In which Annie (high school teacher, mother of two young girls and a younger boy) and her aunt Deborah (children's bookseller, mother of two young women in their 20s) discuss children's books and come up with annotated lists.

Sunday, March 25, 2012

Books, movies & the thought process

Dear Annie,

Ah, the power of beautiful writing.  There's another quote from the New York Times piece you cited on brain science that I especially liked:
...individuals who frequently read fiction seem to be better able to understand other people, empathize with them and see the world from their perspective. This relationship persisted even after the researchers accounted for the possibility that more empathetic individuals might prefer reading novels. A 2010 study by Dr. Mar found a similar result in preschool-age children: the more stories they had read to them, the keener their theory of mind — an effect that was also produced by watching movies but, curiously, not by watching television. ....
I've been thinking a fair amount about translating the emotional states of fiction to the screen since seeing The Hunger Games movie Thursday night.  Visually, it felt very true to my mental picture of the book.  Your quote from Natalie Babbitt describing "a lovely greenish glow in the forest, a glow pierced everywhere by tree trunks like fingers thrust into an aquarium full of tinted water" could be about scenes in the movie.

The strongest part of
the book
is being able to follow the main character's state of mind and her thought process as her strategy evolves before and during the games.  And given that she rarely talks with other characters about it, that process is really hard to convey in a movie.  It's much easier to show the action, and her reactions to the action.  (Spoiler Alert for the rest of this paragraph)  There's a pivotal scene in a cave where Katniss decides to buy in to the star-crossed lovers strategy.  Reading it, we see that she's  struggling with the decision, and that her feelings about Peeta are extremely mixed.  Her decision is an act of strength.  The movie can't convey her struggle, and instead it shows her responding to direction from Hamish, her coach.  I felt it turned her into a wimp in a crucial scene where she's actually incredibly strong.

Given the blockbuster nature of the film from its inception, in other ways it kept fairly true to the book, though.  But as with the Harry Potter movies, I wonder if someone who hadn't read the book would be able to follow what was happening.  Many parts of The Hunger Games were telescoped into visual flashes in the film.  Some worked (a loaf of bread in the rain, returned to several times), and others did not (was that rice in a briefly glimpsed riot?).

It did much better than some.  Like for instance the disastrous movie of the amazingly wonderful The Golden Compass.  The Next Big Movie in YA books seems to be on the horizon.  The cast for a movie version of Ender's Game by Orson Scott Card -- a sci fi classic -- has just been announced.  The book, first published in a short version in 1977, then expanded to the
novel we now know
in 1985, has never made it to the screen.  Most of the characters in the book are between 6 and 11 years old, and Card was apparently opposed to studios' desires to make Ender older.  Some sort of compromise seems to have been reached, with Asa Butterfield (better known as Hugo) in the lead.  He doesn't look like he's six years old, but he's not 16 either.  The cast is stellar, with Harrison Ford and Ben Kingsley playing grizzled commanders.  Ender's Game, like The Hunger Games, has so much riveting, often violent action in it, that one worries for the lead character's internal life.  Ender's thought process -- both strategic and emotional -- is the the heart of the book.  The movie's due out in 2013 -- we'll find out then if we'll be able to see all of Ender.



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