Saturday, April 5, 2008

Nim's Island

A Greenridge Movie Review

The kids were in various degrees of getting-better-from-a-sniffle yesterday, which meant that we had to miss Track and Field, which meant that they were feeling slightly sorrowful, so I decided to use some movie coupons someone had given us and catch a movie somewhere. We'd originally intended to see Horton Hears A Who, but when I saw a trailer for Nim's Island on the TV, I knew we had to go see this instead. And, no, cough cough, it had nothing to do with the fact that Gerard Butler was dressed up in leather and chaps and looking fetchingly unshorn.

Initially I was a little apprehensive because this film is based on a novel, and I'm one of those types who likes her kids to read the book before seeing the film, but then I remembered The Water Horse. The Water Horse is a truly great kid's novel, written by the truly great Dick King-Smith (here's a post I wrote about the book), and it too was made into a film only last year. We loved the novel version: it was funny, it had charming characters, it had an exciting premise, the parents were largely absent, and the champions of the story were kids - what could be better than that? Then we saw the film. It was okay, but only that. My kids gave it tepid reviews for one reason - the film ignored one of the best characters: Grumble the grandfather. Oh, and they seemed to have lost the sister along the way. It was a bit of a let-down, when all was said and watched. What we'd thrilled to read for five funny, exciting, tangential days (everyone suddenly developed a huge interest in Loch Ness and all things Crusoe) morphed into a cute but ultimately flat viewing experience. All I remember is Ben Chaplin.

After remembering this, I didn't feel quite so bad about not having read Nim's Island. I adore watching movies, and we watch a lot of them, but I hate it when the novel adaptation fails. I'm left itching with indignation the whole time. I think I've even fumed once or twice. I still haven't gotten over seeing the movie adaptation of The Polar Express, which my kids loved, but jeez, it was not anywhere near as enchanting as the book. I still cringe when I hear my eldest sing that stupid hot chocolate song. And don't get me started on Arrowsmith singing under the tree at the end. Ugh ugh ugh. Guess I should have prefaced that with an "Old & Crotchety Alert," eh?

So, we went to see Nim's Island.

The movie opens with a mesmerizing 3D collage of sorts, with lots of waves and whales and boats and a voice over, spoken by the actress who plays Nim (Abigail Breslin). The plot is this: Girl loses adventurous mother, who is swallowed whole by a whale, girl goes to live on island with father, father mourns mother but protects daughter with a fierce love. Now, I haven't read the novel so I can't vouch for any resemblances thus far, but I can tell you that we all sat there in a trance while this was laid out for us. It was everything a kids' movie should be: gorgeously artistic, luminously colourful, fantastical, sentimental, magical, and positively reeking of adventure. And did I mention that the voice over was done by a kid?

Brilliant so far.

After the fantasy sequence we are introduced to Nim's island home, her father (Gerard Butler, with a bit of an overbite - is this what happens when a Scottish actor tries to sound American?) who is distracted by a Quest of his own (nanoplankton!), her assorted island pets, and her really cool methods of travel. Ooh, boy, are they cool. FDPG even gasped at one of them. Out loud. So did I. So did Dominic. Needless to say, we all wanted to move there immediately. I could see myself frolicking in the foam with Gerard Butler, even.

Then, as is usual with these sorts of stories, dad heads out to further his research and leaves the capable Nim at home. Alone. With a book and her pets. And that is where the adventure starts: A surprise wind storm, some brave home repairs undertaken by Nim, a couple of Important Email Exchanges (I have to see if this really happens in the book), the dad in terrible peril, a new and no doubt intended-to-be-funny character (Jodie Foster: Adventure Novelist), some Nasty People with Bad Intentions, some interesting modes of travel, and another storm later and the film wraps up.

I don't want spoil the movie for anyone, but I thought that the movie looked as though it was begun by one person and finished by another - people with vastly different visions of what the film should look like. There are scenes that sparkle: Nim reading a book while the action of the book unfurls around her; underwater swimming sequences. And there are scenes that are embarrassingly formulaic and pedestrian: Jodie Foster as an agoraphobic; fat people acting like stupid fat people; port-a-potties (?). Every so often there are some inspired touches: I loved seeing the novelist's character come to life as her alter ego and there is one intriguing scene where Nim rescues someone from drowning, but ultimately I was vaguely disappointed. But just vaguely. We all really liked it. I suspect it isn't much like the book though. And I won't mention how weird it was hearing U2 blasting out at the end. Well, okay, I will (don't hold back, Sheila, really). It wasn't quite as bad as Arrowsmith, but it was pretty jarring. It didn't match the delicacy of the opening scene in any way, shape or form. I was left wondering what had happened to the person who had created it.


Becky said...

Thanks for the review, Sheila. We only heard about the existence of the movie the other week, after seeing Jodie Foster on Jay Leno and then catching a clip on the news.

We never got to see "The Water Horse" -- it never came to town. So I'll have to get the DVD from the library. We'll probably go see this, only because there are so few good *and* suitable movies for children that come through town to the theater. The best stuff, though, is on TV -- last night we all watched "The Russians Are Coming, The Russians Are Coming". Very funny and some very good lessons!

Heather said... I have to go order the book so that we will be ready when the movie comes out on DVD. I also like us to read the book before the seeing the movie.

You mentioned an interest in Lochness, have your kids seen the movie Lochness? (with Ted Danson) We watched it years ago and I remember it being entertaining.

Do I dare tell you that I saw Aerosmith in concert back in the day? Will that completely change your opinion of me?

Kate said...

Hi Sheila,
Your review got me to thinking about the great Miyazaki. I recently noticed a DVD of his that we've not seen called "Whisper of the Heart". Have you seen this one. If so, any comments?

sheila said...

Becky, I like the sound of The Russians...! I agree with you about the dearth of kids' films, too. We saw clips for Speed Racer, Alvin & the Chipmunks, and something else, and I was struck by the insipidness of them all. I turn into a Grinch with all that noise and maniacal action. I've taken to renting those old Disney films - the ones like Blackbeard's Ghost and The Cat From Outer Space. At least they have multi-syllabic words in with their silliness!

Heather, I haven't seen that movie. I'll look for it. All my kids knew about Loch Ness was that a Haggis Hunt cam was on the shores! Now of course they look for Crusoe. And no, I wouldn't dream of changing my opinion of you! I guess I should have said that I do like Arrowsmith, and I love U2, but hearing them blast out from an otherwise light-hearted kids movie seemed incongruous. They didn't "match," IYKWIM. I felt like someone switched the channel to MTV while I was still watching the Knowledge Network...

Kate, I have seen Whisper of the Heart, and while FDPG and I liked it, the boys thought it was a bit cheesy. It's a very sweet romance. It's one of the more, err, conventional of his films. Now why aren't there more film makers like Miyazaki around? He's SO brilliant. Plus he has strong female characters. FDPG is determined to be just like Nausicaa when she grows up (so do I).

Amanda said...

Thanks for the review. We have been planning to see that movie. Btw... we just rented a dvd called "The Seeker" tonight. I am not sure where I have been - I had never heard of it. I guess it is based on a novel. Anyway, we loved the movie... definitely appeals to the 10 year old (okay, and the 33 year old) appreciation of a fantasy quest.