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Book To Film: Summer 2013-14 Part 3

by Catherine Van Bergen (follow)
Fantasy (68)      Biography (23)      War (14)      Film (8)      Shakespeare (6)      book (3)      cinema (3)     

There are many films coming out these summer holidays which were derived from books. This is the third instalment featuring some of the titles that you might want to read before seeing them on the big screen.

The Hobbit – J.R.R. Tolkien

When New Zealand director Peter Jackson first made his ambitious plans to film the Lord Of The Rings trilogy, he was met with plenty of scepticism. Fans of the book series wondered how he would be able to bring the mythical worlds and characters of the saga to life, without utterly destroying Tolkien’s magic, and thus, ruining the story for future generations. When Jackson succeeded in his plans- filming three epic, multi-million dollar movies, turning his home country into a popular tourist destination and creating a franchising empire with Lord Of The Rings merchandise- his naysayers were ultimately silenced. Jackson was now free to reveal his next big move when it came to Tolkien’s work- his adaptation of The Hobbit- known as the prequel to The Lord Of The Rings.

Although The Hobbit is not particularly long (especially when compared to the trilogy that it precedes), Peter Jackson will be turning the book into another three-part saga, of which two parts (An Unexpected Journey, and The Desolation Of Smaug) have already been released. Although there is plenty of action and adventure in the novel, the stretching of the story into three separate parts seems a little bit extreme, and more than a little bit indulgent.
For those unaware of the storyline, The Hobbit tells the tale of Bilbo Baggins, a hobbit who one day finds himself in the company of thirteen dwarves, and a powerful wizard named Gandalf. The group have grand plans to travel to a faraway mountain and steal back their treasure from Smaug the Magnificent, a terrifying dragon who took over the dwarf stronghold many years ago and reigns over the surrounding lands. Although it is not in the nature of most hobbits to go on dangerous adventures, Bilbo is coerced into joining the group, and goes on a journey that is both terrifying and exhilarating. Along the way, he meets many different beings (some good and some bad), learns many life lessons, and finds out what it means to step out of your comfort zone.

Although I have read few fantasy and science fiction books, I found myself drawn into The Hobbit, wanting to know how Bilbo and his companions would get out of each situation they found themselves in. If you don’t usually read these types of books but would like an introduction into a fantasy world, then The Hobbit may be just the book-to-film choice for you.

Book first published: 1937
Film (The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug)starring: Ian McKellen, Martin Freeman, Richard Armitage, Ken Stott, Graham McTavish, William Kircher, James Nesbitt

Romeo & Juliet – William Shakespeare & Julian Fellowes (Screenplay)

William Shakespeare’s tragic tale of two star-crossed lovers from rival houses-Romeo and Juliet- is possibly his most well-known and beloved play, which has stood the test of time with audiences the world over. Its reach is legendary- even people who swear not to know a thing about Shakespeare can recognise the iconic balcony scene and quote the immortal words, ‘Romeo, Romeo, wherefore art thou Romeo?’ The play, which has been performed numerous times on both stage and screen, has captivated generations with its raw emotion, brutality, and of course, its portrayal of the pitfalls of young love. It has been nearly 20 years since Baz Luhrmann directed the last major film adaptation of the play, starring Leonardo DiCaprio and Claire Danes, and now Julian Fellowes (the creator of award-winning television series Downton Abbey) has released another adaptation for a new generation of viewers.

Random House books have released a special edition book for the occasion, featuring Douglas Booth and Hailee Steinfeld (the latest young stars of the play) on the cover. They have also done something slightly different with the text- the first half of the book features the play in Shakespearean language, as it was originally published by Modern Library and The Royal Shakespeare Company. Each page has a glossary at the bottom for readers who may be unfamiliar with some of the words or phrasing of the play, helping them to understand what is happening in each act and scene. The second half of the book features Fellowes’ screenplay for the film. In the introduction, he explains that he wanted to keep the tone of the play simple for his new audience, without sacrificing too much of the original language. Therefore, he has condensed some scenes, changing the words to make them easier to understand, yet still maintaining the Shakespearean feel of the text. The two versions in his book are separated by a series of photos from the film, showing the stars in various scenes, and whetting the reader’s appetite to see the movie. As mentioned earlier, there have been numerous versions of this play produced, and it will be interesting to see how this one is received by movie-goers and Shakespeare aficionados.

Book first published: Circa 1597, although this is just an estimate- it may have been first performed many years before.
Film (2013) starring: Douglas Booth, Hailee Steinfeld, Damian Lewis, Laura Morante, Kodi Smit-McPhee, Stellan Skarsgård, Ed Westwick

The Railway Man – Eric Lomax

As a young boy, Eric Lomax was always fascinated with machinery and engineering- more specifically, he was interested in steam trains and railways systems. He would spend hours following and mapping out unique details about particular train lines in his native Scotland, searching for elusive engines and distinguishing between various models. So it is quite ironic that, after joining the Second World War as a Signalman for the Royal Signals unit of the British Army, he was captured by the Japanese and forced to work on the notorious Burma-Siam Railway. Luckily for him (as an officer) he didn’t have to join one of the gruelling work details that physically built the railway- in which over 100,000 people died as a result of poor labour conditions, malnutrition and disease- but his responsibilities as a repairman put him into just as much danger as his fellow POWs.

After their huts at the POW camp were ransacked and searched by the Japanese during an unanticipated inspection, an illegal radio was discovered (which Lomax and his fellow colleagues had created from scrap and stolen parts). Those involved (including Lomax) were accused of contacting civilians and spying, and were sent away to a different camp. Here they were brutally beaten, before being sent on to another place, where they were interrogated and tortured for information by the Japanese equivalent of the Gestapo- the Kempeitai . Lomax, who had previously drawn a map of the Railway and its surrounding lands, seemed to be specifically targeted for his actions. Although they were unable to extract any information, the Japanese decided to imprison Lomax and the other officers at the notorious Outram Road Gaol for anti-Japanese activity. Facing extreme starvation and witnessing horrific acts of cruelty, Lomax suffered throughout the war until he was liberated in late 1945. Even after he returned home, he continued to suffer from nightmares and post-traumatic stress disorder. He found he was unable to talk about his experiences, which only heightened the problem. It wasn’t until he met a woman named Patti that he was able to start the slow recovery process and ease his way back into a relatively normal life. With Patti by his side, and support from a new network of people, he was able to confront his demons, and after fifty years, even meet with one of his Japanese tormentors.

This is a remarkable story, and from all reports, the film is just as harrowing to watch as the book is to read. It may not be the most cheerful of stories, but this is one book/film that you should experience- if not for the historical importance than for the true story of survival and courage that Lomax endured.

Book first published: 1995
Film starring: Colin Firth, Nicole Kidman, Jeremy Irvine, Stellan Skarsgård

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