Tuesday, August 18, 2009
Read the Book, See the Movie
Today, I entered the homestretch of summer -- my last seven days before I have to officially report to work. This is about the time where I realize what a slacker I've been all summer and start kicking myself into gear. Today, I had a meeting in Monmouth and then spent a couple hours at school unpacking boxes (we have to box up our personal stuff every summer), making photocopies, and generally getting my room to a state of student-readiness. I then decided to take advantage of one of my last days of freedom and do something I love but rarely have time to do during the school year -- go see a movie. I'm not one of those people who has issues with seeing a movie alone; in fact, I often prefer the solitude of watching a film in a darkened cinema without any distractions like wondering if my companion is enjoying the movie or answering questions or what have you. I love the feeling of immersing myself into the film and "walking around in it" and when it's over, quietly chewing on the whole thing on the drive home.
Today, I decided to go see The Time Traveler's Wife. I'd recently read the book, which is a beautiful, surreal sci-fi romance of sorts. I loved the world that Audrey Niffenegger created and the slow, trickling way she doled out information. The book was like a puzzle where we sat down with all the pieces and then slowly watched her piece it all together for us. I loved the complex characters she gave us in Henry and Claire. I loved that Henry (the time traveler of the title) in particular existed in this sort of ethically ambiguous world where crimes had to be commited for pure survival and that Henry never seemed particularly tormented by this. I loved the Chicago setting and recognizing the names of places I knew. In short, I loved the book.
I went into the film with concerns, concerns fueled by the fact that I opted to read reviews of the film over the weekend. (I often avoid reviews of films I really want to see out of a fear that they will either color my view of the film and/or give way crucial information that I will resent having.) The reviews were pretty negative from both critics who had and had not read the book. I still, though, wanted to see how this complicated little book could become a coherent film.
Now, I should insert a caveat here. I am not necessarily a purist when it comes to the jump from page to screen. I understand that it is impossible to include everything contained within 300+ pages in a two-hour time period. I understand that books and films essentially rely on different modes of storytelling and that those modes are often contradictory and so allowances must be made. I'm not going to nitpick about hair color or outfits chosen because I understand and appreciate the visual choices that film presents. Okay, I've been known to grumble here and there, "That's not how I pictured that character," but I also support the right of the creative team behind a film to make its choices based on what works for them and, frankly, who's available. At some level, I realize I have to shrug and let the professionals do what they have to do and that's make the movie they think will work best.
So of course, we now must beg the question as to whether The Time Traveler's Wife worked best. For the most part, the filmmakers remained true to the basic story, although they played up the romance angle to the exclusion of some of the other threads Niffenegger wove into her piece. Some characters were missing; some were marginalized. Less time was spent telling us the "courtship" that transpires in the book between an adult Henry and a child Claire (I suspect a lot of that would have to do with the creepiness of a 40-year-old man romancing a six-year-old girl.) Niffenegger utilizes a dual first-person narration, with Henry and Claire alternating duties in the telling of their tale, and I missed their "voices" in the film (although a film with shifting narration like that would have just not worked). I wonder if I would have liked the movie had I not read the book, if I hadn't been in possession of more information than was given on the screen, and I'm not sure, to be honest. At times, I felt like the filmmakers were working that Notebook angle and really working our heartstrings. However manipulated I felt, though, it did not stop me from shedding tears at the end. (And I will warn those who've read the book that they DO take liberties a bit at the end, but I liked that choice in terms of how it left the characters. I may be alone in that, though, but I understood what the script was trying to do, and I appreciated it.)
The Time Traveler's Wife is not a perfect film. It's probably not even a great film, but it was a nice two hours spent with "old friends" and a lovely, if bittersweet, end to my summer.