The book has no warning label. It’s hidden beyond hidden, though. All right. No problem…I can see that. Cinematically, reading a poem and figuring it out in your head doesn’t quite fly as well as reading it. That re-write I am fine with…makes sense. (Especially when finding out that one of the faerie characters speaks in rhyme in the book.) Along the way, such modifications to the story were made…all of them “in tune” adaptation-wise. But truthfully…I found myself liking some of the new developments in the movie better. So I looked, but the authors are not credited with the screenplay at all. Which, of course, made me sad. But I pressed on…and something changed.

Suddenly, at the end of book three, I began “condemning” the movie. The books had so much more! (Big surprise, huh?) The inventive modifications and alterations became watered down oversimplifications. I wanted to say aloud to the filmmakers, “UM, you MISSED a spot!” Seriously, the book proved far richer than what they presented in the film. (Again, what a surprise!) But the point is it escalated to a degree of ridiculousness. I began to equate it with sheer laziness on the part of the movie. Why bother to make a troll come out of the river? The creatively depicted elves of the Grove can just be a whirlwind of sprites not unlike dandelion seeds instead. A rescue mission in the giant palace of the big enemy? Nah, too much set to build. He can just come to their house. Let’s throw out half the plot points, etc.

Back in defense of the movie, though, it did generate a better sense of the impending doom of the “ultimate” evil than the books did, which doesn’t really hit with full impact until book four. And the basic throughline is there…it’s just missing a lot of the scenery as it speeds along.

So now I am at the point where I do not dislike the movie, but it’s rather disappointing.
The books are terrific, a fun romp. But I find myself wishing elements of the movie were contained within it.

All in all, a good story either way.

But it does drive home once more the implicit query: Book or movie? Which to experience first? More than likely books, hands down. But then, that does not always transpire in each case. And either way, one or the other is going to seem light or lackluster by comparison.
Any thoughts? (Besides simply slamming Hollywood.)


Danielle Mari said...

Actually, sounds as though you experienced these in exactly the right order. You loved the movie, not knowing of its (according to you) deficiencies. The movie, in your eyes, stood on its own.
Then you read the books and enjoyed those immensely, discovering new avenues of the fantastic.
I would reframe your mild disgust to recommend to your Dear Readers that they see the movie, then read the books to enjoy the most bang for their proverbial buck. Yes?

Mel said...

I typically prefer to read the book first. Maybe it allows me to be nitpicky (there are times when people HATE seeing movies with me when I've read the book because I sometimes sit and start "arguing" with the movie), but I tend to prefer to be surprised by a book rather than reading a book that I already knows how it ends.

C.J. Redwine said...

I generally read the books first, although in the case of Harry Potter, I saw the first two before I picked up the series.

I usually go into the movie with the reluctant acceptance that it will be a watered down version of the book, especially if the book is complex. I look for amazing visuals, adherence to the basic story line, and true representations of the characters.

That being said, if the books are in a class of their own for me (like Tolkien or Lewis), my expectations for the movie are so much more. I'm a big "don't mess with the master" kind of girl so I want everything I love about the book to be on the screen.

Recent scorecard:

Prince Caspian - really enjoyed it but then, I enjoyed the first installment too.

Eragon - what a huge disappointment. (though I don't equate Eragon with the Chronicles, LOTR, or HP)

LOTR - perfect.

Order of the Phoenix - I was pleasantly surprised at how much I enjoyed it. A few things I wish they'd slowed down a bit and explored since it was so rich in the book itself, but overall, a solid installment.


Danielle Mari said...

Oh I want it noted that I nearly always read the book first. It's just that your post made me think that sometimes it might be preferable to see the movie first. If the movie contains less than or is different than the book, for instance.
I usually like book first so that I can imagine what the characters look and sound like. When I watch a movie first, my imagination tends to go take a nap and I just see and hear the movie characters.