Category Archives: Movies from books

The Boy in the Striped Pyjamas, by John Boyne, 2006, Book Review

This is a startling look at the holocaust through the eyes of a nine-year-old German boy. Bruno is the son of a Nazi Commandant. As a result of a promotion, Bruno and his whole family leave their lovely home in Berlin and follow Father to his new assignment—head of Auschwitz concentration camp. Bruno can see into the compound from his bedroom window, but he’s sheltered by his parents and extremely naïve. It’s this very naivety that makes this book appropriate for children as young as ten.

Mr. Boyne’s words flow very nicely, but the style is old-fashioned, almost simplistic. It’s in keeping with Bruno’s innocence. At times, however, the book almost doesn’t reveal enough information. Without some prior knowledge of the holocaust, World War II, and Auschwitz in particular, young readers might not even realize what’s going on throughout much of the book and may need some explanation. For example, Bruno calls the camp “Out-With,” and though he’s told in conversation that he pronounces it wrong, the proper name is never given until the Author’s Note at the end. Of course, an older audience will pick up on this immediately, but probably not kids. He also calls Hilter the “Fury” and is also called out on his mistake, but we are left to assume he’s saying “Fuehrer.” Hitler, however, is mentioned by name once or twice. And the horrors of camp are reflected more than viewed directly, which is good, but at times kids may not understand what’s happening.

Bruno lives at Auschwitz for a year at least, and though he learns bits and pieces, he never really does figure out what the camp is all about. I see the author’s intention, and I applaud that he keeps the entire book very appropriate for children, but Bruno’s innocence is almost to the point of impossibility. It is my one complaint. His friend Shmuel, a Jewish boy that he befriends on the other side of the fence, also comes off a little unrealistically. Though Shmuel is living in hell, he never displays much emotion, he never responds to Bruno’s total lack of understanding, and he never attempts to make his friend understand.

It is this naivety and innocence, however, that make such a shocking mirror. We are shown Bruno’s dismay at being uprooted from his home. We see his casual attitude toward wealth. We see his sister’s shock and horror at finding a louse egg in her hair. We’re told of the compassion Father showed to his mother’s dying friend. We experience the grief of Grandmother’s funeral. Yet it all underscores in a truly startling way the humanity of the Jews who suffer these things and more only a few yards. We see how Shmuel’s fingers are wasting away. We hear Bruno innocently assume there must have been a minor outbreak of lice in the camp because their heads are shaved like his. We watch him eat food in front of Shmuel without thinking. We hear him talk to Shmuel about “playing.” Bruno never really understands the life-and-death struggle, the horror going on just past his house.

But the reader knows. By the end of the book, even without any guidance by adults as to particulars, even without any graphic revelations by the author, the reader will have figured out the gist of what’s going on behind the walls. At one point, perhaps the most poignant moment of the story, Shmuel thinks, “It was almost as if they (he and Bruno) were exactly the same really.” The injustice comes through loud and clear.

While I do maintain that ten-year-olds could read The Boy in the Striped Pajamas, be aware that it does have a few disturbing moments. They’re veiled or related matter-of-factly, like the shooting of a dog by a Nazi officer. Or like the marital strife between Bruno’s parents that suddenly ends with the reassignment of this same officer. Or Bruno’s observation that Mother lately needed to self-administer a lot of medicinal shots of sherry. It is the ending, however, that I won’t give away but I will caution parents about. Again, it is implied and not shown, but the readers know. And it is very disturbing.

Kudos, Mr. Boyle, for a touching story, for letting speak the voices which were silenced long ago, and for doing it in a way that gives kids an understanding of the past without overwhelming them. In my opinion, it is stories like this one–which teach children through emotional involvement–that are our best defense against repeating history.

After reading, I learned that a movie based on this book came out in 2008. (Where have I been?) I found the entire movie on YouTube and watched it the same day. It’s beautifully done. I thought Bruno and Shmuel are more believable and the problems between the parents develop more understandably. There are some profound moments from the book, however, that are left out. It’s a serious film, but appropriate for the same audience as the book. Well done and highly recommended.

Related post: Number the Stars, by Lois Lowry

The Hunger Games Movie

I saw the Hunger Games movie last night, and I have to admit I was pretty impressed. It was a very faithful rendering of the book. I only noticed minor changes that had very little effect on the total outcome. I was especially impressed with Josh Hutcherson’s portrayal of Peeta, and I thought Jennifer Lawrence did a very good job capturing the bewilderment and uncertainty Katniss feels as the threat of death looms before her. And the moment Katniss volunteers to replace her sister? Ah, that gets me every time I see the preview.

I was also very impressed with how Hollywood managed to keep a violent movie taken from a violent book from becoming disgustingly graphic. I maintain the same warning I gave in my book review; this is not a story for kids. (I’d recommend age 14.) It is the fight to the death between twenty-four kids, and it is horrifying. Yet, it is violence that condemns violence, if that makes any sense at all. It is disturbing watching packs of teenagers hunt down and kill others with joy and abandon, but I thought producers exercised a good deal of restraint. And the result certainly makes a statement about a society that would condone such a tournament.

It is this extreme setting that makes the relationships within the story so powerful, and it is here I was the most disappointed with the movie. I understand it takes about ten hours to read the book, and only two hours are granted film-makers to tell the same story, but here is where the movie suffers. The special friendship between Gale and Katniss is very abbreviated. Gale hardly features in this one at all. And I was disappointed at how little screen time Rue, one of my favorite characters, receives. And Thresh only shows up once or twice. I thought only the relationship with Peeta was given enough time to develop, and its complexity isn’t sufficiently captured, not by any means.

Overall, I enjoyed this movie, but it felt a little void of emotion. The book horrified me. It brought me to tears. It made me cheer; it made me ache. In the end, it left me drained and completely awe-struck. The first Narnia movie left me with the same feeling. So did the first Lord of the Rings. But I was curiously emotionless when I left the theater last night. It’s enjoyable, and I’m anticipating the next one, but the movie, I found, has planted in me the desire to re-experience the story back among the pages of the book.

Read my book review.

The Hobbit, by JRR Tolkien, 1936, Book Review

Bilbo Baggins was a respectable hobbit. He “never had any adventures or did anything unexpected.” Until the wizard Gandalf and an unexpected party of 13 dwarves arrived one day on his doorstep. Suddenly, he found himself off to the Lonely Mountain to retrieve the dwarves’ stolen treasure from Smaug the dragon. The Hobbit is a year-long journey with classic Tolkien adventure.

The Hobbit explains how Bilbo came to find the ring of power and sets the stage for The Lord of the Rings trilogy. It introduces hobbits, elves, dwarves, and wizards and some of how they each came to be on Middle Earth. It also, in a veiled way, tells part of Sauron’s tale. It’s a fun, event-filled story all its own but it is NOT a sweeping epic with desperate stakes like LOR. It is merely an exciting treasure hunt.

And this vast difference is why I wonder if The Hobbit will be as successful on the big screen as The Lord of the Rings. The stakes simply are not as high. Don’t get me wrong, it’s loaded with suspense and high action which I expect will make the movie highly entertaining. But it lacks the purpose given to Frodo’s task as well as the deep friendship that develops between Sam and Frodo. Bilbo is on his own among dwarves and his quest rather frivolous. It’s simply not as weighty.

Yet the story holds some surprises and ends with a history-altering event that trumps the quest for gold. In fact, by the end the value of wealth is quite called into question and a few hard lessons are learned. And once again, or rather for the first time, we are shown the nobility of this race called hobbits.

Whether the on-screen version lives up to the book or to the LOR films remains to be seen, but either way, I think we’re in for amazing special effects, some great performances and a story with its own charm. “There are no safe paths in this part of the world. Remember you are over the Edge of the Wild now, and in for all sorts of fun wherever you go.” 

Here’s a link to The Hobbit movie trailer.

Here’s the link to my original post, The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey.

And my review of LOR.

The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey

One year. That’s how long I have to wait for Peter Jackson’s new movie, The Hobbit. Like its sister, The Lord of the Rings trilogy (which I dearly love!), this will be a multi-part production, the first film being released in December 14, 2012, the second in December 13, 2013. [8/12 update: Yup, it's now official; it's going to be a trilogy. Last one's scheduled for summer 2014.]

I am thrilled to see the return of so many familiar faces, particularly Ian McKellan (Gandalf), Cate Blanchett (Galadriel), Andy Serkis (Gollum), Hugo Weaving (Elrond), Orlando Bloom (Legolas), Christopher Lee (Saruman), and Ian Holm (old Bilbo) who stared in the LOTR movies. Even Elijah Wood (Frodo) gets a bit part written in, though he’s not yet born in the original book. You see, The Hobbit is the prequel to LOTR. It is the story of how the ring came to Bilbo, and the adventures that young hobbit found himself a part of.

I’ve dusted off my old copy of Tolkien’s first tale and put up a review for those who may not be familiar with it, including some challenges I believe the movie makers will face. In the meantime, here’s a movie preview. Needless to say, I’m highly anticipating this one!

Watch the movie trailer.

Read my review of The Lord of the Rings.


Divided Decade Trilogy, book one

Read it free!

What’s your favorite book turned movie?

My favorite book-turned-movie has to be The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe

I loved all of Lewis’ Narnia books as a child (and I still do), but that first one especially resonated with me.  I was in sixth grade the first time I read it, and I ate up the magic.  I wanted to live there.  I wanted to climb in Mr. and Mrs. Beaver’s lodge, and to take tea with Mr. Tumnis.  And of course I wanted to bury my face in Aslan’s mane.  I visited often.

By sixth grade, I also had an understanding of the allegory hidden beneath the surface of the story, and I appreciated the powerful illustration of love and redemption.  So when I heard that Hollywood was turning the book into a movie, I had some valid concerns.  I figured the story would be unrecognizable.  Was I ever wrong! 

I left the theater with chills coursing down my spine.  Not only was the film a very faithful rendering of the book, they created the Narnia of my imagination down to the tiniest details!   I purchase very few movies, but I bought this one.  I’m thrilled that my kids have developed the same love for Narnia that I have.  My one (huge) regret is that they are less likely to visit the pages from whence Narnia sprang.  To rectify this, I’ve been known to pop the books into the CD player on road trips.  I hope as they grow up they’ll find as much value in the books as in the movies. 

So, what’s your favorite book-turned-movie?

The Hunger Games Movie

This was originally posted for Waiting on Wednesday, a weekly meme sponsored by Breaking the Spine.

Okay, okay, I diverted from the usual can’t-wait-for-it BOOK and substituted a movie.  But you’ll have to forgive me this once.  I loved The Hunger Games Trilogy.  Rarely do I see a movie before it hits DVD, but for this one, I’ll be there opening weekend.

Watch the trailer!  Coming March 23, 2012.

Read my Hunger Games review.