23 Jan 2012
Book or film?
Jemimah and I went to see Arrietty, the new Ghibli animated adaptation of Mary Norton's The Borrowers, last week. We both thought it was delightful, leaping straight into our list of favourites, and we thoroughly recommend you see it.
Before you do, though, you need to know that the film is an adaptation of the books, not a faithful retelling. Mostly it tells the story of the first book, where the tiny Clock family, Arrietty, Pod and Homily, are forced to move their home from beneath the floor boards of an English manor after Arrietty is discovered by 'human beans'. In the film, The Boy is a Japanese lad named Sho, who comes to stay with his great-aunt, Sadako, whist he awaits potentially fatal heart surgery. Sadako's maid Haru, becomes suspicious about the existence of the little people after hearing a story that Sadako tells Sho one evening and decides to capture them, resulting in Arrietty and her family having left the only home they have ever known.
The Clocks are helped by Spiller, a boy who is only introduced in the second of Mary Norton's books, thus amalgamating the two books into one.
We had already read The Borrowers books prior to seeing the film, and the differences in plot did not worry us at all.
Which brings me to the film first versus book first issue. What is your opinion? Film or book first? Do you feel strongly one way or the other?
Certainly, having read the books, we were dying to see the film. On the other hand, I think if you see the film first, you'll be excited to read the books to get more of the adventures of these delightful diminutive people called Borrowers. It works both ways, I think.
Some people really, really, lose sleep over this one. Not me, though, to be honest.
In the week between Christmas and New Year, Mr Peaceful Day and went to see War Horse. We had been given Gold Class tickets by my brother and sister-in-law, and I was very excited. If you could have seen me through the wall that afternoon, you would have seen me hunkered down by the air-con, speed-reading Michael Morpungo's wonderful book before I saw the film. (I know that many of you would have wanted me too, and I didn't want to disappoint you. Honest.) By the time I sat in the Gold Class cinema, cocktails by my side, I felt like I had read a spoiler. There was no tension in the film, because I knew the plot, and I knew what happened in the end. So disappointing. For this reason alone, Mr PD enjoyed this movie much more than I did.
And so sometimes is is nice to be surprised by the plot of a film.
On the other hand, sometimes it is nice to let your imagination do the work first. Charlotte Mason believed strongly in helping children to develop a clear mental picture and in developing the powers of imagination. She speaks of allowing the child to create illustrations in his mind based on what he hears.
She, I feel sure, would firmly advocate seeing a film first. In reading a book first, without the accompanied imagery, your imagination creates something uniquely its own, different from that of other readers - and often of the author himself. When you see the story on the screen, you may see your imagination brought to life in a wonderful way, but conversely you may be angry because the screen writer 'got it wrong'. There is nothing nicer that when he 'gets it right' though.
Arrietty's borrowers don't look like Jemimah and I imagine them, but that's because they're anime characters, and...ehem...well...that's what they look like. Anime characters. Pretty ones, though. The English manor house is rather Japanese also. Does that ruin the film? Not for us, it didn't.
Sometimes it is better to have the detail that you get in a book before you see the film. Sometimes it is not. Memoirs of a Geisha is a case for the former. I think it would have been really difficult to follow that plot without having read the book first. On the other hand, it is a rare film that is able to do justice to a much loved friend of literature. Often your favourite character ends up on the cutting room floor. What we end up with is the Director's choice, and if it doesn't match with your mental image then you quite possibly won't enjoy the film. If you expect Arrietty to be The Borrowers then you will be disappointed. It is a Japanese adaptation of the books. That is all.
Seeing a movie can be a wonderful experience, and as technology improves, then film is likely to get better and better. It would be a shame if by requiring a reading before every film that you will never be surprised by a plot.
In our Charlotte Mason-esque peaceful home we attempt to read the book before seeing the film, but if we don't it's not an indictable offence, and so far the AO police have not come to drag us away. We saw the first two Narnia films before we saw the films, but we saw the movie version of The Voyage of the Dawn Treader before we read the book. It didn't destroy the book at all, although I think we would have understood the film better with C S Lewis's detail first. For us, the development of imagination, the creation of clear mental pictures using living books is paramount, but the odd movie version of a story can be pretty good as well. In an ideal world, maybe...
What do you think? Is this an area that you are strict about, or are you pretty easy going like me? What's the rule in your home?
Either way, do go and see Arrietty. It's magical. Even if you need to read the books before you go.