Sunday, January 4, 2015

Books vs. Movies... That Age Old Debate

  My wife and I had a rare night out with some friends this past week.  We got to see the film version of Laura Hillenbrand's fantastic work, Unbroken.  I read Unbroken, over the summer and it made my top 5 list of books over the summer out of the 25 or so I read.  Admittedly, I enjoyed the movie version of Unbroken, although I have to say that the movie certainly does not measure up to the book.

   Although the movie itself clocks in at 137 minutes, in that 2 hour plus span, it fails to plumb the depths of the original work on several accounts.  At it's core, Unbroken is a tale of redemption, but in watching the opening scenes of Louis Zamperini's life, it paints him as a typical kid who gets himself in some minor spots of trouble; not as the youth tottering on the edge of reform school portrayed in the book who has his life literally saved by his brother's insistence that he join the school track team.

   The film version of the book also inadequately captures the tension and fears of bomber pilots hopscotching between various island outposts on bombing runs in the South Pacific.  There is no footage of the looming temptation pilots shot down in the ocean faced to attempt to quench their thirst in vain by drinking salt water.  There are also only a few shark attacks in the script, and the movie does not capture the desperation of being shot down literally thousands of miles from the nearest atoll without food.

   Even the main relationship of the film between Zamperini and the Japanese prison guard Watanabe receives short shrift.  While in the book, "the Bird" as Watanabe is known, literally seems to be following Zamperini from prison camp to prison camp across the South Pacific, the movie features only 2 occasions where the are in the same camp at the same time.  This fact somewhat limits the scope of the desparation Zamperini must have felt thinking he was finally rid of his tormentor the Bird only to seem him again and again.

   Director Angelina Jolie also cuts the movie short without addressing what life was like after Louis Zamperini returned home.  There seems to be a suggestion that he returned home and lived happily ever after. According to the book, those first few years back in the United States were anything but fairy tale, since Louis dealt with alcoholism and the scars of war through nightmares and other traumas.  Jolie may have been concerned about having to include a religious element in the story-since Zamperini's life changed after attending a Billy Graham crusade in the late 1940's.  If Jolie had chosen to include these details in the script, it would have only added more power to the film.

   Inspite of its deficiencies and glossing over of some of the important details of Zamperini's story, Unbroken is still a movie worth seeing. I was struck by the fact that my wife and I were the youngest by at least a decade of the partons in the theater that day.  Unbroken is a movie that the younger generation needs to see.

  Albeit incompletely, the film Unbroken still tells the story of a true American hero.   It is my hope that more of the teenage students I teach will go see the movie Unbroken.  Hopefully along the way, they will be inspired to wander back to the library to get the rest of this great story by checking out the book version of Unbroken!