Feb 19, 2015

Book Snobs and Movies

What is a book snob, you ask?  Someone very particular, who tolerates no twaddle and who wants only the best, only the original versions of books; an original title written by the original author and not reinterpreted by someone else, dumbing it down, rewriting the plot, and turning the story into nonsense.

A book snob would shun Disney interpretations of the classics or any of the Great Illustrated Classics. I once bought a Great Illustrated Classic edition of Heidi at a library sale in order to use it as an example of twaddle. At a Charlotte Mason study group I compared a passage from it to the same passage from the original Heidi written by Joanna Spyri and let my listeners decide which book they'd rather read. It was hands down for the original!

I confess. I am a book snob.

But there is more to book snobs than this. A book snob is also very careful about what movies they see; movies based on classic literature can be very disappointing, especially if you were expecting the movie to tell the actual story. Sometimes it's better not to see the movie at all than to see it and walk out of the theater steaming because it was just sooooo wrong ... and you might have actually spent big dollars to see it in the first place!

A number of years ago when I was homeschooling with Ambleside Online there was a thread on the AO yahoo group that asked you to fill in the rest of this sentence....

and my response was ...

. . . your children refuse to watch a movie based on a classic book because they're sure that the story will be "totally ruined!"


. . . after watching a movie based on a classic book your children are irritated by how the movie totally messed up the REAL story . . . .which they know because they've read the unabridged version cover to cover . . . maybe even more than once!

Yes, I have also raised book snobs. Now, mind you, I am not apologizing. In fact it's one of the things I pride myself on.

Movies based on classic books or short stories can fall so far short; not always, mind you, but often enough. An example of a very bad screen adaptation of a classic story is the movie, A Thanksgiving Story which is supposedly based on Louisa May Alcott's short story of the same name. About the only thing the movie and the short story have in common is the title. If you're expecting Alcott's story to be told in the movie you'll be greatly disappointed! Now, the movie, in and of itself is not a bad story. It's just not Alcott's, at all!

On Valentine's Day my husband and I decided to go see a movie. We hadn't been to see one together in quite some time. Neither one of us wanted to think or be emotionally exhausted by some heart wrenching or highly suspenseful serious movie. We wanted a fun, laugh out loud movie and thought Paddington would be just the thing.

I loved reading Paddington to my children when they were young. Who doesn't love Paddington? I mean you cannot read that book without an almost constant smile on your face. Can any bear get into more trouble than Paddington, and so innocently?

Paddington literally came alive on the screen. He was totally believable. The computer generated imagery was amazing! Such life like facial expressions! He was wonderful. He was definitely the same character as the book portrays him; kind, very polite, tender and sweet, and just as clueless about such things as indoor plumbing. The same loveable Paddington.

Hugh Bonneville was a wonderful Mr. Brown. A bit of a change in roles from Lord Grantham of Downton Abbey. Sally Hawkins perfectly interpreted Mrs. Brown's character. Her sweetness and desire to always see the bright side of things was definitely straight out of the book.

My son Michael read several of the Paddington novels on his own when he was young. He loved Paddington Bear. When I told him I'd seen the movie his first response was, "You didn't like it, did you?" He was sure, absolutely sure, I would hate it. After all, he knows I'm a book snob. He knew the movie would probably not resemble the books. But, in fact, the movie did resemble the books, and far, far better than the movie, An Old Fashioned Thanksgiving, resembled Alcott's story. BUT not nearly as much as I had hoped it would. Yes, I was, clearly disappointed.

The book snobbery in me was rearing its head!

When Michael Bond wrote the first book, A Bear Called Paddington, in 1958 I wonder if he realized how popular his little bear would become, and how many children (and parents) would love him.

Paddington creator Michael Bond Photo: Geoff Pugh/The Telegraph

Almost the first comment out of my husband's mouth after the movie was over and we were making our way to the car was something to the effect of, "It was a bit like 101 Dalmations with the evil villianess." Yes, the evil villianess. The major plot of the story revolves around the sadistic taxidermist Millicent, played by Nicole Kidman, who is intent upon murdering and stuffing Paddington and putting him on display at the Natural History Museum in London. 

Oh, come on! Really?

I found myself rolling my eyes, sighing, and fidgeting in my seat at times. Why, oh why was it necessary to add all of this nonsense when the stories themselves are so wonderful? Over 30 million copies of the books have been sold worldwide! These stories are enduring, classic, living, exactly as written. Why manufacture all this additional sensational drama?

It's not so much that the movie was so bad but that it could have been so much better, in my not so humble opinion. 

But then, I'm a book snob after all, and I have very high expectations!


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