Saturday, November 16, 2013

THE BOOK THIEF by Markus Zusak: Movie vs. Book

Book remakes seem to be the order of the day and it's once again a work of fiction in the young adult genre to get Hollywood's creative juices flowing. After the most anticipated and disappointing 50 Shades casting campaign, the spotlight finally shifts from the erotic trilogy's drama and fans petitions to the box office performance of The Book Thief, the heart-grabbing adaptation of Markus Zusak's New York Times best-selling novel published in 2005.

Sifting through the complexity of plot points, character building, historical and social issues, without losing the consistency, credibility, and momentum that a magical sequence of words can create in the space of 552 pages, is the biggest challenge movie producers have to face when working with novels. Translating the intensity of Zusak's writing into a sequence of images equally vivid and emotionally brilliant for a two-hour movie, a task hard to perform. 

20 Century Fox certainly didn't fail in putting together a dream team of talented actors and directors. British film director Brian Percival has quite a resume in the category of small screen dramas (Pleasureland, North & South, ShakespeaRe-Told, The Old Curiosity Shop, Downton Abbey); Australian screenplay writer Michael Petroni is the man behind the script of The Chronicles Of Narnia (The Voyage Of The Dawn Treader); American composer John Williams is the greatest film composer of all time, author of the most popular and recognizable music scores (Jaws, Star Wars, Superman, Indiana Jones, E.T., Home Alone, Jurassic Park, Schindler's List, Harry Potter, Saving Private Ryan, and I could go on forever here). An ensemble of high-caliber actors, theater veterans (Geoffrey Rush, Emily Watson, Roger Allam), and captivating new faces (Sophie Nelisse, Nico Liersch, and Ben Schnetzer) are the ticket to some memorable and solid perfomances.

The movie tells the story of a young and illiterate 'bibliophile', Liesel Meminger, during the time of the Nazi censorship and propaganda. Family tragedies (a Communist mother on the run and the loss of her brother) force the adolescent and book-obsessed Liesel (Sophie Nelisse) to live in foster care, but while she finds warmth and acceptance in her adoptive parents (Geoffrey Rush and Emily Watson) and in a 'literary' friendship with a Jewish refugee (Ben Schnetzer) her foster family shelters in the basement, she will be confronted with the tragic reality of life under an oppressive regime.

All major media outlets have so far expressed mixed feelings about the movie adaptation of Zusak's masterpiece. "The Book Thief struggles under the tall order" (USA Today), despite "its moments of brilliance" (The Washington Post). If you have read the book and you're about to watch the movie, you may find Percival's adaptation to be too simplified compared to the intricate thematic structure of the novel. The movie doesn't fail in preserving the core ideas of the book, though: an effective representation of life under the Nazi regime through the eyes of a gentile and modest family in 1939 small-town Germany, the innate strength and resiliency of the main character, the unlikely but solid bonds human beings create under the extraordinary circumstances of a looming war. Those "moments of brilliance" are worth the price of a movie ticket.

"He was the crazy one who had painted himself black and defeated the world. 

She was the book thief  without the words.

Trust me, though, the words were on their way, and when they arrived, Liesel would hold them in her hands like the clouds, and she would wring them like the rain."

***Photo credit: 20 Century Fox

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