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lady is scared and lonely, everything about her will show you that she is scared and lonely – she will be quiet and withdrawn; she will jump at loud noises; she will live in an out-of-the-way place and make few friends.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


  1. Really liked this one, Danielle - it's Sparks best in my opinion (never did love The Notebook though most think it has that honor). Equally good is the novel.

    For me (don't mind the minor name change - both are cute - or the hair color), I totally "got" the difference in how Katie escaped. Plotting for a year in the adaptation wouldn't have had the same affect. As for the whole Katie/Alex conflict, that is also understandable yet cliché.

    Glad you liked it okay, Danielle. :)

  2. Hi Rissi. Great point - it would have taken much more screen time to go into the whole escape scenario in detail and this would definitely have affected the pace of the story. I would, however, have liked to see a few more of the details - the mobile phone, the tracks in the snow, etc.
    Thanks for stopping by once again, I do appreciate your ongoing support of my little blog.