(Warning: this post contains spoilers.)
I saw more movies in theaters over the Christmas holidays than I normally do in six months. What can I say? It never rains, but it pours.
The three movies I saw were radically different from one another, but they were all based on books (at least at some level): The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug, Saving Mr. Banks, and Frozen. Some of what I saw disgusted me; other parts delighted me, but above all I couldn’t separate these movies from their books. I must be a book lover, even at the cinema.
Some of my moviegoing companions were entertained by my bookish reactions to these three films. We’ll see if you agree.
Film #1: The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug
Book fidelity rating: 2/10
J.R.R. Tolkien has been my first and most enduring literary love since I had The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings read to me at age 8. I knew I couldn’t miss this film, but I had to brace myself to see it, knowing I would probably come out incensed. Well…I was right.
The Desolation of Smaug definitely pulled out all the budget stops. The CG, action sequences, and overall glamor of the movie were luxurious, particularly the scenes involving the dragon. There’s nothing they didn’t do with screen wizardry. I was also pleased with the casting of Benedict Cumberbatch as the voice of Smaug. He brought that evil dark-chocolate silkiness to the dragon’s words. In addition, there were a few book scenes that made it almost directly into the movie, and these had a poignant sweetness about them. One of my favorite scenes was the moment when Bilbo pops his head above the trees of Mirkwood and sees the treetops and butterflies. The other I really liked was the all-too-brief riddling between Bilbo and Smaug, when he identifies himself as “barrel-rider.”
…mostly everything else. I’m not a fan of moviemakers rewriting books, especially great classic ones like The Hobbit. I’m also not a fan of splitting ONE book into THREE movies. Because then things like elf-dwarf-elf love triangles happen. And then I start laughing out loud in a quiet movie theater. And it’s embarrassing.
Film #2: Saving Mr. Banks
Book fidelity rating: 10/10
Everything that was wrong with The Hobbit was right about Saving Mr. Banks. This movie is all about literary integrity…and the power of storytelling to redeem a shadowed past. Though I only read Mary Poppins once as a child and I remember being more frightened than enchanted by the austere British nanny, I came home from Saving Mr. Banks and re-watched the Disney movie, suddenly enthralled.
Everything. The acting was top-notch; the storytelling, graceful. It had the poignancy of one of my other favorite movies, Finding Neverland. Of course I laughed at the prim, snarky quips of P.L. Travers and the Disney underlings who had to work with her. But the film also brought me to tears on no fewer than four occasions with its artful yet honest depiction of the childhood scars that carry over into adulthood. I’ve never sobbed through the song “Let’s Go Fly A Kite” before. But if you see this movie, you might too.
I especially appreciated this movie’s redemptive theme. One of my pet soapboxes (as you probably know if you’ve read The Illuminator’s Gift) is the power of art as both calling and catharsis. By revisiting our own dark places through writing (or painting or moviemaking or composing), we not only find healing for ourselves, but share it with others as well. That was what this film communicated through the relationship of a hardened English writer and a Hollywood film mogul. And those were the scenes where I bawled like a baby.
There were a few ends left a little too dangly for my taste at the end. What role did Aunt Ellie play in Ginty’s later life? How did Disney’s not inviting Travers to the film premiere affect their ongoing relationship? What happened to Travers in later life?
Film #3: Frozen
Book fidelity rating: 1/10 (though for once, this might be a good thing…you should really go read “The Snow Queen,” just to see what I mean)
I love fairy tales, and I’m almost always a sucker for a good animated movie. Frozen didn’t disappoint.
This is the most beautiful animated film I’ve ever seen. Not just for its incredibly realistic visuals of shiny, transparent ice or powdery snow, either. Even the imaginary things in the movie were stunningly beautiful, from Elsa’s creation of her ice castle to her diaphanous blue cape. Some of the swirls and the color palette even reminded me of the cover art from The Illuminator’s Gift! Even more than the animation, though, I loved the messages of this movie and the way it debunks some longstanding Disney myths. If I ever have daughters, I’d want them to see that not even princesses wake up with perfect hair in the morning, that love at first sight doesn’t exist, and that not all true love has to come from a romantic hero. The heroines in this movie are strong while still remaining feminine, but more importantly, they stand by each other as sisters, demonstrating true courage and sacrifice.
Okay, so the storytelling got a bit lost in the woods. Some of the character depth and complexity came at the cost of a linear storyline like that of Tangled. On the other hand, it’s based (very loosely) on Hans Christian Andersen’s “The Snow Queen,” which is about the most madcap fairy tale in existence, so with a story basis like that, it did pretty well. I could have done quite well without the character of Olaf. His toilet humor didn’t add anything, and his character and even animation didn’t fit with the rest of the movie.
Have you seen these films? Did you think they were true to their books? Which one was your favorite?