Monday, June 11, 2007

fish out of water

I first heard of Alice Sebold's novel The Lovely Bones when I was a high school freshman, and read an excerpt from it in a girls' magazine - I want to say it was "Girl's Life," but I can't be sure. I knew the premise was that narrator Susie had been raped and murdered, and that the bulk of the novel consisted of her watching her family cope from heaven. I certainly remember being fascinated by the concept of Susie watching her earthbound younger sister, who has had the opportunity to grow up, losing her virginity while at summer camp. "'I'm ready,' my sister said. At fourteen, my sister sailed away from me into a place I'd never been. In the walls of my sex there was horror and blood. In the walls of hers there were windows." (P. 125)

I loved the novel when I first read it, so much so that I convinced both of my parents to read it as well. Despite the fact that it was geared and marketed to young women, I believe both of them were as struck by it as I was. The relationships between Susie's parents and sister compete with the observations of the murdered girl to be the most captivating theme in the book.

Jeremy Smith's article on CHUD let me know that Peter Jackson will be turning the novel into a film. Those familiar with Jackson's work will know that he can make a movie that isn't a blockbuster heavy on special effects. So I'm willing to believe that Jackson can reign himself in and give us this story without layering it on too thick. But I'm really not sure about how this novel will translate to the screen. It's difficult for well-written narration to come across as too hokey or obvious in film, I think. Little Children did a good job of not going too heavy on the narration while keeping the storybook feeling of the novel. But even with that and the wonderful performances, there was still something off for me after having enjoyed the book.

This is a common problem for adaptations: that fans of the written narrative will always be let down by the film. The Harry Potter movies, for example, have always disappointed me, because there are too many omissions and changes. Then there's something like The Grapes of Wrath, where I could never expect a filmmaker to come close to the brilliance of Steinbeck's prose (I'm a little obsessed with Steinbeck, by the way), so the movie is still impressive on its own. But it pleases me to see Peter Jackson on the project, because The Lord of the Rings is the only novel whose film adaptations have exceeded my expectations. Even Gone With the Wind leaves me wishing that so many things hadn't been changed, and I love that movie.

However, there is a scene in the novel The Lovely Bones which I won't spoil, because I highly recommend reading it, which I just do not understand how it could be translated to the screen. It morphs narration with the visually and intellectually complex concept of corporeality, and I really don't know if they'll even keep it in the adaptation. Though I guess Jackson would be the man to try, so we'll see.

How do you feel about novel adaptations onscreen? Any outstanding ones you'd like to recommend?

1 comment:

Alexandra said...

If anyone can do it, Jackson can...if you have any doubts, please see the '94 film Heavenly Creatures.

Keep up the good work! I love your blog and your reviews!