I’m feeling a bit like a movie grouch today, what with my sour review of Percy Jackson and all. But while sitting through a series of previews yesterday, we watched the trailer for the upcoming Diary of a Wimpy Kid movie. Now, here is another series of books that my sons adore being made into a movie. Good enough. These days, we expect popular books to make the shift to the big screen.
But here is my question: why in the world didn’t they transform Wimpy Kid into a movie as a comic or cartoon or whatever animation term you want to use? Why turn one of the book’s most charming elements — its simple and delightful artwork of Greg and his family and friends — into live action? Sure, the young actors seem cute enough, and they might even find the sweet spot with Jeff Kinney’s humor (I hope so, since I surely will have to sit through it with my sons). But it seems to me that this is a flaw in the process of taking a graphic novel into the realm of the visual.
It reminds me of how Persepolis made the powerful transition from graphic novel to movie. Marjane Satrapi, who wrote and illustrated the books, also directed the movie and she successfully (I would say) shifted her story to the screen by keeping the story centered as animation. Granted, the tone of the stories are completely different. But she has showed us the way.
So, it can be done.
I admit: I am disappointed in Kinney here for not forcing the issue of animation for his books (although, who knows what factors go into such decisions and he may not have had a voice in the matter once he sold the rights, or he may not have wanted to spend the time overseeing such a production, or whatever … so, I forgive you, Jeff Kinney.)
I took my older boys to see Percy Jackson and the Olympians yesterday (better known as The Lightning Thief in our house, for the first book by Rick Riordan) and I came away disappointed. Yeah, I know. Movies from books will do that to you. And director Chris Columbus has created a popcorn event here with Percy Jackson and the Olympians. It’s a good flick for the drive-in.
But what is most disappointing is that Columbus didn’t have to do what he did in creating the movie from the book. They could have stayed true to the book and had a killer movie on their hands that went deeper with characters, deeper with the story, and deeper with the Greek mythology that seeps through the pores of Riordan’s books.
Here are some things that stood out for me after the movie:
The monsters are pretty incredible, except for Medusa. I don’t know. She didn’t seem fierce enough for my tastes, given who she is, but the other creatures were pretty scary and a good use of computer graphics. Uma Thurman as Medusa was a good choice, but I was disappointed. Hades in his full glory, in particular, was nasty as was the Fury who first attacks Percy. The kid sitting next to me almost jumped into his mom’s lap when the Fury made its appearance.
One of the joys of the book is that Percy only slowly comes to understand who his father is (Poseidon) through actions and events that happen to him. The film dispenses with all that and hammers the viewer over the head with the fact that Poseidon is Percy’s father. Talk about taking the mystery out of a whole section of the story and not allowing the viewer to have to think. So much for foreshadowing.
Ares, the God of War, and a central figure in the theft of the Lighting Bolt is nowhere to be found in the movie. Not a mention. In the book, when Percy battles Areas, and wins, it’s a moment of triumph and power for the young demigod. We see the potential of Percy in that moment (and also, we learn the truth about the theft of the bolt through Ares). That seems like a pretty significant omission, except …
No mention of the Titans, Kronos or Tartarus either, and the whole concept of the book is that the lightning bolt has been stolen from Zeus to start a war between the gods that will allow Kronos and his kin to come back together (they were chopped to bits by the Olympians and tossed into Tartarus) and overthrow the Olympian gods. This is such an incredible omission of the story that I still can’t believe it. How could you leave out this central part of the story tht underlies, well, everything? And why would you? If they plan on making movies of the other books in the series, this emergence of the Titans lays the groundwork for future stories. My gosh.
I liked the character of Annabeth a whole lot better in the book than in the movie. Sure, the actress is cute and all that, but in the book, she is a formidable foil for Percy, and their banter (easily transferred to the screen, I would think — what, not one “seaweed brain” comment?) is fun to read. I guess I am just glad that Annabeth and Percy don’t kiss, although they clearly have the hots for each other (did I mention that they bumped up the age level of the characters, too? Percy is no sixth grader in the movie.)
I also can’t fathom the omission of the Oracle of Delphi in the movie. The prophesy is what drives Percy forward on his quest and what makes him think twice about everything he does. In the movie, he just decides he is going to head out and find his mom, and goes. In the book, the prophesy opens the doors to the quest and its echo is part of the narrative of action. It’s a personal journey in the movie as opposed to an Epic Quest.
They moved a scene from the St. Louis Arch (a classic moment in the book) to Nashville. Huh? Was it too hard to construct a scene at the Arch?
I really do love the character of Percy in the book. He is funny, full of spunk, recognizable to any sixth grader, and his hubris is a character trait that my students learn to track throughout the story. His snubbing of the gods in the book is what drives the story in different directions (such as, mailing off the head of Medusa to Zeus with a little note of love from Percy Jackson). None of that in the movie. While the actor playing Percy did a decent job, I missed the depth of the book character. I didn’t find myself cheering Percy on in the movie so much as I did in the book.
Last thing. Mrs. Dodds is the Fury that first attacks Percy. In the book, she is Percy’s math teacher. In the movie, Mrs. Dodds is the English teacher. An English teacher? Whoever heard of a demon English teacher? (Kevin says from his perch as an English teacher)
Next week, we take our entire sixth grade class to the movie, as we read the novel as part of our curriculum (with emphasis on Greek Mythology). I’ll be interested to see what they think. I am sure that, like my own sons, they will enjoy the spectacle of the movie and get a head rush from the action. But will they see the holes in the story? Will they care?
As part of our unit around descriptive writing, we do something called the Monster Exchange. There are variations of this project all around (including some cool online sites) but we keep it non-techie because I have four classes with about 80 students. We have plenty of ways to exchange our creatures and writing.
Basically, students create a monster on paper and then write a one paragraph story with descriptive language. On the day of the Monster Exchange, I hang all of the monsters — and some decoys — around my room, and students get a story from another student from another class. Their job is to use the descriptive writing to find the monster on the wall. (I assign numbers to each piece of writing and a master list of monster names and numbers).
Then, they go back and write their own reflections on the experience (Questions: what words did the writer use that made it easy to find the monster, what made it difficult and what advice would they give to this writer …)
It turned out that we had our exchange yesterday, just before Halloween, and that was a nice way to end the week. After students found their first Monster and reflected on it, they rushed up to me to get another story, and another, and another. They were really jazzed up about it. I’ve done this project for a number of years, and it is a great way to talk about descriptive writing in a fun way, and it gets them up and moving around.
Plus, I re-use all of their monsters later on for a project around The Lightning Thief novel, where they create their own Heroic Journey using Google Maps. The creatures they encounter are … the Monsters from the Monster Exchange (now, I have a bank of two years’ worth of monster, which is even better.)
Check out this Animoto video of this year’s crop of strange creatures:
Most teachers have a Dream Project for their students at the start of the year. It can be a valuable way to work closely with our new students and get to know them better. We find out a lot about a young person by their aspirations. Mine is a digital story called Dream Scenes and we finally … finally finished the digital stories up yesterday.
They are fantastic stories and I am impressed by not only the dreams, but also the way they quickly adapted to technology they have never used before — Photostory. And most have never used Paint for a real art project. Only a handful have ever recorded their voice.
There were many mini-lessons along the way but also, I actively encouraged students helping each other and once again, I am always moved by how much they are willing to share what they have discovered, even to people outside of their friend networks.
I’m going to share a few Dream Scenes over the next few days. Enjoy!
As part of a new network adventure called iAnthology (for National Writing Project teachers in the New England/New York area), we are hoping that teachers will share their writing. Of all forms. Including digital compositions.
This morning, I tried my hand at using some photos of a tree at our school as a metaphor for watching my students grow and change over the course of the year.
Does the metaphor work?
Here is the first of three songs that my friend, John, and I have been practicing for a local open mic night. This one — called Katrina Blows In — was written in the aftermath of the hurricane and I performed it at huge fundraising concert that my school put on to support survivors. I was trying to get at a first-person narrative of someone stuck up on the roof.
I’ll share the other two videos in the coming days.
Mark Twain arrived home this week, safe and sound inside an envelope. He is part of a group of Writer figurines making their way around the country by visiting various Summer Institutes of the National Writing Project. We’ve packaged the concept as a spy story, in which The Writers have been instructed by President Obama to investigate the National Writing Project and report back. The reporting has been done at a Ning site for technology-minded folks within the NWP.
What I’ve been doing, other than overseeing The Writers’ various journeys, is creating little stopmotion movies to keep the concept fresh and to poke fun at The Writers. Yesterday, I gave Twain his own feature, arriving home in one of my son’s Pirate Ships, floating along the blue waters of one of our futon couches. Meanwhile, we still have no word on the whereabouts of Edgar Allen Poe, who seems to have disappeared in the US Mail system.
I decided to try something a little different with this movie, using ComicLife to create the dialogue on images and then mixing up images and video. It was tricky and I am not sure I kept enough time for the reading of the lines. Let me know. I can always go back and re-edit, if necessary.
If you want to see the other segments of The Writers, go: First here and then here and then here. That should bring you up to speed.
One of my neighbors — a high school student who sometimes babysits for us — and his friends recently won a top prize in a competition with the National Math and Science Initiative for the music video they created that celebrates math and science, in a goofy geeky way. I get a kick out it, and they did a fine job with the production.
(This is part of the Slice of Life project)
This is a slice, a few days removed, as I have finished up the Quidditch video project that we shot with kids last week. The idea here is to begin to share our game of Quidditch with other schools and to celebrate playing the game for 10 years at our school. This project was fun to edit, if a bit time-consuming, but I like the final product. I realized early on that the video footage of the kids playing the game was too hectic to really understand from an outsider’s standpoint, so I moved to use still shots with the voice-over from the book.
Eventually, this will find a home at our school website, with written explanations to go along with the video.