Film adaptations of books are a difficult thing to pull off. For example, look at the Harry Potter films: by Prisoner of Azkaban if you hadn’t read the books you were likely getting very lost. The focus of Half Blood Prince was shifted away to be lighter than it was and some of the most meaningful subplots of the series were axed from the films entirely. It’s a lot of flaws and that series had the advantage of having budget and screen times that most book adaptations can only dream of.
I bring this all up because simply put: they mangle this book. Usually with these kind of films they fall into two camps: either read the book first or see the film first. WIth Harry Potter you’re better off reading the books first because you can otherwise get lost. On the other hand, you were better off watching the film first because you could get hooked on the story and not know what you were missing. Here…I don’t even know what the better option is.
On the one hand, if you’ve never read the books you can still more or less get whats going on, but you’re missing a ton of context: in one scene the main characters are drinking orange soda. It seems odd to make it so obvious what they’re drinking unless you’ve read the book in which case you’d know that orange soda holds a special significance for Lena. It’s a nice touch, but it just seems odd. There’s a scene later on where you see basically a witch hunt against Lena that kind of sort of makes sense, but in the book that scene only comes after additional incidents at a party that is never shown that were caused by Ridley, not by her. The scene still kind of works, but also leaves you kind of confused. Also a lot of the important Caster mythology is either not explained or changed for the sake of expedience.
On the other hand, reading the books before hand also leaves you at a great disadvantage. A big reveal at the end of the book regarding Link’s mother is given away like 1/3 of the way into the film in a scene invented for the film. This reveal actually winds up taking tension away from a key scene later on in the book instead of amping it up like they were trying to. They’ve also changed like the key element of the last 1/3 of the novel. Let’s just say the books were narrated by Ethan. The narration is quickly dropped in the film and even if you wanted him to narrate by the end he couldn’t because of the change in the plot. It just doesn’t work once you’ve read the book.
Admittedly, there was a ton of ground to cover so it makes sense that it was going to get chopped up – 550 pages is a lot for a short 90 minute runtime – but I just can’t get behind the changes that were made. A couple of characters were combined and others mentioned once and never seen again. It was a hatchet job. I can’t even fully compliment the way they reduced time spent at school. While it did go on too long in the book, they cut it back so dramatically in the film that you barely even have enough time there to give Lena a chance to get as mad as she did. The impact his friendship with Lena has on his life is only inferred and his friend is almost non-existent and only saved for plot purposes (which, by the by was another change not for the better). See why you might be better off going in blind?
Other aspects of the film were mixed. The kids who played the leads were okay. Ethan’s southern accent was atrocious, but kind of disappears by the end of the film so you don’t mind so much. Jeremy Irons and Emme Rossum were fun to watch. Emma Watson was ridiculously over the top, almost to the point of distraction. Editing of the film felt choppy, Scenes ended and the story shifted with no transitions so it felt jarring and like what are we doing here. Music was mostly forgettable. There were some good set pieces, but they were offset by some bad CGI. Some of the cinematography felt like it was dangerously close to shaky cam which I hate.
All in all, I don’t think I can really recommend this film even as a minor fan of the book. Teens might enjoy it (one declared it “amazing”) but everyone else should pass.
Trailers: The Host, World War Z, Oblivion, 1D3D, Jack the Giant Slayer, The Heat and The Great Gatsby.