I must have been picking books to read really well in 2010/2011, because two of the books I decided to read were already being made into films that would later become dramatic successes at the box office just months after I finished reading them. I first became interested in these stories because they were well-loved by people I know and trust for their opinions on such matters. I rarely read reviews when I look for new material — I am a people-to-people review truster and the system has worked quite well thus far.
So, when Water for Elephants and The Help both came out in the theaters, I had every intention of seeing them on the big screen. Time and the ridiculously high ticket price prevented that from actually happening and I have recently watched both films via my long-awaited Netflix arrivals.
Since I reviewed them both on this blog, I thought it would be interesting to think about the movies as well…
I watched Water for Elephants first and it was absolutely captivating. I adored the film rendition. I loved the choice for August, the German actor who I first saw in Inglorious Bastards where he was another perfect villain. Reece Witherspoon was fabulous as usual. But I must say, Robert Pattinson was a bit of a weak link. I thought that he did not convey emotion as well and the connection between his character and Reese’s was also lacking. Overall, I was quite pleased with the film and that is rare when you come to love a book so much. When I read the book, I remember wondering if the whole story was a figment of old Jacob’s (the narrator’s) imagination, as a sort of twisted combination of memories and stories forming within a senile mind. However, the movie lost this bit of plot — so maybe I was alone in this interpretation or the film makers decided they didn’t want to leave that option available. I would definitely recommend this movie to those who have read the book or to those who have not. It was quite good.
The Help did not please me as much as I hoped it would and I can’t quite figure out why. I think that in ways it glossed over the heart of the book — the harsh, unethical, inhumane treatment of African-Americans during that time. Sure, the brutality is referenced. But I think the film spent too much time focusing on the “perfect” appearances of the Junior League crew and Skeeter’s story and an disproportionate time addressing the real story at hand — the maids’ stories. I have read a few reviews that seem to suggest the same thing, like it is a sort of watered down interpretation that will make viewers “feel good” that things are different now…when the film doesn’t even portray the half of it. But, I will leave that to your interpretation. I still love the story, but in this instance, the book is far better and far more meaningful. The movie just feels like a nice story, not the powerful movement that the book propelled.
In summary, the books remain better overall — as usual — but Water for Elephants (the movie) was a wonderful rendition in my opinion. The Help is still a decent movie but I would recommend the book first, and maybe only, if you want to share the importance of the story.