March 21, 2013

You’ll only regret the ones you didn’t take: How ‘Safe Haven’ compares from book to film

Safe Haven – the latest in a long line of novels by Nicholas Sparks that have been adapted to film – is everything that you would expect it to be.

The book and the film will each give you their own slightly different versions of the kind of story that Nicholas Sparks has become synonymous with – the kind of story where everyday people find themselves in an unexpected and all-consuming romance that is anything but ordinary.

The love will encounter some expected hurdles, and there will be twists and turns in the road, but the ending will cause you to swallow deeply and sigh. If you have someone in your life that you love, you will reach over and squeeze his or her hand, if you don’t, you will reach a hand to your own heart and hope that some day soon they will come.

For those of you who are fans of The Notebook, The Lucky One, Dear John, A Walk to Remember, Nights in Rodanthe, Message in a Bottle and The Last Song, Safe Haven is a must-read and a must-see. You won’t be disappointed – Safe Haven follows Sparks’ tried and true method, and hits all of the right marks.

The book is the kind that you can curl up with at night and relax with. As with Sparks’ other books, the language is simple, the descriptions are vivid, and all of the characters are very neatly summed up. Sparks explains everything so clearly that, by the end, you won’t have any concerns or unanswered questions.

For my taste, it is all a little too clear. You see, Sparks doesn’t leave anything open to interpretation. If his leading lady is scared and lonely, everything about her will show you that she is scared and lonely – she will be quiet and withdrawn; she will jump at loud noises; she will live in an out-of-the-way place and make few friends. But in case you miss these none-too-subtle clues, Sparks’ narration will then confirm to you: yes, she is scared and lonely.

Don’t get me wrong, sometimes it’s very nice to lie in bed and lazily read a story that is linear and consecutive, with a reliable third-person narrator to tell it like it is. But for me, Sparks goes too far. He needs to trust that his readers are smart enough to follow along without every plot point being constantly reiterated; he needs to leave some things unsaid, and allow his readers the freedom to analyse and interpret their own meanings.

Another thing that bothered me was Sparks’ habit of beginning new chapters with lengthy, flowery descriptions of the weather:

“The temperature had dropped and the air felt cool and clean. While pockets of mist rose from the ground, rolling clouds drifted past the moon, bringing light and shadow in equal measures. Leaves turned from silver to black and silver again as they shimmered in the evening breeze.”

Sparks works very hard to paint a picture on every page. He wants his readers to feel completely immersed in his romantic, idyllic world. I appreciate the effort, but at times it becomes too much.

As an example, take the flowers that “would explode in colours so bright they almost made Katie’s eyes ache.” Really? Explode? Almost ache? I think sometimes he just gets a little carried away.

I did enjoy the book. Particularly when the story started to shed light on Katie’s previous life and the abuse that she endured at the hands of her husband. I became completely gripped by the story - it is riveting and fast-paced and suspenseful, and it will have you turning each page quickly as you race toward the end.

The film version, starring Josh Duhamel and Julianne Hough, is also thoroughly enjoyable. The chemistry between Katie and Alex is sufficiently swoon-worthy; Katie’s husband Kevin adds the right amount of darkness to create the cloud that hangs over their heads; and the whole film moves at exactly the right pace.

I was pleased to find that the physical side of Katie and Alex’s relationship was taken up a notch, and most of the other changes of the book were forgivable:

  • One of the first things that often changes in film adaptations is hair colour – in the film Alex is not prematurely white as he should be, and rather than going from blonde to brunette Katie’s transformation goes the other way around.
  • Rather than being a next-door neighbour, Jo’s house is down another fork in the isolated road. There is also no mention of Jo’s job as a counselor, and Katie does not divulge her secrets to her friend over a bottle of wine.
  • Alex’s daughter Kristen is renamed Lexie, and his son Josh is much more sullen. He pushes Alex’s buttons, whereas in the book there was no conflict between Alex and his kids.
  • Alex and Katie’s first date is on a canoe, and they just so happen to be caught out in the rain – which continues the tradition in many of the Sparks adaptations (The Notebook and The Lucky One are two examples), of the lead characters having a canoe/ rowboat scene after which they kiss in the rain. (Or in the shower, as in The Lucky One.)
  • In the book there is also never any conflict or argument between Katie and Alex. Katie tells him the truth about her past in her own time and he is not left to find out for himself.
  • Katie’s escape is much more tactical in the book – she plots and plans for many, many months before she is able to leave and the way that she pulls off the escape is exactingly detailed. In the film it is only lightly touched on.
  • Kevin’s career difficulties are also very different in the book, as is the way that he eventually finds Katie – and the way the ultimate ending plays out.
By focusing the majority of the film on the blooming romance between Alex and Katie, the film had to leave out many of the details of Katie’s life with Kevin in Boston – so the audience is left with no real idea about the extent of Kevin’s controlling nature and how difficult Katie’s domestic life really was.

By leaving out the details of how Katie orchestrated her escape, the audience can only have a limited understanding of how desperate she was for freedom, and how escape was her only real chance to survive.

I relished these details in the book – it was like reading a mystery thriller novel that was all wrapped-up inside a romantic drama. It’s a shame that film audiences may miss these details, which were very masterfully plotted by Sparks.

When deciding between the book and the big screen, it is for this reason alone that I sway forward the print-and-bound version. While the film hits ticks all of the boxes with the romantic elements of the story, it does fall short by not showing how resourceful and brave Katie truly was.

The verdict:

How does the film rate? 3.5/5

How does the film rate as an adaptation? 3.5/5

Total score: 7/10

Book or Big Screen? Book

Coming soon: A review of 'Water for Elephants' by Sara Gruen

March 3, 2013

The wilderness years are over: How ‘Bridget Jones: The Edge of Reason’ compares from book to film

It’s the Sex and the City sequel effect. Step one: make a brilliantly funny movie that resonates with masses of women the world over. Step two: in the inevitable sequel, make everything bigger and better.

Well, at least better is the intention.

From the moment that Renee Zellwegger reappeared on our cinema screens as Bridget Jones – plunging from a plane and landing face first in a pigsty – it was obvious that the filmmakers were upping the ante.

In Helen Fielding’s 1999 book version, Bridget Jones: The Edge of Reason, the equivalent scene saw Bridget partake in a horse-riding misadventure. A skydiving news report did feature in the book, but Bridget was not required to do the jumping, or to release her own parachute.

In my last published review, of the original Bridget Jones’s Diary and its film adaptation, I gushed at how faithful the filmmakers were to the original story. Every change was for the story’s cinematic benefit, and all the most important elements remained in tact.

The same cannot be said for The Edge of Reason.

The most obvious deviation is with the Rebecca storyline. In the book, Rebecca is the ‘jellyfish’ character who makes Bridget’s life miserable, and who determinedly and ruthlessly pursues a relationship with Mark. In the film, the ‘jellyfish’ is a new and only briefly mentioned character named Jeannie Osbourne, while Rebecca is a sweet colleague of Mark’s who, it turns out, actually has a crush on Bridget.

In the film, by making the competition with Rebecca imagined, and by rendering the threat of losing Mark to nil, the Bridget had more opportunity to dither her way into embarrassing (and funny) situations. It also lightened up the story and paved the way for an on-screen lesbian kiss.

Reading The Edge of Reason, I was surprised to discover some familiar lines and anecdotes that featured in the first movie. The “ghastly, huge scary pants”, for example, (which I mentioned in my last review were not present in book one) were actually borrowed from book two. The boiled egg peeler that you see Bridget’s Mum demonstrating in the shopping mall in film one also originated in book two.

Several of the story lines from The Edge of Reason were slightly altered or omitted for the film sequel:

  • In the book, Jude marries Vile Richard. In the film, the wedding is for Bridget’s parents to renew their vows.
  • In the book, Pam and Una take a trip to Africa and bring back with them a tribesman named Wellington.
  • Mark and Bridget have a bust-up in the book when Bridget walks into his bedroom to discover a naked boy holding a rabbit on the bed.
  • There is no pregnancy scare in the book, nor any argument about whether Mark and Bridget’s future children would be sent to boarding school.
  • Bridget goes to Rome and records a hilarious interview with the real Colin Firth, in which she dwells far too much on his wet shirt in Pride and Prejudice.
  • ‘Gary the Builder’ cuts a hole in Bridget’s apartment wall and sends her a death threat in the mail.
  • Magda – Bridget’s married friend – had a larger role to play in the book. In the film, she is downgraded to only two shot appearances and is introduced as the wife of one of Mark’s colleagues.
  • Daniel only makes a brief appearance in the book, and his career has not transitioned to television.
  • The ‘Smooth Guide’ television program did not have its origins in the book and Bridget’s tragic trip to Thailand did not originate as a work trip, but as a holiday with Shazza.
  • Although (alike the first film adaptation) Mark and Daniel do not have the occasion to brawl in the streets, in The Edge of Reason Mark does get the chance to give Daniel a single punch o the nose.

In my review of Bridget Jones’s Diary, I noted that the film left out an entire saga about Bridget’s Mum getting caught up in a timeshare apartment swindle. By leaving out this element, the film was missing a crucial element of its literary parallel with Pride and Prejudice.

Happily, the film adaptation of The Edge of Reason allows this to be rectified.

The storyline about Bridget’s imprisonment in a Thai prison, and Mark’s heroic attempts to free her, allowed him to pull off the Lydia and Wickham-style save the day that was missing from the first film.

Just as it can be so often generalized that the book is always better than the film, it is so often believed that sequels rarely reach the heights of the original.

In this case, the generalization is correct. The film and the book versions of The Edge of Reason were ever so slightly inferior to their original counterparts – but they were still a hell of a lot of fun!

The verdict:

How does the film rate? 3.5/5

How does the film rate as an adaptation? 4/5

Total score: 7.5/10

Book or Big Screen? Big Screen