The Bog of Lost Scholars

February 25, 2007

Brief Praise of a Good Movie, and Long Rant on a Bad One

Filed under: Film and Media — castiron @ 1:10 pm

Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon. Yes, I’m slow about getting around to seeing movies, even movies that all my friends say are fabulous. The cheap DVD in Target finally convinced me, and I’m glad I did. The movie is gorgeous; the actors are subtle and powerful; the fight scenes are delightfully over-the-top; it’s a tragedy that Sophocles would be proud of. And it has strong women with swords. I loved it.

Alas, I can’t say the same for the Alfonso Cuaron version of A Little Princess, which I bought because it was in a bargain set with The Secret Garden.

(Spoilers ahoy!)

Of course there are always changes that a filmmaker has to make when converting a book to a movie. And sometimes there are changes that the filmmaker makes for artistic reasons, to make us see the story from a different angle or to explain a character’s behavior in a way that the book glosses over, or to make it easier for a modern audience to understand the characters’ actions. When these work, they add greatly to the viewer’s appreciation of the original text; for example, Ang Lee’s version of Sense and Sensibility made me really believe that Marianne could ultimately be happy with Colonel Brandon, in a way that the book didn’t.

But after a certain point, the story’s so changed that it might as well lose the name of the original book.

I can somewhat buy setting A Little Princess in WWI instead of twenty to forty years earlier. I can buy putting Miss Minchin’s school in NYC rather than London. Portraying Becky as a black servant rather than as a lower-class white servant is easier for an American audience to understand quickly; we don’t grok the British class system, but we grok race.

But damn it, CAPTAIN CREWE DIES IN THE BOOK.

I wouldn’t be half as annoyed with this movie if the neighbor’s son had survived while attempting to rescue Captain Crewe, and Crewe had asked him with his dying breath to look after his little girl. That would at least have been true to the spirit of the book, even if not quite what happened. But to have Captain Crewe survive amnesiac? Some kid is going to be very shocked when they read the real thing.

Folks, children may not be orphaned as often today as they were a hundred years ago, but it still happens, especially to kids of soldiers. Might as well be honest about that fact in a movie.

Also, I found Sara’s behavior in the movie decidedly less princess-like than in the book. That bit with the soot? Nope. That “curse” on Lavinia? Nope. Sara Crewe in the book was the master of Miss Manners’ dictum that the best revenge is to act like your foe’s deeds had no effect on you. Sara in the movie doesn’t nearly meet that standard.

Fortunately I didn’t spend good money on this movie. I bought this DVD for The Secret Garden on the flip side, which still has its flaws but is overall true to the book. A Little Princess was just added baggage that I can ignore.

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