Pub Rants

When A Movie Heads South

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STATUS: Out of the office and it’s busy! All good stuff though.

What’s playing on the iPod right now? I WILL POSSESS YOUR HEART by Death Cab For Cutie

Or in other words, you know a movie has jumped the shark when your two nieces under the age of 15 start heckling the movie screen.

Yesterday I took my lovely nieces (one age 10, the other age 14) to see the movie CITY OF EMBER. Both of them had read and loved, loved, loved the book so they were pretty stoked to go see the movie adaptation.

And the movie certainly started very strong. Good world building. Good characters (my 14-year old niece assures me that Doon, played by the young actor Harry Treadaway, is quite hot). Good strong plot points.

We were all very happy with it.

Then about 35 minutes before the movie’s end, something happened and let me tell you, my two nieces noticed it right off. Suddenly the movie lost its plot and turned into a Disney-like theme park ride where the events that happened in the ending minutes didn’t really tie up the plot. In fact, the movie became kind of silly.

It was the after-school showing and there was no one else in the theater (so fun to have a private screening!) so my nieces started heckling the movie (a la Mystery Science theater style).

Call them cynical but I call them real. Even I could tell the movie had started to miss and my nieces had no compunction against saying so. It seems to me that this is simply an instance of adult writers (and movie makers) completely underestimating the audience and doing some sappy, simplified ending rather than something that would really conclude the story.

Because I see this so often in children’s submissions—where it’s obvious that the adult writers have also underestimated the audience—it seemed worth mentioning here.

However, CITY OF EMBER is a brilliant book and it’s not Jeanne DuPrau’s fault they mucked it so get thee a copy.


22 Responses

  1. domynoe said:

    I have to admit, if my novels ever get a movie deal, this is my fear. I’ve seen it happen to often to NOT be worried about it (Queen of the Damned anyone?). It’s just sad that, if it must make adaptations of books, Hollywierd can’t trust the author to work with the material in a way that honors the author’s vision.


  2. Deb said:

    My 14 year old, who still thinks all movies should be identical to their antecedent book, saw CITY OF EMBER and agrees. “They made the end stupid.”

  3. Ben said:

    I agree that when a film deviates from the original material (or even with the original material doesn’t live up to expectations) it leaves one with a hollow, unfulfilled feeling. That’s why I’m not a big fan of Disney. However, I really respected Disney for how they handled the adaptation of Bridge to Terabithia. I thought they handled the climax beautifully in a way that was faithful to the original book.

  4. Anthony said:

    “Because I see this so often in children’s submissions—where it’s obvious that the adult writers have also underestimated the audience—it seemed worth mentioning here.”

    YA writers who worry about underestimating the audience should take a gander at Sylvia Engdahl’s wondrous novels, now in reprint.

  5. Kasie West said:

    I love movies, but I have never seen a movie that I liked more than the book it was adapted from (okay, wait, that was too definitive a statement, I just thought of one, but I will not divulge). This is why anytime I see a movie I really enjoy, I find out it if was based on a book. I have found so many wonderful books this way.

  6. beth said:

    I just bought the book–I’d intended to for awhile, but the movie made me buy it now (so I could read it before I saw it). Now I’ll just read the book and forget about the movie!

  7. Pam Halter said:

    I loved the book, City of Ember! My homeschool book club loved it, too.

    That’s too bad about the movie, but I’m not really surprised. What IS it with movie people, anyway?

  8. Thomas said:

    My father, a career stage performer, taught me that children are the most challenging and most unforgiving audience. Adults have a certain degree of decorum when viewing something that fails to entertain them. Children, on the other hand, make their boredom or displeasure known to everyone.

  9. The Writers Canvas said:

    Hey Kristen,

    I made the same observation about some recent movie releases, based on books or not. I think it’s more of an American ‘happy ending walking into the sunset’ expectation we’ve come to like–but when it doesn’t do justice to the book or story, it is disappointing.

  10. Julie Weathers said:

    My youngest son grew up with me writing and reading to him. I wrote several children’s books for him based on his love of dinosaurs.

    I can remember him at five years old discussing plot and characters after seeing a movie. Not every child is interested in the mechanics of writing, but most children are more astute than we give them credit for.

  11. The Rejection Queen said:

    Movies adapted from novels are hardly ever as good as the book. The only movie that I can think which did the book justice was “The Notebook”. I was terribly disappointed in White Oleander…and I wonder if they are going to muck up “The Lovely Bones” as well.

  12. Anonymous said:

    *WARNING: Spoiler if you have not read the book and plan to and have also NOT seen a movie trailer*

    I was shocked when i saw the movie trailer, and the FIRST thing the voice-over-guy said was “The City of Ember has survived for two hundred years under ground…..”

    WTF????? The whole point of the book was that you had NO IDEA they were underground!! How could they remove the best twist by presenting it upfront?

    Mandy Hubbard

  13. jeanoram said:

    I hear you!

    My pet peeve as a YA reader, way back in the day, was that the books were so obviously written by adults who had no idea what ‘real’ kids were like and what they wanted or even thought about. They were either preachy and scrubbed so clean they rang false or were completely transparent or brain were fluff. It’s wonderful to see so many writers these days who take YA seriously and make smart books for teens. Thank goodness. 🙂

    Thanks for carrying the young adult torch, Kristen.

  14. melissablue13 said:

    I really think Hollywood underestimates the 15 and under crowd. I’ve watched both The Seer, The Spiderwick Chronicles, The Golden Compass and all have left a lot to be desired. Stardust on the other hand…I love that movie. Not sure if it was really geared toward the 15 and under, but it didn’t disappoint.

  15. ink and beans said:

    Question Kristen: Just out of curiosity, how often does a manuscript you’re considering — one where the first few chapters seemed promising — jump the shark halfway (or more than halfway) through?

  16. Liza said:

    City of Embers is still my middle niece’s favorite book she has ever read(she’s 14). I don’t know if she has seen the movie yet, but I really don’t like it when they mess a book up on film.

  17. I. M. Bitter said:

    I’m so glad you posted about this today.

    Last night I saw City of Ember it was a 7:00 showing, I thought the beginning was fabulous.

    I remember thinking about the strong characters portrayed within the first few moments of the film and I immediately wanted to reference the book to see how strongly they had been written.

    I thought the music was fantastic! Very sweeping, emotional, and adventurous without being sappy.

    But it seemed to me that toward the end, everything got put on fast forward and didn’t seem as satisfying.

    After the movie was over, I strolled across the street to the 84th & Broadway Barnes & Noble, to look at the books and I ended up walking away without buying.

    Now that I know the book is written more strongly than the movie, I think I’ll give it another try. 🙂


  18. Cathy in AK said:

    A well received, well loved book is well received and well loved for a reason. Changing it to fit a movie formula is akin to telling the author (and the readers who enjoyed the book) they didn’t get it “right.”

    I can understand having to manipulate aspects of a book to fit in the alloted 90-120 minute time frame of a movie, but to change it into something it isn’t? Gah!

  19. KLCtheBookWorm said:

    The comment I loved best watching all the behind-the-scenes stuff on the Lord of the Rings movies was Peter Jackson admitting they were going to change things to be more Hollywood in Return of the King (Aragon having the epic sword fight with Sauron), and then banging their heads on the table realizing that Tolkien’s way was the right way all long.

    I hold those movies up in high esteem as a way adaptations can be done well and stay true to the author’s intents in the book. So I’m glad Jackson realized it before the fans went nuts.

    It’s a shame about City of Ember. I saw the trailer and thought it looked like fun. I’ll go read the book instead.

  20. nessili said:

    Alas for The Dark is Rising. My friends and I waited years and years for that wonderful book to be made into a movie, and Hollywood ruined it so totally they had to change the title. As soon as I heard they’d changed Will Stanton into an American teenager, I stopped following the production. sigh. Perhaps someone will rescue it yet–there were those awful cartoons of the Lord of the Rings and the Lion, the Witch, and Wardrobe…