Book Review – Wonder

blogwo“My name is August, by the way. I won’t describe what I look like. Whatever you’re thinking, it’s probably worse.”

I had to wait a few days before writing this review, yet I still don’t really know how to articulate what this book means to me or how powerfully it affected me. The protagonist of R.J. Palacio’s “Wonder” is August Pullman, a fifth-grade boy with an unspecified severe craniofacial deformity. The novel follows Auggie as he leaves behind the fairly protective bubble he has grown up in and navigates school for the very first time. “Wonder” is one of those children’s books that can be appreciated by both adults and children alike. In that sense it’s comparable to John Boyne’s “The Boy in the Striped Pyjamas” or Mark Haddon’s “The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time”. While children will read the book on one level, fall in love with the protagonist and hopefully learn a moral lesson about kindness, adults will read the book on another level, fall in love with the protagonist, question their own behaviour as a child and investigate the way humans treat each other through the prism of Auggie’s specific experience.

“It’s like people you see sometimes, and you can’t imagine what it would be like to be that person, whether it’s somebody in a wheelchair or somebody who can’t talk. Only, I know that I’m that person to other people, maybe to every single person in that whole auditorium. To me, though, I’m just me. An ordinary kid.”

No book has ever had such a powerful emotional impact on me: it made me so angry, made me cry and made me want to go back and relive every childhood situation where I made a small offhand comment or threw someone a look that might have hurt their feelings. That’s not to say “Wonder” is a pity party for its protagonist. It wouldn’t be nearly as compelling if that was the case. Auggie is witty, intelligent, charming and sweet. He loves “Star Wars” and hanging out with friends and is gifted at Mathematics and Science and is basically just like any other kid – save the way other people look at him. Auggie loves Halloween because it’s the one day of the year he can wear a mask and experience being treated with normality. When Auggie wears a mask someone in the school highway gives him a high five; Auggie wonders without self-pity whether they would have done so had they known who was behind the mask.  He loves his dog and the way she licks him all over his face, unable to see the difference between Auggie’s face and the face of any other human being. Auggie is hyperware of his facial deformity and how others react to it; he notices the split second of surprise on people’s faces before they break into a smile; he notices that other children avoid touching him; it is implied that he realizes that most of his classmates have lied to get out of attending his birthday party. The fact that he faces this treatment with such maturity and calm acceptance makes it even more upsetting – if that’s possible.

blogwo1Some scenes will break your heart. I won’t spoil them. I was so invested in Auggie’s life by the conclusion of the novel that I didn’t want it to end, yet was extraordinarily happy that it ended at the point it did: on a rare note of triumph for the protagonist and with the long overdue attainment of acceptance from his peers. Palacio also explores the story from the viewpoints of Auggie’s friends and sister, deepening the narrative, explaining their responses to the protagonist, and illustrating how Auggie’s condition has shaped and changed each of them. Yet Palacio has stated that she chose not to tell any of the story from Auggie’s parents’ perspective. She made this choice because she thought the alternative would be too depressing. Adult readers, and Auggie’s parents, know how many struggles and challenges Auggie still has ahead of him, this consciousness slightly tainting even the hugely life-affirming ending point of the novel.

“Here’s what I think: the only reason I’m not ordinary is that no one else sees me that way.”

I haven’t done enough justice to this book. It’s a coming-of-age tale with a protagonist whose bravery might help inspire others. It’s a treatise on the importance of compassion. It’s a reminder that the smallest action might make the biggest difference to someone else. It’s a story that will uplift you and encourage you to be the best version of yourself.
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“It’s what you’ve done with your time, how you’ve chosen to spend your days, and whom you’ve touched this year. That, to me, is the greatest measure of success.”

 

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Rewinding Roald Dahl Adaptations

THAMES TV ARCHIVEIt’s recently been announced that Steven Spielberg will direct a new adaptation of Roald Dahl’s “The BFG” (scheduled for release in 2016). Spielberg is due to team up once again with Melissa Mathison:  he previously collaborated with Mathison in 1982 when she penned the screenplay for Spielberg’s film “E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial”. Like “E.T.”, a famously heartwarming film following the unlikely friendship between a young boy and a friendly alien, “The BFG” follows an unlikely friendship between a young girl and a friendly giant. With Spielberg’s direction, Mathison’s screenplay, and advancements in film technology, it seems certain that Roald Dahl’s novel is in safe hands. Indeed, “E.T.” even surpassed “Star Wars” to become the highest-grossing film of all time (only to be beaten by “Jurassic Park” ten years later, another Spielberg flick).  First published in 1982, “The BFG” has been adapted once before as an animated feature film (by Cosgrove Hall Films in 1989). That version is apparently Dahl’s favourite adaptation of his own work, and received a standing ovation from the author after his first viewing. There have to date been nine films based on Dahl’s books, and now seems as good a time as any to look back at a few of them.

blogroa98First things first, some trivia: it’s a little known fact that Roald Dahl actually wrote the scripts for several notable films. He wrote the screenplay for the Bond film “You Only Live Twice” (1967), and also co-wrote the screenplay for “Chitty Chitty Bang Bang” (1968) , with the iconic Child Catcher (who possesses all the trademarks of a classic Dahl villain) and the name ‘Truly Scrumptious’ credited solely as Dahl’s inventions. In 1971 “Charlie and the Chocolate Factory” was adapted to film as “Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory”; the focus upon Willy Wonka rather than Charlie Bucket (reflected in the name change) was not appreciated by Dahl, who was also unimpressed with the casting of Gene Wilder as Willy Wonka. He subsequently disowned the film. Nevertheless, this musical adaptation remains highly popular and has reached cult status, and even received an Academy Award for its hilariously eccentric score. It has been aired frequently on television since its release and I’m pretty sure it was a staple of most of my friends’ childhoods. I can still remember being shown an old VHS of this film in school during lunch every single time it was raining.

blogroa99 blogroa95blogroa92“Charlie and the Chocolate Factory” was re-adapted in 2005 by Tim Burton, with Freddie Highmore of “Finding Neverland” fame starring in the eponymous role and Johnny Depp stepping into Gene Wilder’s shoes as the idiosyncratic  inventor. The director and source material seemed a perfect marriage on paper. Burton is renowned for his penchant for the dark fairytale-esque and his array of oddball but lovable characters (more often than not played by Depp). Indeed, I can hardly believe that Dahl, with his dark sense of humour, predilection for satire, and offbeat imagination, didn’t have a hand in penning Burton’s “Edward Scissorhands”; the playful but bleak depiction of suburbia particularly resembles Dahl’s work. Yet despite the ostensible compatibility of Burton and Dahl, I found Burton’s take on “Charlie and the Chocolate Factory” a little contrived in  iblogroa94ts efforts to be as quirky as humanly possible. In addition, Depp’s interpretation of Willy Wonka as a child-like innocent with a severe case of arrested development doesn’t really work, and the inclusion of a back-story involving a controlling dentist father and some painful orthodontic procedures is simply unnecessary. Burton’s mistake is, simply, to go over the top: he doesn’t seem to recognise that the book he was adapting was plenty crazy enough. More successful at reflecting the tone of its source material was the 1990 adaptation of “The Witches”. Frequently appearing on lists of the scariest children’s movies of all time, “Thblogroa9e Witches” haunts me even to this day. I can still remember my older brother leaving the room when I was watching “The Witches” because it freaked him out so much. The film doesn’t shy away from its unremittingly terrifying source material, and deals with hideous witches who plot to rid the world of children in a variety of ghastly ways. Three standout terrifying moments include a witch attempting to push a baby in a stroller off a cliff, a young girl forced to grow up inside a painting, and the novel’s hero (a young book named Luke) being turned into a mouse in front of an audience of jeering witches. Casting Anjelica Huston as the Grand High Witch was a masterstroke: Huston’s talent at conveying the grotesque and frightening was clearly recognised (she went on to be cast as Morticia Addams in “The Addams Family”).

blogroa6 blogroa7The only place this adaptation falls down is in its decision to reverse Dahl’s bittersweet ending. In the original novel, Luke remains stuck in his mouse form, which means he’ll have the short life span of a mouse. The ‘sweet’ part of this ending comes only in the orphan Luke’s consolation that he won’t have to go on living any longer than his elderly grandmother. It’s horrendously depressing. In the film adaptation, conversely, Luke is transformed back into a boy by a ‘good’ witch. While I can understand the reasons behind the filmmakers’ decision to gift the film with a happy ending, Dahl’s novel is far more poignant and in keeping with the perpetually disturbing atmosphere of the book.
blogroa97 Stop-motion animation has been used for two adaptations – the 1996  “James and the Giant Peach” (which uses a mixture of stop-motion and live action) and the 2009 “Fantastic Mr. Fox”. Directed by the notoriously whimsical Wes Anderson and starring the voice talents of George Clooney, Meryl Streep, Bill Murray, Owen Wilson, and Jason Schwartzman, “Fantastic Mr. Fox” is predictably witty and charming, yet is missing some of the darker undertones Dahl is known for. “James and the Giant Peach” and “Fantastic Mr. Fox”, though, both utilize the stop-motion animation to full effect, and consequently manage to adapt those books which would otherwise be un-adaptable (due to their focus on foxes and, well, a giant peach full of bugs). Indisputably the greatest Dahl adaptation, however, is Danny DeVito’s 1996 version of “Matilda”.

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DeVito transfers the action to suburban America, a move which provides the perfect arena for exploring the book’s latent themes (such as consumerism and parental neglect). DeVito and Rhea Perlmblogroa4an are perfectly cast as Matilda’s parents, pretty much evil but just stupid enough that they remain on the funny side. Pam Ferris’ representation of Miss Trunchball, meanwhile, constitutes the perfect villain and probably had children quaking in their boots at the thought of being sent to the headmistress’ office for years after seeing the film. “Matilda” includes moments which have gone on to become iconic: Bruce Bogtrotter and the chocolate cake, Amanda Thripp being hurled around by her pigtails, and pretty much any scene with Miss Trunchball. One of my particular favourite scenes includes a classroom of children spelling the word ‘difficulty’ using a poem (“Mrs D, Mrs I, Mrs FFI, Mrs C etc”) and Miss Trunchball’s furious response (“Why are all these women MARRIED?”). Even moments in which  Matilda jubilantly makes pancakes to the sound of Rusted Root’s “Send Me On My Way” and jams out to Thurston Harris’ “Little Bitty Pretty One” after discovering her telekinetic powers, remain entrenched in numerous children’s imaginations. In fact, I think I can say with absolute assurance that Mara Wilson’s portrayal of Matilda blogroa25was formative for pretty much any bookworm who grew up in the 90s (myself being one of them). “Matilda” has since gone on to become a successful stage musical, winning seven Olivier awards in 2012. I found the musical impressive, but missed the subtle emotional core at the heart of the original novel and the film adaptation.

I’m a fan of anything that introduces new readers to Dahl’s inventive world. I can’t imagine a childhood without Roald Dahl’s stories and, thanks to those who continue to adapt these books in order to bring them to new audiences, more and more children will grow up realising it’s okay to be different (because you might just develop magic powers). While we’re waiting for Spielberg’s newest addition to this list of adaptations, we can all relive Dahl’s novels and follow Matilda’s example…

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Book Review – Half Bad

bloghaWitches and magic are popular motifs in fiction, rivaled only by the recently revived penchant for vampires. It’s seemingly impossible to review a book about witches without mentioning the “Harry Potter” juggernaut, which has defined the witch/wizard genre for almost two decades. Yet witches are also the basis of more recent fictional endeavors, including the YA fantasy “Caster Chronicles” series, the 2013 mini-series “American Horror Story: Coven”, and the “All Souls” trilogy. The rich mythological basis for witches means that “Harry Potter” does not have a creative monopoly on this sub-group of fiction, and there’s plenty more material still to be mined from the backlog of witch folklore. Indeed Sally Green’s “Half Bad”, which revolves around witches living in modern England, doesn’t feel like a mere rehashing of the fiction that’s come before it. While its concept isn’t strikingly original (a primordial battle between “Black” and “White” Witches, and a protagonist who bridges the gap between the two sides), its innovation is derived from its brave decision not to shy away from the macabre. blogha4Children and teenagers have demonstrated innumerable times that they’re not afraid to handle some pretty dark stuff in their literature (just off the top of my head: children massacring each other in a televised gladiator-style contest). Even so, “Half Bad” is particularly gruesome and disturbing, its narrative encompassing scenes of physical torture, mutilation, murder, self-harm, and even cannibalism. In one exceptionally chilling scene the fourteen-year-old protagonist is held down while three White Witches (the supposed ‘good guys’) brutally carve “BW” (for ‘Black Witch’) into his back. The scene is described in the first person as Nathan drifts in and out of consciousness, the reader experiencing and sharing his pain. Nathan is also kept in a cage, viciously persecuted, and burnt with acid, all due to his identity as a Half Code (half White Witch and half Black Witch). “Sabrina the Teenage Witch” this is certainly not.

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The premise of “Half Bad” itself is nightmare-inducing. An orphaned boy, Nathan, son of both the most evil Black Witch that’s ever existed and a White Witch (who died in mysterious circumstances), lives in fear that at any moment his Black Witch attributes might manifest and cause him to be executed by the ruthless Council and their cut-throat Hunters. Imagine Harry Potter is the son of Lord Voldemort and Lily, is chained up in the cupboard under the stairs, never gets that nice little letter from Hogwarts, and has to escape the Death Eaters all on his own. That’s the sort of predicament Nathan finds himself in. Yet the fact that the stakes are so high adds a certain realism to the fantasy novel. Despite Nathan’s magical healing ability, he constantly gets hurt. The danger is palpable and keeps the pace breathless.
Perhaps the most intriguing aspect of “Half Bad” is the moral ambiguity it explores. blogha3The White Witches and Black Witches are established as polar opposites – the former good and the latter bad. This antithetical set-up is common, seen most vividly in Glinda the Good Witch  and the Wicked Witch of the West in “The Wizard of Oz”, and to a lesser extent by the Death Eaters and the Order of the Phoenix in “Harry Potter”. Yet in “Half Bad” both the good and bad witches are almost immediately revealed to be neither wholly good nor bad. There are no genuine villains and heroes in this book; the reader roots for Nathan, but at times Green throws things into the narrative that confuse even this basic line of thinking. Nathan occasionally acts in such a manner that the reader is forced to question whether he might indeed grow up to become evil after all. In some ways I hope Green goes down this bold route; to identify and sympathize with a young adult narrator, and to then witness their growth from persecuted child to cold-blood killer over the course of the trilogy would be pioneering. Pardon yet another Harry Potter comparison, but it would be like thinking you’re rooting for a Harry and watching him, aghast, evolve before your eyes into a Voldemort. blogha95The dichotomy between good and bad witches is also the basis of “Beautiful Creatures”, in which the protagonist’s magical powers will be claimed for either Light or Dark on her sixteenth birthday. Yet in “Half Bad”, this transformation isn’t just a matter of self-identification but a matter of life and death. In other points of interest, Nathan’s relationships with his half-brother, Arran, and the White Whet, Annalise, add further dimensions to his character. The obligatory YA love triangle is vaguely set in place by the novel’s conclusion, though with a refreshing new spin which I’d rather not spoil. I also enjoyed the fact that the protagonist was a male witch, in a move away from the traditional depiction of witches as female.

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If you’re looking for something saccharine or easy to digest, don’t read “Half Bad”. It’s pretty unsettling. It’s also, however, totally absorbing. Green’s protagonist has barely begun his journey when the first part of the trilogy ends and we’ve barely scratched the surface in terms of answers and revelations. Nathan is no Harry Potter. Something tells me he won’t be the sort of character that responds to Avada Kedavra (the killing curse) with Expelliarmus (the disarming charm). Something else tells me this series won’t end with the sentence “All was well”. The next book is due out in Spring 2015 so if you like your YA fiction dark and depressing you’ve got a whole year to get reading this one. No excuses.

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Book Review – The Fault in Our Stars

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I know I’m late to the party on this one, and John Green’s “The Fault in Our Stars” is now so ubiquitous that this review will serve as little more than a mere shout of praise into the void. For all Green’s novel does to upend clichés, I’m going to use one of my own: I couldn’t put this book down. Narrated by Hazel Grace Lancaster, a sixteen year old diagnosed with Stage 4 Thyroid cancer with metastatis, it’s not one for the emotionally fragile. Be warned, here’s a typical tumblr response after having read the book…

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Fans are now eagerly awaiting the release of the film adaptation on June 6. There was recently a fair amount of controversy surrounding the film, specifically its tagline – ‘one sick love story’ – from those who felt this play on words was a glib and crass marketing strategy. On first reading about this online I agreed with critics that such a tagline seemed insensitive due to its source material’s serious subject matter. Yet, after having read “The Fault in Our Stars” myself, I’m not sure that this tagline doesn’t actually wholly encapsulate the tone and message of the novel: sick teens are still just teblogfaultens, experiencing those same thoughts, desires and anxieties experienced by their physically healthy peers. They’re certainly confronted with their own mortality a whole lot earlier, but that doesn’t mean they want to be treated by strangers as though they’ve already got one foot in the grave. The literary paradigm of the kid with cancer as the heroic and ethereal martyr who teaches a life lesson to those left living is challenged and disproved repeatedly throughout “The Fault in Our Stars”. Instead Green writes about a cancer patient egging his ex-girlfriend’s car and smashing up a basement. He writes about cancer patients mocking their support counselors and sneaking bottles of champagne and worrying about losing their virginity. The characters are teenagers, eye-rolling, video game-playing teenagers, desperately angry about the injustice of their diagnoses and alternating rapidly from sentence to sentence between treating their medical situations with ironic humour and with utter despair. They’re not saints, nobly touching the lives of those around them. Nicholas Sparks’ “A Walk to Remember” this is not.blogfault4

Nicholas Sparks writes in “A Walk to Remember”: ‘Without suffering, there’d be no compassion.’ I’m pretty sure Hazel and Augustus would take Sparks’ novel and shove it up his ass. Green writes:

‘”Without pain, how could we know joy?” This is an old argument in the field of thinking about suffering and its stupidity and lack of sophistication could be plumbed for centuries but suffice it to say that the existence of broccoli does not, in any way, affect the taste of chocolate.’

blogfault6blogfault7“The Fault in Our Stars” shares similarities with Jenny Downham’s “Before I Die”, (adapted to film as “Now Is Good”) which follows Tessa, a teenage leukemia patient, as she attempts to complete her bucket list. Tessa, like Hazel, doesn’t want to be defined by her diagnosis. Adam, like Augustus, helps her to live a little. Yet I found the central romance in “The Fault in Our Stars” more touching, perhaps due to the pains Green goes to in order to develop his protagonists’ individual personalities. I initially feared the romantic lead, Augustus Waters, a seventeen year old in remission from osteosarcoma, would be a thinly drawn character, too idealised to illicit any sort of real response from the reader. He  initially seemed  a character who existed only within the confines of a narrow literary purpose: to express attraction towards Hazel. He seemed a boy written conveniently to bring her back to life (a male Manic Pixie Dream Girl, if you will). Despite my initial misgivings, Augustus evolved into a fully-fledged character in his own right.

“The Fault in Our Stars”, according to the Daily Mail, belongs to a genre of YA “sick-lit”. Apparently disease, and other real issues faced by countless young people, are topics unsuitable for the very children and teenagers who may be affected by them.  Like Jenny Downham’s “Before I Die”, “The Fault in Our Stars” refuses to patronise its young readers. The book tackles universal themes through its cancer-afflicted protagonists: the desire to feel like you’ve impacted the world in some way, the desire to live an extraordinary life. Augustus wants to be loved widely as well as deeply. His greatest fear is oblivion. Hazel wants to kiss Augustus but worries that she’s a grenade, ready to explode and hurt those closest to her. If dealing with life, death and all the stuff in between is “sick”, then all good literature should belong to this genre. Green should wear this categorisation as a badge of honour.

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In Shakespeare’s “Julius Caesar”, Cassius says to Brutus: ‘The fault, dear Brutus, is not in our stars, / But in ourselves, that we are underlings.’
The title of Green’s novel says it all. Sometimes life is truly unfair and random and cruel. The respective fates of Hazel and Augustus and Isaac are not within their control. The fault is in their stars. Their situations are expressed by Green with compassion, sympathy and understanding, but never with moralising or condescension. Green blends the comic and the tragic and consequently creates a story which reflects the reality of everyday life.

But don’t take my word for it. Just go and read it. Okay? Okay.

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From Page to Screen: YA Book-to-Movie Adaptations

blog39blog41With “Divergent” due for release on March 21 and “The Fault in Our Stars” coming up on June 6, it seems an apt moment to look at the successes and failures of other prominent YA book-to-film adaptations. I’m going to look at this hazardous transition and what we can expect from the upcoming releases.

THE BEST

It goes without saying that “The Hunger Games” falls in the ‘best’ category. Both a commercial and critical success, the first two films have respective lifetime grosses of  $408,010,692 and $423,969,843 and ratings on rottentomatoes.com of 84% and 89% fresh. The filmmakers had some difficult hurdles to overcome in adapting this trilogy. They had to make a film about kids killing each other and yet somehow get a certificate which meant kids (their target audience) could go to the cinema, fork out the money for a ticket and actually watch the film. They also had to take a book written in the first person present tense, in which we are able to know the protagonist’s every passing thought, and somehow see those thoughts translate on the screen.

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To counteract the first problem, the director of the first film, Gary Ross, employed a shaky hand-held camera technique when filming the vicious fight scenes. Gifting the scenes with a frenetic and tense energy, this astute maneuver also meant details of the violence were blurred and, most importantly in terms of certification, bloodless.  Casting Jennifer Lawrence, whose talent has since been recognised with a Best Actress Academy Award (for her role as Tiffany Maxwell in “Silver Linings Playbook” last year), was a masterstroke. Lawrence is able to convey so much with very little dialogue, making the need for a corny and intrusive overlaying narration (I’m looking at you, “Twilight”), obsolete. Ross has also discussed the potential benefit and greater artistic freedom in moving away from first person narration:

‘In the book, Katniss speculates about the game-makers manipulations… in the film, we can’t get inside Katniss’ head, but we do have the ability to cut away and actually show the machinations of the Capitol behind the scenes.’

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In some ways, “The Hunger Games” was always bound to make a seamless transition from page to screen. Suzanne Collins has an M.F.A. in dramatic writing and thus self-admittedly paced and structured her novels like a play. While she adapted the books herself, she also noted the necessity of creative subjectivity, leaving superfluous material on the cutting room floor and out of the subsequently sharper screenplay. These films serve as powerful companion pieces to their respective novels and highlight the trilogy’s pervasive themes. Similarities between the Capitols’ vicious voyeurism and their obsession with the cult of celebrity, and our own society’s fixation on reality TV are all the more perceptible when visible on screen, the visual parallels between the games with shows like “The X Factor” and “Big Brother” all the more evident. With Lawrence, Philip Seymour Hoffman and Donald Sutherland adding weight to the cast, a strong female protagonist and some really dark material explored,  these films show that youths aren’t just interested in watching films about sparkling vampires.

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The 2012 adaptation of the 1999 novel “The Perks of Being a Wallflower” received an 85% rating on rottentomatoes.com and has been embraced by a new generation of teens, despite its inability to please its original fans. I didn’t read “The Perks of Being a Wallflower” when I was a teenager and thus never had the strong emotional connection with the book that so many others my age experienced. Some of my friends refused to watch the film on the basis of supposed incorrect casting choices. Indeed, for a book about and embraced by outsiders, it’s difficult to reconcile the misfit literary characters you identified with as an awkward teen with the attractive actors and movie stars portraying them. Logan Lerman, however, I believe succeeds in his portrayal of the introverted and thoughtful eponymous wallflower. Emma Watson, despite a questionable American accent, manages not to be too annoying, which is all we can really ask fblog34or. Ezra Miller really shines as a charismatic dissident who doesn’t express his discontent by offing a load of classmates this time around (see “We Need To Talk About Kevin” – but probs not on Mother’s Day). “The Perks of Being a Wallflower” is an epistolary novel and retaining this important sense of communication between narrator and reader subsequently offered a challenge to the filmmakers. This is an occasion in which a voice over feels both necessary and well-utilized. Stephen Chbosky, like Collins, adapted his own novel and noted the importance of remaining unconstrained by the source material. He stated:

‘I think that the process of turning ‘Perks’ into a movie was the most gratifying and challenging work I’ve ever done professionally,’ he said. ‘I had to do a real adaptation — I couldn’t just film the book. It was a real balancing act to simultaneously be emotionally very inside the piece and at the same time always be outside of it to keep it on the train tracks.’

blog33I’m sure fundamentalist fans of the original book have found plenty to complain about. Yet as Chbosky, and Collins, recognise, films and novels are different species of fiction. Sometimes, fans of a book will embrace its film counterpart. In this case, fans of the film have instead been introduced to the book. It’s difficult to bring a book as unabashedly sincere and saccharine as this to life without making its viewers want to vomit and, for succeeding in that mission, “The Perks of Being a Wallflower” deserves commendation.

Honourable mentions: “The Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants” and “Angus, Thongs and Perfect Snogging” – coming-of-age films which manage to retain the warmth and wit of their source material.

THE WORST

I’m not one of those people who rubbishes a book or film without having read or seen it. I’ve read all four books in the “Twilight” series, and I’ve seen all five films. I can, therefore, say in all confidence that they are all truly atrocious. “The Twilight Saga” had an uphill struggle from the very beginning. How does one even begin to start adapting lines like: blog45

‘You are exactly my brand of heroin.’

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‘And so the lion fell in love with the lamb.’

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‘You are my life. You’re the only thing it would hurt me to lose.’

The only way Melissa Rosenberg (who wrote the screenplays) could have made this film series not laughably bad would have been to completely change the dialogue found in the books. Yet this would in all likelihood have upset the rabid “Twilight” fan base and, consequently, Rosenberg lifts verbal exchanges verbatim from Stephenie Meyer’s abysmal text. The plots in the books are terribly thin, a fact made painfully obvious by their film adaptations, which serve doggedly as an almost literal page-to-screen transcript. There are moments of the first film which are almost enjoyable –  such as the use of Pattinson’s original music during a surprisingly effective and atmospheric montage of Edward’s relationship with Bella near the film’s conclusion.

The acting is extremely wooden, but I don’t actually believe either Robert Pattinson or Kristen Stewart are terrible actors. Go watch Stewart in “Speak” or “Into the Wild”, and Pattinson in “Cosmopolis” if you don’t believe me. I don’t think anyone could have made those words work and, in the end, the actors just gave up. Pattinson himself has mocked “Twilight”, saying it ‘seemed like a book that wasn’t supposed to be published.’ He observed:

‘I was convinced that Stephanie was convinced she was Bella…It’s like, this woman is mad’ and added ‘the more I read the script, the more I hated this guy, so that’s how I played him, as a manic-depressive who hates himself.’ Check out Pattinson’s response to Jimmy Fallon’s comments about the series ending and fans getting sad:

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There’s even a whole tumblr page dedicated to Pattinson’s personal hatred and derision of the series. See http://rpattzhateshislife.tumblr.com if you fancy a LOL. In fact, for a LOL in general, watch “Breaking Dawn – Part 2” right now. If it had been marketed as a comedy or a satire I’m positive it would have been critically lauded as a pinnacle of the genre.

Of course, “The Twilight Series” was a huge hit financially and it has as many supporters as detractors. In theory I’m a fan of any book series that encourages teenagers to read. Yet “Twilight” is disturbing to me for its central validation of an essentially co-dependent couple, and for its casual inclusion of a female protagonist who utterly falls apart when her boyfriend leaves her and who has no interests or real discernible character traits outside of her romantic relationship. This isn’t romantic, and I find the series’ popularity troubling. “The Twilight Series” illustrates that a film adaptation is only as strong as its source. The studio is the one laughing though: no matter how bad these films were, they raked in the money.

Honourable mentions: “Beastly” – lack of chemistry between leads, “The Mortal Instruments: City of Bones” – lack of chemistry between leads, “The Princess Diaries” – completely removed the charm and individuality of the series, Disney-ified the book and changed almost everything, something Meg Cabot mocked in later books.

THE MIXED BAG

It pains me to say anything critical about my beloved “Harry Potter” series . Yet consisting of eight films, the series was directed by a total of four directors, each leaving their individual stamp and subsequently gifting the series with an inconsistent tone and uneven style. While “The Hunger Games: Catching Fire” changed from director Gary Ross to Francis Lawrence, the transition was smooth and the directorial style remained remarkably similar, creating a sense of continuation from the world Ross had crafted in the first film. The first two “Harry Potter” films, directed by Christopher Columbus, constituted faithful adaptations of the books.

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There was much to admire about them: they were family-friendly, wholesome and managed to astonishingly capture the magic and originality of the books. I still remember the way I felt when I first saw Diagon Alley, Hedwig, the cupboard under the stairs, and a Quidditch match, or when I first heard John Williams’ score. These first two films are probably a little bloated and the child actors are no Anna Paquin in “The Piano”, but they are still incredibly watchable. The third film saw Alfonso Cuaron take the helm. Often cited as the best film across the whole series, Cuaron took a completely different approach. His approach was much more stylized, and he cut anything he deemed inessential to the plot. The result was a great film, yet missing a few of the smaller details meant some of the humour, charm and characterisation of the novel was lost. Mike Newell, who directed the fourth film, described his task as ‘compressing a huge book into the compass of a movie.’ This was achieved by ‘putting aside’ all those parts of the novel which did not directly relate to Harry and his journey. Unfortunately, Harry and his journey are not the most interesting parts of “Harry Potter”.

I think the “Harry Potter” books are so enduringly popular because the characters and the world they inhabit feel so real. The beauty of the books was in the small details – knowing each of the main characters’ letter-writing styles, or what they bought each other for Christmas, or what they ate for dinner. There is also a vast array of supporting and minor characters, and spells, and fantastic creatures. Yet such extraneous details are almost impossible to capture on film. Some of the most charming parts of the fourth book – the house-elf Winky, Hermione’s S.P.E.W, the Wizarding World Cup game, and Dudley eating the Weasley twins’ ton-tongue toffees, to name a few – had to be eliminated.blog51

The final four films were all directed by David Yates, which meant a greater coherence in style as the series trundled over the years to its conclusion. Filmed over a decade and with an almost completely undisturbed cast, the series is a phenomenon if only for the fact that we got to witness the child actors grow up over film, and the fact that we were able to see some of our favourite literary moments and imaginary locations brought to life. The series is far from perfect (the hideous epilogue being the main culprit), and it’s certainly a legitimate case of the old ‘the books were better’ argument. After all, the magic we imagine inside our own minds can never be matched, even by a stellar special effects team.

We’ll soon know where “Divergent” and “The Fault in Our Stars” will fall in terms of critical and commercial success. Both are based on bestselling novels with armies of stringent fans on their sides. Both books have also managed to attract adult readers in addition to young adults – a hugely important factor in gaining revenue. Both films coincidentally star Shailene Woodley, who was praised for her performance in “The Descendants”. The trailers were promising and they’ve already both garnered more significant buzz than “The Mortal Instruments: City of Bones” and “Beautiful Creatures”, recent YA adaptations which performed  disappointingly at the box office. Hopefully both of these adaptations will be able to discard the unnecessary and to recognise the difference between books and films, while retaining those characteristics and quirks which gave the novels their individual flair and made them popular in the first place. I hope this is the case, as there’s something so special about rediscovering your favourite book all over again in another form.