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When my favorite books get made into movies, I’m there. But I’m usually wearing a t-shirt with this logo (courtesy of Unshelved):
So when Children’s Books Boston announced its latest event, “From Page to Screen: An Inside Look at Children’s Book Adaptations,” I was intrigued. I was even more intrigued when I saw the range of perspectives represented. Moderator and panel participant Deborah Kovacs, senior vice president at Walden Media and publisher at Walden Pond Press, has been involved with many book-to-film collaborations, including The Giver (a feature film in 2014) and The Watsons Go to Birmingham (which aired on the Hallmark Channel in 2013). Panelist Ammi-Joan Paquette, senior agent with Erin Murphy Literary Agency and an author herself, has seen the work of several of her author clients begin the transition from book to film. Panelist Carol Greenwald, senior executive producer of children’s programs at WGBH Boston, helped create the television adaptations of Arthur, Curious George, and Martha Speaks. And Randy Testa, vice president of education and professional development at Walden Media, contributed to the discussion with in-depth reports of his involvement with The Watsons Go to Birmingham.
L.-R.: Debbie Kovacs, Carol Greenwald, and Ammi-Joan Paquette
Almost immediately, Kovacs invoked The Giver author Lois Lowry, whose novel went through about two decades of attempts to bring it to the screen. According to Kovacs, Lowry has said that she considers a film faithful if it’s “true to the spirit of the book.” Lowry participated closely in the 2014 Giver film’s development, helping to write voiceover narration to clarify scenes that test audiences had trouble following. Kovacs and the other panelists agreed that adapters should consider the most important factors of a story’s appeal. She pointed out that when a movie has a long list of end credits, “about half of those people…have opinions” that can alter the way a film is adapted. “In their defense,” she added, “they’re putting up a whole lot of money.”
Paquette also emphasized the number of people and steps involved in the adaptation process; she warns authors not to expect that their books will be adapted for the screen. Even when books are optioned for adaptation, much in the adaptation process is beyond authors’ control. She did cite a success story, though: her client Jennifer A. Nielsen met with a scriptwriter working on the movie adaptation of her intermediate novel The False Prince. Nielsen had the opportunity to share what would happen later in the book series with the screenwriter so he could write with future events in mind.
For WGBH executive producer Greenwald, “the television series is not the book,” but part of the purpose of an educational book-to-television adaptation is to encourage kids’ continued reading about the characters. Converting brief picture books to long television series means fleshing out characters, giving them backstories, and specifying their parents’ jobs, for instance, but it’s important to preserve the spirit of the source material. The TV show’s Curious George might go on new adventures that aren’t in the book series, but (for example) the animals in his TV world can’t — and shouldn’t — talk, since they can’t in the books.
Testa spoke passionately about the Watsons film, which coincided with the fiftieth anniversary of the bombing of Birmingham’s 16th Street Baptist Church. Although the film kept many of the episodes from the book, the bombing and issues of segregation became a more continuous part of the movie’s narrative arc. Later Testa declared, “we have to, have to, have to” depict more people of color on screen, naming Esperanza Rising and Monster as books that are waiting to be made into movies.
As you can see, book-to-film adaptations aren’t as simple as my t-shirt might have you believe, and there was a lot to talk about. Luckily, the conversation doesn’t have to end! Visit Children’s Books Boston for information on future events. Next up: a trivia rematch (date TBA)!
The post From Page to Screen panel appeared first on The Horn Book.
I’m a sucker for a good secret. The Maze Runner is all about secrets.
If you’ve read James Dashner’s novel, seeing the Twentieth Century Fox movie (released September 19, 2014) is a completely different experience than it would be if you were new to the story. Instead of wondering how a gaggle of teenaged boys ended up trapped in a clearing surrounded by a constantly changing maze with their memories wiped, you wonder how director Wes Ball will handle all the information that the book gradually reveals.
The movie keeps the essence of the book as well as many of its details; the sense of confusion at the beginning is particularly well-rendered. Most of the significant changes are to elements that worked well in the book but would have been difficult to execute onscreen. Unsurprisingly, since the characters’ minds have been altered, much of the novel takes place on a mental level. Thomas (played by Dylan O’Brien) and Teresa (Kaya Scodelario) communicate through telepathy, which doesn’t happen in the movie. In the book, code-breaking plays a bigger role, which might’ve felt dull on film.
But the biggest change is in how the story’s secrets are filtered through Thomas’s mind. Neither the book nor the movie is the sort of post-apocalyptic story whose characters think everything is as it should be because they’ve never seen a better way, though some residents of the Glade are satisfied that the order they’ve established is the only safe option. These characters know that someone is deliberately sending them to the Glade one by one. They just don’t know who or why. If you encounter the story first through the book, you’re likely to spend much of it feeling like questions are being dangled in front of you. Book Thomas has an overwhelming sense that the Glade is familiar and hides this feeling from the other Gladers, which leads to suspicion between them and him. Though the movie Gladers suspect that Thomas holds an important role in their situation, all we hear from Thomas is what he tells them — the secrets he’s keeping from them are not revealed verbally. (The movie forgoes voiceovers and similar devices.) Instead, we see flashes of memory as Thomas sees them, first very briefly and then in more depth when he takes risks to pursue more information. Although these flashes don’t give many details, they do show the setting of Thomas’s memories very early on, giving a major clue as to how everyone arrived in the Glade. Instead of dangling questions, the movie dangles bits of the answers.
A few plot points are eliminated for the sake of pacing, and the ending is structured a little differently, but the general story arc is preserved. So are the important characters’ personalities, with a couple of notable exceptions. First, hardened-but-ultimately-loveable leader Alby (Aml Ameen) is a softie throughout the movie. More importantly, what happened to Teresa? The novel’s only girl in the Glade comes in with useful information and figures out quite a bit, as befits the super-intelligent character she’s meant to be. Movie Teresa still shows up with a note in her hand declaring her to be the last arrival and still remembers Thomas’s name, but most discoveries that are hers in the book come instead from Thomas in the film. As the first Glader to show enough curiosity to bend the rules, Thomas has agency coming out of his ears. The movie could easily have let Teresa keep her more useful lines and still let its main character come off as the hero.
O’Brien and Scodelario play Thomas and Teresa with an appropriate sense of determination, and though some of the Gladers deliver exposition more smoothly than others, the movie is well-cast overall. Blake Cooper is perfect as guileless Chuck.
For a movie whose characters keep saying, “Everything is going to change,” The Maze Runner keeps most of the important things the same.
The post The Maze Runner movie review appeared first on The Horn Book.
So, I saw that movie based on a YA novel about teens in love who are faced with questions of life and death. No, not that one, at least not most recently. I’m talking about the New Line Cinema/MGM adaptation of Gayle Forman’s 2009 novel If I Stay, directed by R. J. Cutler and released August 22, 2014. (Warning: If you stay with this post, you’ll find some major spoilers.)
When I went looking for a viewing companion, the premise produced shudders from more than one friend. For the uninitiated, the title refers to seventeen-year-old Mia (Chloë Grace Moretz)’s wrenching decision to go on living — or not — as she observes her comatose body after a car accident that left her critically injured and the rest of her family even worse.
In case you haven’t noticed, YA movies are hot these days, and studios seem to get that the books are hot, too. Like The Fault in Our Stars, Divergent, and other recent movies based on YA novels, this one keeps its story very close to the original text. Mia’s cello playing is important in the book, and so it’s important in the movie, too, even though it’s not as “Hollywood” as her boyfriend Adam’s (Jamie Blackley) rock band.
If I Stay is a cinematically paced book, which helps. Forman alternates between scenes of Mia’s pre-accident life and the post-accident drama. This structure saves both the book and the movie from long strings of hospital scenes and breaks up the emotional intensity with happier moments that increase our emotional investment in these characters. Mia’s rocker parents, affably performed by Mireille Enos and Joshua Leonard, and little brother Teddy, played by a sincere Jakob Davies, are simply fun and lovable characters; we want to spend time with them and understand why Mia does, too.
Though the movie mostly adopts the book’s pacing, it does make a few significant tweaks. In the book, Mia and the reader find out very quickly (and slightly more graphically) that both parents have died. The movie ratchets up tension by revealing her mother’s death later and having her father live long enough to arrive at the hospital. The change creates more reasons to keep watching the hospital scenes: Mia has hope for her family early on, and viewers who haven’t read the book (or, well, seen the trailer) might be on the edge of their seats. Teddy’s death comes later in both the book and the movie — but as movie-Mia stays in the same hospital instead of being helicoptered out, she finds out much more directly and it’s more of a defining moment.
If you thought Mia and Adam’s undying-unless-she-goes-to-Julliard love was a little cheesy in the book, you’ll find the same goops of cheddar in the movie. But neither book nor movie pretends their relationship is perfect, and the movie makes their conflict harsher but bases it on the same issues. Although the ending is essentially the same, Adam’s promises leading up to it manage to make the love story more sentimental. (These changes in Mia and Adam’s relationship also make it seem less likely that the studio plans to film the 2011 book sequel, Where She Went.)
Just like that other tear-jerking YA movie about love and mortality, this one emphasizes the choices its characters get to make. Even before Mia must decide whether to live, she’s deciding what to do with her life. Maybe that’s what so many teens like about these kinds of stories. Teens are at a time in their lives when even ordinary decisions start to have higher stakes. There’s something validating about stories that acknowledge that, in some cases, a teenage life is an entire life, and maybe something reassuring about seeing teens confronted with questions so big that choices about school and relationships seem lighter.
Yes, these tragic tales show that some things are beyond teens’ control, but they also make it clear that some things aren’t.
The post If I Stay movie review appeared first on The Horn Book.
Last year, we teamed up to write “What Makes a Good YA Love Story?”, and much of our answer to that question was based on the epically beloved, critically acclaimed 2012 novel, The Fault in Our Stars by John Green. What we both loved so much about this damn-near perfect teen love story is that, though Hazel and Augustus are dying of cancer, their connection is life-affirming. Hazel and Gus are genuine, three-dimensional, intricate, and irresistibly quirky characters, and we couldn’t wait to see them come alive on the screen. As the release of the film adaptation (Fox, June 6th, 2014) rolled around, we jumped at the chance to see it, reflect on it, and review it together.
Naturally, not just any showing would do, so we attended “The Night Before Our Stars,” on Thursday, June 5th, a screening of the movie before its opening the next day. Attendees received charm bracelets and posters, and after the movie, viewed live musical performances and a Q&A with director Josh Boone; producer Wyck Godfrey; John Green; and actors Shailene Woodley, Ansel Elgort, and Nat Wolff. Our theater was packed with teens, some even sporting “Okay? Okay.” T-shirts. This was a committed crowd of fans.
And they were not disappointed. The movie is excellent. It brings the spirit of the book to life, even as it necessarily simplifies some of the material to fit into two hours. As John Green, who was heavily involved in production, mentioned in the live interview, the movie doesn’t “Hollywoodize” the story — something Hazel would have hated. It’s sensitive, teen-oriented, sweet — and, of course, you’re probably going to cry, so remember to bring tissues. (Kleenex even tweeted: “Going to see “The Fault in Our Stars”? You may want to bring a Kleenex® Slim Pack along…”)
The remarkable thing about TFiOS is how perfectly it reflects the lives of today’s teens. Hazel and Augustus type on their MacBook Airs, use Gmail, and text on their iPhones. (A neat feature of the movie is the way texts appear on the screen in literal bubbles, “popping” once the viewer has read them.) In one scene, Hazel is waiting to hear back from Gus, and, as any teen with a crush would do, she keeps an eagle eye on her phone; when she finally hears from him while eating dinner, she’s hopelessly giggling and texting while her baffled parents look on. Both teen characters also looked the part: when they first (literally) bump into each other at a cancer support group meeting, Hazel sports Converse sneakers, a T-shirt, and sweatpants; Gus, a leather jacket and ultra-cool retro-looking Nikes (untied).
The chemistry between Hazel and Gus, too, is completely believable. From that first encounter before cancer support group to their first kiss in Amsterdam’s Anne Frank Museum, their connection is electric. Later, the bedroom scene, potentially tricky for a PG-13 audience, is awkward, playful, and sweet: Gus is vulnerable about his missing leg; Hazel’s T-shirt gets stuck on her cannula.
This is a movie, after all, so it’s no surprise that there’s more romanticizing than in Green’s book, mainly the stars’ healthy glow and fresh-faced complexions for most of the film. But Woodley and Elgort are heartthrobs, and they are both adorable here, even with Hazel’s cannula and Gus’s prosthetic leg. Their performances are also strong: Shailene Woodley invested herself emotionally in playing Hazel, and it shows. She got Hazel’s intelligence, cynicism, and sarcasm down, but also her humanity and compassion. And she’s a beautiful incarnation — again, perhaps an idealized one, but the book’s fans won’t be disappointed with how Woodley illustrates its heroine. Meanwhile, Elgort connects with Gus’s confidence and swagger — our audience literally squealed at the first close-up shot of his face.
Thanks to a cast that seems to have gotten very close to Green’s story and its characters, performances are strong across the board. Laura Dern’s portrayal of concerned mom Mrs. Lancaster is masterful; there’s a moment where Hazel calls for her and she materializes comically fast, out of breath and soaking wet in a towel, panic written across her face. And with his overgrown facial hair, bad teeth, and almost tangible whiskey breath, Willem Dafoe’s handling of Hazel’s author idol Peter Van Houten impressed us perhaps the most for the way he oozes nastiness, physically and emotionally.
Once the movie was over, and everyone in the theater was in a puddle of tears, singer and pianist Birdy did a live performance of “Not About Angels” from the movie (which made Woodley cry). Then, host Alton Brown took questions from people in the auditorium in Georgia, as well as from Twitter. From the cast and filmmakers’ answers, we learned that director Josh Boone was very instrumental in compiling the soundtrack, which he strived to make “tonally right” (it so, so was), and that during the hilarious scene of Hazel and Gus helping by-that-time blind Isaac pelt eggs at his ex’s house, one throw was too perfect, and landed inside the home on loan for the shoot. We even saw John Green’s deleted cameo appearance as the father of the girl who asks Hazel about her cannula in the airport (he should stick to his day job). Most importantly, Green expressed his gratitude to everyone for “making a movie that’s so sensitive to the book.” We couldn’t agree more.
The post The Fault in Our Stars movie review appeared first on The Horn Book.
In the world of Veronica Roth’s Divergent trilogy, the dystopian city of Chicago is run through a personality-based system of grouping. The five factions, to one of which every person belongs, are Abnegation, Amity, Candor, Dauntless, and Erudite. Abnegation, with its focus on humility and selflessness, acts as the political power; Amity, the good-natured, peaceful types, are the city’s farmers; Candor, those who value truth above all else, work as the judging body; Erudite are the thinkers and creators; and Dauntless, the bold, are what amounts to a standing army. Children are raised within the faction of their birth but, when they come of age, take a test to tell them where they truly belong. Beatrice (a.k.a Tris) from Abnegation takes her test only to find that she is Divergent — that is, she displays traits characteristic of more than one faction. Divergence is rare, and considered shameful and very dangerous. Tris is forced to dedicate her life to one faction (she chooses Dauntless) and keep her Divergence a secret.
The movie adaptation, directed by Neil Burger (Summit, March 2014), stars Shailene Woodley (from The Descendants and The Secret Life of the American Teenager). Slight and unremarkable-seeming at first, Woodley looks the part of the self-abnegating teen. As the story goes on, she grows into her role as a good YA dystopian female protagonist: sensitive but tough, and the consummate underdog. Woodley is a strong actor, reaching the emotional depths necessary for a character as out of her element as Tris. As the stakes get higher and the situations all the more impossible, Woodley’s Tris remains a hero to root for.
Theo James plays The Love Interest, Four, exactly as we would want him to be played: moody, strong, sexy, vulnerable, and surprisingly funny. Kate Winslet is intelligent and devious as the power-grabbing Jeanine, Tony Goldwyn (Scandal‘s POTUS) is totally believable as an ascetic politician, and Jai Courtney’s Eric is just plain scary. Altogether, the cast delivers an engaging and downright exciting performance, their stories developed over the backdrop of a surreally beautiful dystopian world. I also appreciate some of the content decisions — especially the depiction of sexual assault (in a controversial scene created for the movie) as a very real and constant fear in this society and Tris’s capable, Dauntless response to it.
But I have so very many questions. And while some of them are questions about gaps in the world-building (How does the train keep running? Can anyone be kicked out of a faction at any time? Who is behind all the technological advances in what appears to be a fairly stagnant society?), others raise more problematic issues.
If there is a line between bravery and recklessness, Divergent smashes it to bits. The movie defines bravery as actively choosing to do something scary even though you’re afraid. And yet, the film also portrays Dauntless characters doing scary and downright reckless things without thinking and without fear. I ask you, how can an individual be considered “dauntless” by being both thoughtful and thoughtless at the same time? What is up with the Dauntless, anyway? Why do they run everywhere whooping and pounding their fists? Is that what bravery looks like?
As to costuming — the use of color palettes for the individual factions is very well done, clearly delineating the five groups with visual representation. But… of course the Dauntless are shown as pierced, tattooed, and primarily black-clad. Coming from an individual who is both tattooed and pierced (and who also wears primarily black), I must tell you that tattooing, piercing, and dressing all in black do not a badass make. (Honestly, I’m pretty sure I would be placed in whichever faction is the most cowardly.) Isn’t it time to find another way to show an audience that a group of characters are “dangerous”?
Divergent was an entertaining movie with strong acting, beautiful visual effects, and an exciting plot. Yes, I have questions. Hopefully, the second movie will clear them up for me — because I will definitely be checking it out.
The post Divergent movie review appeared first on The Horn Book.
I saw a movie review for How I Live Now this weekend. The movie seemed to come out of nowhere. This was a big book when it was published and a good one. I can't find the movie review I read on-line, but it was pretty similar to the one in The New York Times, saying that Saoirse Ronan is good, but who is this movie for?
I read Austenland by Shannon Hale a few years ago and thought it an interesting work. I have to say, though, for me the big draw for the movie is Jennifer Coolidge. However, Jane Seymour looks pretty commanding in the one trailer I've been able to find.
Jeff Bridges Making "The Giver" Movie.
Hmmm. Hmmm. The name "Jonas" sounds familiar. And...and...was there a sled at the end?
Now that March has finally arrived, we’re officially in the “T-minus” phase for The Hunger Games movie adaptation, hitting theaters on March 23.
In anticipation, I’ve been perusing several pieces of fine literature, to wit: The Hunger Games: The Official Illustrated Movie Companion (Scholastic, February), Stars in the Arena: Meet the Hotties of The Hunger Games (Simon Pulse, February), and The Hunger Games Tribute Guide (Scholastic, February).
The Official Illustrated Movie Companion is fairly comprehensive, with bios, behind-the-scenes photos, and making-of trivia. We hear from author Suzanne Collins herself, the director, the producer, all the cast members, set designers, costume designers… it’s a big love-fest. There are also lots of huge, shiny pictures of prettiness. The takeaway: the people in the Capitol are going to be fun to look at. And keep an eye out for Wes Bentley’s beard. You’ll know it when you see it.
Speaking of things that are fun to look at, in Stars in the Arena: Meet the Hotties of The Hunger Games, we discover the answers to such questions as “Could Jennifer Lawrence survive in the wild like Katniss?”, “Is Josh Hutcherson as romantic as Peeta?”, and “Is Liam [Hemsworth] in love with Jen in real life?” …Wait, is he?
Sadly, they’re just friends, but I was totally whipped into a frenzy of fandom right there.
There’s obviously a conflation of the actors and their characters in all of these books, but it reaches a whole new level in the Tribute Guide, which begins with a sinister “Citizens of Panem, are you ready?” Now we’re the audience both in the real world and in the story? Not sure how I feel about that. The rest of the meta-exercise is essentially a program for viewers watching the book’s reality TV show, The Hunger Games.
Ooh, when are they going to make the TV show?
Yup, it’s definitely T-minus time.
In honor of Dr. Seuss’s 108th birthday (happy birthday Ted!), the premiere of the new animated The Lorax film, and the annual Read Across America Day, I took a look at David A. Carter’s The Lorax Pop-up! book (Robin Corey Books/Random House, January). After all, I am a reviewer. I speak for the books!
This edition keeps the original text intact, which I appreciated. Reading the story aloud at my desk, I relished each Seussian rhyme in stanzas scattered across the eight colorful spreads. Seuss’s tall Truffula Trees and the Once-ler’s factory are perfectly suited to appear as pop-ups; gatefold panels offer additional pop-ups, pull tabs, and special effects to bring the story to life. As with any pop-up book, if read enough times this one will show its age eventually, but the spreads are well chosen and Seuss’s text and illustrations are creatively placed. I only wish Random House would have used recycled paper—it would have been appropriate given the book’s message!
And here’s another Lorax-related treat: check out Stephen Colbert’s discussion of the plethora of movie tie-ins that have been popping up everywhere (and in unlikely places). Enjoy his tribute to Seuss’s rhymes at the end of the clip!
A new version of Jane Eyre will be hitting movie screens soon. Don't think for a minute that I wasn't aware of it just because I hadn't mentioned it.
Slate carries a run-down of Jane Eyre adaptations. I totally agree with the author about the splendors of the 2006 version.
Why are there so many film treatments of Jane Eyre? This is a question made far more interesting to me because I am one of those who believe Rebecca by Daphne du Maurier is a Jane Eyre variation, and that thing gets a film remake in England very regularly.
Yeah, what's that about?
Oh sure. He seems like a nice man. He loves his wife and daughter. He worked for Sesame Street. He does low-paying lectures to the public for free at the library (more on THAT later). But what do we really know about Mo Willems? What if he had some deep dark secret in his past. What if.... WHAT IF ....
He made graphic novels!!!
Okay. So posting this information on your blog kind of negates the whole "deep dark secret" thing. Granted. What I love about the panels I've seen is that if you're familiar with Mo's books, you can sort of piece together whether or not they look like his style. They do. It was called The 7th Helper and it was supposed to take place outside of the DC Universe. So where's the GN today? Says Mr. W, "DC said they’d release it as a B&W manga, which I don’t believe, but still hope for." It seems to me that with the rise in Mo's popularity, his audience is growing up and getting into graphic novels. And what with graphic novels being bigger than ever (i.e. bought by libraries) the time couldn't be better to release a Mo Willems bit of graphic paraphernalia. Heck, if Tek Jansen can do it, so can Mr. Mo.
This past weekend we saw a French movie while my French-speaking cousins were visiting. Turns out that the star, Gad Elmaleh, will appear in the Tintin movie. You do have to scroll down quite a way to find him.