Books to Movies… And Back Again…

When The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey came out in the fall of 2012, I was excited. I had just finished reading the book a few weeks before the movie debuted. It was the opposite case with The Lord of the Rings; I actually watched the movies before I read the books. I didn’t want that with The Hobbit.

I’m usually that guy who points out what did or did not happen in the book when watching a book-movie. Sometimes I’m sort of a snob, especially if it’s a book I really enjoyed. Yet there’s something I’ve come to notice about how I treat the book-movie genre: I’m expecting the producers/writers/directors to follow every bit of every detail to the letter. For one thing, it’d be a ridiculously long movie (perhaps why The Lord of the Rings movies were so long?). For another, even if the book was followed in every detail and was of reasonable length (you know, like no more than ten hours?), it still wouldn’t do the book justice.

Why?

It wouldn’t do the book justice because when one reads a text, one’s imagination is engaged and creates a world no one else could even come close to. That’s why I love reading fiction; because it causes me to create a world no one has ever seen before (maybe God?). Sure, the author sets the scenes, describes the characters, but the exact shapes, sizes, and appearance of everything is totally different through my imagination. Perhaps not far off the mark, but completely different nonetheless.

Another thing that I’ve seen happen when I get all bent out of shape about the movie making alterations to the book is I tend to miss out on the story being told from the movie-writer’s perspective. Think of the Gospels; we all might assume that they’re telling the same story just from a different perspective, but they actually aren’t. Sometimes there are subtle differences and other times there are major differences. But there is no question in my mind that after a good side-by-side comparison, I know that because I read John it doesn’t mean I also read Matthew.

Every time a writer receives a cool story (or really any story) and goes to put it to paper, they change things. They add in characters (like Legolas being in The Hobbit) or completely alter the setting of the story (Blue Like Jazz: Don’s an undergrad living in Reed College’s dorms instead of auditing a few classes). Whatever the change may have been, it was changed for a reason. Either they were short on time, or they’re trying to say something through the change – like Legolas helping to foreshadow The Lord of the Rings or Don the college kid possibly being more relatable to a broader audience.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m still going to seek out the book before I watch the movie. But when it comes time to watch that movie, I think I’d be better off recognizing the differences and trying to figure out the creative purposes of those changes – instead of pretentiously pointing out to my friends that I can read.

Believe it or not, creativity is not limited to any book. Instead, it’s everywhere where a story takes place. We might actually enjoy a little more in life if we listened to the story – even if it bears the same title as our beloved book.

Advertisements

Review: Dan Brown’s Inferno…

Honestly, I don’t like writing reviews. If those who read the reviews read the book first, then they’re fine. But people tend to use reviews like Rotten Tomato for movies or app reviews on iTunes; they’re temperature gauges for a book’s predicted enjoyableness. It’s an indirect way of reading a book by its cover.

Why am I writing one now, then? For one thing, I hope everyone reading this has already read Brown’s latest novel or doesn’t care about it at all. But for another, such a novel deserves a response and not because of its profound literary quality.

In short, I’ve always enjoyed the thrill of Brown’s novels. Picture Indiana Jones in a Jason Bourne-like setting, but with no combat skills and some commitment issues (four novels, four girls – get your act together, Langdon). Sure, these story-lines are unrealistic, but hey, a lot of movies are that way: Star Wars, Star Trek, Lord of the Rings, etc., etc. What makes those movies enjoyable is not only the action, but also the relatable characters.

In Inferno, however, no such relatable characters exist. In writing scripts or novels, the most important aspect is how the characters are developed. How well or not well viewers or readers relate to the characters depends upon how well they’re developed in the story. Dan Brown did not do a great job of this at all.

Harvard Professor Robert Langdon wakes up in a hospital somewhere in Italy. Not even a day before, he was back in Massachusetts preparing for another week of class. Two doctors accompanying Langdon tell him he suffered a head wound from a missed gun shot. One side effect was a small, temporary case of amnesia; he could not remember the previous twenty-four hours. Soon after his short discussion with the doctors, his almost-assassin returns, shoots the male doctor in the chest, and then chases Langdon and Sienna – the female doctor who got Langdon ready quickly and led him on an escape from the hospital – through the next eight or ten chapters.

Langdon attempted calling the U.S. Embassy to receive some help in returning to the U.S., but minutes after his phone call, military-looking personnel arrive to Sienna’s apartment complex (they’re temporary hideout shortly after the hospital). Both Sienna and Langdon realize they were working with the spiky-haired woman who shot Langdon in the head (a graze, really) and who was chasing them through the hospital. Feeling terrified, they fled her apartment complex just as the military-looking squad was charging up the stairs.

To shorten what happens next, they flee to a museum, constantly elude the military squad, accidentally kill the spiky-haired woman from a museum’s attic, figure out they’re supposed to go to Venice based off a portable projection of an altered painting of a scene from Dante’s Inferno, almost totally escape the military personnel, but Langdon gets caught while Sienna runs away free. In Venice, three-quarters of the way through the novel, Langdon discovers everything he had believed up to that point had been lies.

Sienna secretly worked for the same agency that Vayentha, the spiky-haired chick, had worked for prior to her death. He learned that Vayentha was also an actress of sorts; she faked many assassinations to help “protect” various clients the agency was hired to protect. So, Langdon was not actually shot, was never in a hospital, never received real stitches, and he was not running from anyone trying to kill him because no one was trying to kill him. The military personnel was an elite crisis-averting squad trained in containing potential health crises so that few, if any, victims died. They were chasing Langdon because he had been working with them only hours before he woke up in the “hospital.”

Not only is this a classic, wool-over-the-eyes trick, but what never happens is any sort of real character development. Everyone up until Venice is not who they seem to be – not even Langdon. What’s worse is that there is never a relatable moment from any of the characters. Their fear, worry, and pain is all a facade; it’s all part of a grand scheme orchestrated by this top-secret agency who hired Sienna and Vayentha. The elite, military-looking squad actually worked for the World Health Organization.

Any truth that is discovered is in Venice. The World Health Organization tells Langdon they’re tracking down a potential plague developed by a genius biologist who also made incredible advancements in technology. He was also in love with Sienna. This top-secret agency reveals to both Langdon and the WHO that they were responsible for helping the bio-terrorist – their client – achieve his goals, even though he had committed suicide several days prior. Having a major change of conscience, this top-secret agency decides to assist the WHO in tracking down whatever plague this genius biologist had created.

Each character suddenly becomes terrified of this plague and readers are led to believe that if they don’t find what they need to find, they’re all going to die (because this biologist was all about solving
the global population problem by “thinning the herd”). When they finally arrive to where this plague, contained in a slowly-dissolving plastic baggy, was located, they find it was gone. At the moment of discovery, only Langdon and the squadron leader were there. Suddenly someone emerges from the darkness, knocks over Langdon, and flees.

Langdon chases this person all the way to a dock where many speedboats are anchored. However, this person is too quick; he/she hopped in a boat and drove away before Langdon ever had a chance of catching them. Yet, as he stands there on the dock, he can hear the boat idling out on the night-covered lake (or river or ocean, I can’t remember). Moments later, the boat turns back, pulls up to the dock, and shuts off the engine. It’s Sienna. After discussing trust for several moments, Langdon hugs Sienna and says, “You can trust me.”

What Sienna discovered and then revealed to everyone was that this “plague” had already been dispersed. The slowly-dissolving baggy had dissolved a week before Langdon ever even reached Italy. Everyone had already been infected with it. However, Sienna reveals the most peculiar thing about this “plague”; it’s actually a viral “disease” with a genetic code that would, over a short amount of time, render one-third of the world’s population unable to birth children. Global population would be thinned not by some major, catastrophic event, but by a slowly-developed disability to bring future generations into the world.

Only a few chapters later, there are some more discussions with Sienna – who has a 208 IQ – about trust and she winds up joining the leader of the WHO to discuss possible plans to counter this genetic problem. And that’s it. Langdon goes back to Harvard after kissing Sienna on the lips and the novel ends.

To describe Inferno: incredibly anti-climactic. To describe the characters and their emotions/relationships: forced. Having read it, though, I can now see how The Da Vinci Code, Angels and Demons, and The Lost Symbol (and even Deception Point and Digital Fortress – Brown’s two other, non-Langdon novels) were all almost the exact same way. I think I was too distracted by the controversial things Dan Brown had said via fiction about Christianity – what actually gave his novels their popularity.

When I finished Inferno and posted my progress on Goodreads, a wonderful app that helps track all the books you’ve read or want to read, I gave it two out of five stars. Why did I rate it two stars as opposed to one? Because in my creative writing classes, we learned to evaluate books by what does work and what doesn’t work. Having listed my major problems with Inferno, I have to say that what Brown was attempting at would have been a great story. Yet it would have required far fewer words and more time spent developing each of the main characters – not easy to do when the amount of time elapsed in one’s story line, as in Inferno, is barely more than a day or two (yes, there were flashbacks, but the “present” story was not long at all).

All in all Inferno is a waste of time. I’ve always admired Brown’s usage of history and symbolism (however misleading he has been at times), but this one fell quite short. Without relatable characters – however believable or unbelievable they may be – one cannot have a compelling novel. I didn’t feel Langdon’s whatever it was he was going through or Sienna’s insecurities when it came to trusting people or especially their affectionate feelings toward one another. It all felt told rather than shown to me.

One novel I’m still excited about – and soon to read – is Khaled Hosseini’s And the Mountains Echoed. He’s the author of The Kite Runner and A Thousand Splendid Suns – two novels I thoroughly enjoyed reading. Not sure if I’m going to write a review for that one, though; I’ll just have to see how it goes.

What’d you think?

For those who read Brown’s Inferno, what were your thoughts and feelings as you read? Did you enjoy the novel? Do you think I missed something important?

A Sword’s Power…

On Monday I begin my Italian Long Sword class. You know, like Aragorn’s sword from Lord of the Rings? Yeah, I get to learn how to use one of those. I happen to have an Excalibur King Arthur sword hanging out in my closet. I cannot tell you how long ago it all started, but something about the long sword has always ignited my imagination.

When I was younger, like in the fifth grade or so, I started reading Brian Jacques’ Redwall series, but I didn’t start with Redwall; I started with Martin the Warrior. And in that novel you learn how Martin’s sword – the sword of Redwall Abbey (the Warrior’s sword) – came into the scene.

To summarize, Martin is a teenage warrior mouse captured by Badrang the Tyrant and enslaved within his fortress. Martin’s first sign of resistance appears when an elderly mouse is being whipped repeatedly because she wasn’t doing her work. After several lashes, the whip came back again, but didn’t lash the elderly mouse; Martin had seized it in his little teenage paw. He beat down that slave driver and proceeded to take on anyone else that came his way, which ultimately ended with him being hung up between two poles by his wrists and ankles on the western wall of Badrang’s fortress so that he’d get a full dose of the coastal storm heading their way. Martin would eventually find a way to escape, raise an army, and return to bring down the fortress and retrieve the one thing Badrang had stolen from him: his father’s sword.

For almost any fifth grade boy, a story like this sends the imagination wild. I even named many of my Lego guys after the characters I had read about in the Redwall series. There’s something about the medieval setting that appeals to me.

A little over a year ago, I took an Old English class wherein we had learned the Old English Runes; characters that J.R.R. Tolkien played around with and created the characters for Elvish – the language he created (he was actually a big time scholar for Old English nerds, like myself). In fact, there’s an addition of The Hobbit that has the title written in Old English Runes. I found a copy at Barnes & Noble and almost bought it just because I could read the Old English. At one point in that term, I was good enough at reading the writing and speaking the language that I could say entire sentences in Old English. By now it’s all gone, but I kept the book we studied from and all my notes; I could very easily pick it back up if I wanted to.

The only reason I write all this out is sometimes it’s just good to trace your passions. My passion for literature began with Martin the Warrior; the first book I had ever read the entire way through. I remember being somewhat embarrassed by it that I had tried to read it in secret; I didn’t want my classmates to find out and mock me – even though many of them would read Redwall later in the school year.

I was side-tracked from this passion for a long time. The allure of sports and athletic success seemed more valuable in the world’s eyes and I was at an age when I wanted people to notice me, so I ultimately joined up. Don’t get me wrong, I loved playing all the sports I did, but I loved even more the combination of words, the flow of sentences, and the rhythm of stories. Nothing has ever moved my heart like a good story.

When I started following Jesus – like actually following Jesus, not just showing up to church – I was immediately drawn to the power of the words in Scripture. Not because I was told they were holy or perfect or God’s words, but because they told beautiful stories. And when I learned that Jesus is described as the “Author and Perfecter of our faith,” I was undone.

I’ve gotten plenty of strange looks from people when they see the sword sitting in my close or in my room and many have asked, “Why?” I couldn’t really tell them then because I couldn’t really articulate why. There’s something behind certain symbols that requires no words at all; if you’re moved by something in a certain way, you know full well why and how a thousand different things blend together to give you those emotions and that love for that something, but you can’t really explain it. You’d be there all day giving your life story.

It’s this deep passion and love of the written word and the image of a sword that leads me to an idea I had about a week ago. It’s not going to make sense to many people, but I was reading my Bible one night while following along with a blog-conversation on Near Emmaus and all of a sudden, I wanted more out of it.

I wanted to see how these words – words that have given us life two thousand years after their inscription – were pieced together. I want to know what was at stake for these men and women who moved about many times in secret to preserve this text for us, though they would never have even guessed that these words would last this long. In a million guesses, they would not have guessed how the Bible came to be in today’s time. But they preserved it as though their lives depended upon it. And I look at that history and what they were willing to sacrifice to keep the movement of God, not the movement of Christianity or Catholicism or whatever worldly agenda we’ve given it, but the movement of God alive, and I can only think of one sentence; I want in. I want to be a part of that history.

What do I mean by all of this? Well, I’ve had my eye on Biblical studies programs around Oregon for the last few days, trying to pick out which one is a good one, which one could really teach me how that sword of God was pieced together and preserved for all these years. I don’t know if it’s perfect and I know the version we have today is something much different than what was originally written, but that doesn’t mean it’s any less powerful. That doesn’t mean God’s Spirit isn’t embedded within it.

Seminaries may not be able to provide what my heart is craving, but perhaps it’s a starting point. No matter where I decide to go after college, I know there are still many, many enslaved by a tyrant. And I know, like Martin the Warrior did facing Badrang who had thousands enslaved behind him, that I want to do something about it.

Blessed Are The Merciful…

Ever since seeing a few pictures of the earthquake in Haiti, I’ve been moved by the selfless responses several nations have made. I was browsing one of John Piper’s blogs and he had posted several photos of the devastation. A few of those photos, however, were of several medical and search and rescue teams from different countries. Venezuela, Taiwan, Great Britain, and the U.S. were several of the teams depicted. The first thing that came to mind was the scene in Lord of the Rings: Return of the King when Gondor is on the brink of falling to Lord Sauron’s army, but then a trumpet sounds at the arrival of King Théoden and his six thousand Rohirrim.

When I first watched the movie, I had seriously thought the kingdom of Gondor was about to fail – I had completely forgotten about the Riders of Rohan gathering to assist their Gondor allies. That trumpet, sounding in the thickest of the battle’s darkness, was a joyful sound. This, I feel, is how the church of Christ is supposed to operate in this broken world.

Danny’s message this morning discussed through eight verses at the beginning of Matthew 5, but primarily focused on verse 7; “Blessed are the merciful, for they shall receive mercy.” What came to his mind was the devastation that Haiti suffered in wake of the massive earthquake they experienced. He had been watching the concert “Hope for Haiti,” or something like that, and had donated some money towards the relief effort of the Haitian people. The point of his message, though, was that God calls us to do something more than merely giving money to good organizations.

I can’t remember much else of what Danny was talking about because I got lost in all the verses talking about living sacrificial lives for God’s kingdom. There are countless passages in Scripture calling for the strong to help the weak. “Blessed is he who is generous to the poor,” Proverbs 14:21; “Whoever is generous to the poor lends to the Lord,” Proverbs 19:17; “Whoever closes his ear to the cry of the poor will himself call out and not be answered,” Proverbs 21:13; “Whoever gives to the poor will not want, but he who hides his eyes will get many a curse,” Proverbs 28:27; “I appeal to you therefore, brothers, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship,” Romans 12:1; “Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good,” Romans 12:21; and finally, “For if we live, we live to the Lord, and if we die, we die to the Lord,” Romans 14:8.

Many skeptics of Christianity ask, “If God is so good, then why does He allow such wickedness, such devastating events like Haitian earthquakes, Thai tsunamis, New Orleans hurricanes, and African genocide to happen?” Their point is valid. It does not make much sense that a good God would allow such disastrous and evil events to happen without any resistance. But I think the answer rests within Romans 12:21; not letting ourselves be overcome by the evil within this world, but rather overcoming that evil with good. What does that good look like? Well, I believe it’s selflessly helping people, our neighbors, in need.

I honestly don’t mean to sound hypocritical because I find it vastly outside of my power to physically go to Haiti to help, but it’d definitely be cool if I could. Danny’s message, though, didn’t specify Haiti only; he talked about assisting those in need in general. A typical thing for Americans to do, as Danny explained, is to set ourselves up nice and comfortably with retirement and 401k plans that we won’t be able to touch until we’ve actually retired. But Jesus calls for a different kind of living.

Our comfort is supposed to reside within Him, not in our money. Therefore it is very much on my heart to give what I can to help those in need – either the homeless in the Caribbean or the homeless in downtown Eugene. Heck, it doesn’t even need to be the homeless; it could just be those who struggle with having a sufficient income to provide for themselves and their families. It could mean simply encouraging those who are discouraged or visiting the lonely and sick. The selfless sacrifice to which Christ calls us is not limited to one specific way. He never said to give donations to the Red Cross or other organizations like it. He never told us we had to make sure that helping those in need aligned with our days off or our free time. He never said that we should just stick to giving our ten percent. He said the merciful shall one day receive mercy; regardless if they felt like being merciful.

Throughout most of my life I’ve been the one in need. When my mother – misled by the temptations of drugs – abandoned us to the mercy of the Child Services department, God stepped in and compelled my grandfather to take care of us. When he became incapable of supporting my collegiate ambitions, God provided through financial aid. And when my biological dad left me fatherless, God stepped in through my grandfather and several other father-figures to let me know I was (and still am) His son. If you really consider all the things God has done for you in your life, you begin to realize that we are all people very much in need. Maybe our needs differ between each other, but we’re all needy nonetheless.

The horn of Rohan sounding in the distance, stilling the cold hearts of the evil orcs, could sound for the hopeless, the helpless, the weak, the poor, the sick, the lonely, the cold and naked in our time, but only if we – those who have been called to be living sacrifices – be the merciful. Danny also pointed out one key element that tends to hold us back: The world’s rejection. Taking the time, money, and effort out of our lives to help those in need might actually receive negative, destructive criticism from the world. Reason might turn against us and convince us to pull away from the selfless-sacrifice ideas and commit to our own lives. “Go get yours,” some might say and we might believe them. But that is part of the battle.

When Jesus says that those who wish to follow Him must pick up their crosses daily, He doesn’t allow room for the “occasional” cross-bearer. He doesn’t say to “pick up your crosses whenever you feel comfortable” or “whenever you have a surplus of funds or energy or time”; He says “daily,” regardless of our attitudes. Again, I’d love to stop school, fly to Haiti and start helping those in dire need. But I don’t have to; there are many right around me who could use some help. I don’t have much money, but I do have words that could help inspire or encourage the downtrodden. The Samaritan who helped the man going to Jericho from Jerusalem used wisdom in what he could give. He didn’t give up everything he owned for this man; he gave up what the man needed. Then Jesus says, “You go and do likewise.”

The world will constantly – either through natural disasters or through the Devil’s wickedness – pour out evil. We, as the living sacrifices that we’re called to be, must be the out-pouring of good; the counter-balance to evil. It’s a great challenge to me and my comfortable nature, but that’s just it: it’s not supposed to be comfortable. In the second movie of The Lord of the Rings trilogy, The Two Towers, Aragorn and Legolas get into an argument. Legolas does not see any hope in winning the battle against ten thousand orcs with just three hundred men. He said that they will die there in Helm’s Deep. “Then I will die as one of them!” Aragorn replied.

Danny mentioned that we might never experience the blessings that the merciful are supposed to receive for being merciful, but that shouldn’t hinder us from sacrificing ourselves anyway. Aragorn fought as a living sacrifice just to give the people around him a fighting chance at living. Jesus fought as a living sacrifice just so it might be possible for the needy – people like you and me – to experience this thing called freedom. Perhaps it’s time for the church, God’s children, to “do likewise.” Perhaps it’s time for the church to live out the command from Luke 6:36; “Be merciful, even as your Father is merciful.”

2009–>2010…

Several weeks ago, I wrote a blog about my last year’s list of twenty-two things I hoped to do throughout the year. In the blog I explained that I didn’t like to call it a New Year’s resolution because I feel it would limit everything that I’d aspire to do down to one year. But although I don’t like calling it a New Year’s resolution, I do think New Year’s Day is a good day to take stock of what you excelled in and what you failed at throughout the previous year. It’s good to evaluate our strengths and weaknesses at the end of each year and the beginning of the next in order to improve our livelihoods. One thing I think should be adjusted to the concept of New Year’s resolutions, though, is the whole “New Year” part. Instead of building a list for this next year and hoping I stick to it between January and December, I think it’s probably best to construct a New Life Resolution.

Paul writes in 2 Corinthians that “if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away; behold the new has come,” (5:17). And although I believe the promise is true, that we’ve been given new lives, I think it’s the hardest thing to live up to. 2009 has taught me that living in accordance to Jesus’ ways is impossible on my own. Perhaps one day after I’ve died I’ll be made complete, but until that day comes, I will always have some taint of the flesh living within me. There will always be a part of me that wants to sin, that wants to do wrong, and that wants to rebel against God. What good does this new life do if there is always that sin living within me? Well, it has granted us the ability to do something we could have never done apart from Christ: fight.

I think it’s my biggest tendency as a Christian to lose sight of the spiritual war. I get thrown off track with the simplest distractions such as TV, internet, or just daily life. And in those moments of distraction, temptations often emerge. It is much easier to withstand those temptations, to resist them, when I’m living in pursuit of God’s ways. This was a hard learned lesson this past year. Time and time again I found myself conducting the same sinful habits of lust, holding grudges, casting judgment, and placing myself above others. The root issue was not being caught off guard, being tricked by the Devil, or anything provoked by accident. Every single time I sinned was because I chose to sin. But as 2009 fades and 2010 dawns, I realize I still have that ability to fight.

No matter how many times I’ve sinned, no matter how many times I’ve dropped the ball, and no matter how many times I’ve fallen short, Christ is still there to pick me back up. This means He’s still hoping I continue to fight. In his second letter to Timothy, Paul asks him to “share in suffering as a good soldier of Christ Jesus,” (2:3). Unlike my human nature, a soldier is asked to fight even when he or she doesn’t want to. When the battle heats up and things get deadly, my human nature compels me to flee. But a soldier stays, a soldier endures, a soldier fights. When he doesn’t feel like it, when he isn’t in the right mood, when he’s been having a rough week, when people have been irritating him, a soldier continues to press on. If there is one thing I’d like to add to the list of my New Life resolution, it’d be to fight regardless of how I feel.

When I consider all the things I love in this world, all the things I care most about, they’re things that I have to work hard and struggle for: good grades, healthy friendships, good health, jobs, etc. I’m sure there’ll be others that I come across as life goes on, like a healthy relationship with my spouse, but these are the ones I’ve known. And these all are assuming freedom that has been fought for by others. It seems that even though I care about having a Godly reputation, upholding Jesus’ moral purity, I still disregard it as something I need to fight for. I know there’s a spiritual war, I know I’m supposed to fight, but with the way I’ve lived my life, it seems as though I don’t care at all. When the bullets come whizzing by my head, it seems like I care only about ducking down behind my sandbag. But no battle can be won if no one fights.

I cannot sit here and say that 2010 will be much better than 2009 because I don’t know what’s going to happen. But I can say that I desire, more than anything, to fight. Even if I fall a hundred more times than I did this past year, I’d be happy knowing I fought harder. I’d be happy knowing the wounds I acquire did not come from sitting behind my safe firewall but rather from charging back against the temptations and trials. There is a quote from Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers that I think is my favorite quote. King Théoden was so overwrought with shock that his kingdom was falling to their enemy that he asked Aragorn, “What can men do against such reckless hate?” Aragorn’s reply, “Ride out and meet them.” I cannot think of a better way to approach this new year; not with timidity, not with shame, not with fear, not with any kind of anxiety, but rather with the hope of overcoming evil with good.

Happy New Year.