Saturday, November 30, 2013

Books to Movies: The Hunger Games: Catching Fire

Adam C. Zern opines on the film adaptation of Catching Fire:

"Watching an excellent adaptation of a book play out before my eyes is one of my favorite things.  Catching Fire, the second book in The Hunger Games trilogy, was a fine and entertaining book, but its film adaptation has successfully surpassed it in almost every way.  The Hunger Games: Catching Fire is a great film and is a perfect example of how a film adaptation of a book can be accomplished.

First off, the filmmakers reveal very early on in the Catching Fire film what the main conflict of The Hunger Games trilogy is, and it's not Katniss and her vacillating feelings of love.  Katniss acts as the catalyst for the rebellion against The Capitol and that is exactly what the Catching Fire film focuses on, even if it's done in the shadows—'moves and counter-moves.'  Katniss's first-person perspective in The Hunger Games books is terribly limiting for a film and those involved in adapting the stories have wisely abandoned that more restrictive storytelling technique.  In the Catching Fire film the audience is privy to the devious machinations of President Snow and Plutarch Heavensbee and gets to watch with an informed eye the fallout of their actions.

Clearly there was a great deal more money supporting the telling of the Catching Fire story and the film is much better for it.  (Thankfully the ridiculous clothing fire effect from the first film was replaced with something worth looking at).  The imagery is crisp and often is quite evocative.  Take, for example, the sequence directly after Katniss shoots the forcefield/dome with the electrified arrow and the arena begins to fall apart.  President Snow looks on in horror as his world, his tightly controlled arena, crumbles around him and he sees the coming fire, the war, falling down on top of him.  Furthermore, as Katniss is lifted into the hovercraft, arms spread apart in a classic image of saviors and sacrifices, she is, in effect, a caged bird, even if she is being lifted to safety by the 'good' guys.  The reader wasn't able to experience any of that wonderful imagery watching the world only through Katniss's eyes.

In addition, amazingly the casting was as tight as I possibly could have imagined; albeit, I feel now more than ever that Woody Harrelsom may have been miscast, but he doesn't necessarily hurt the film.  He just doesn't add much to it.  Francis Lawrence, the director of Catching Fire, did a truly outstanding job giving time for characters to be characters, for sunsets to be sunsets, and for not allowing the gratuity of the Games to overshadow themes, relationships, and story.  He knew what he was doing and the film shows the careful crafting of someone who understands the nuances of film. 

I could not have been more pleased with the Catching Fire film adaptation.  It was a great film, an excellent adaptation, and I look forward to having it in my movie collection.  I am very pleased to admit I was wrong in my lack of excitement to see Catching Fire.  And best of all, in my opinion, the film worked wonderfully as just the right transition into what I consider the best of The Hungers Games trilogy—Mockingjay.  With Francis Lawrence at the helm for parts 1 and 2 of Mockingjay, I couldn't be more hopeful and excited for those adaptations to hit the big screen."

Other Topics of Interest:
Books to Movies: The Hunger Games
Bedtime Stories with Adam & Sarah: The Hunger Games: Catching Fire
Reflections: Catching Fire

Thursday, November 28, 2013

Reflections: The History of Joseph Smith by His Mother

Adam C. Zern sounds off on Lucy Mack Smith's The History of Joseph Smith by His Mother:

"I am a Latter-day Saint and have read and written about other 'mormon-centric' books in the past.  The History of Joseph Smith by His Mother seems like a pillar of church history.  It's a highly referenced book, which reveals something about Joseph and especially his family that other books simply aren’t able to do; it was written by his mother after all.  Although I think it's somewhat of a misnomer to call the book The History of Joseph Smith since its focus wanders from Lucy Mack Smith's own life, her husband's, Joseph's brothers and sisters, and occasionally focuses on Joseph's, what it does reveal about Joseph and his family is definitely worth knowing and pondering.  Joseph Smith is now revered (and hated) by millions across the planet and The History of Joseph Smith by His Mother highlights the extraordinary family that surrounded, supported, and loved him during his life.

Lucy Mack Smith is not a historian; therefore, the structure of her book seems a little random at times, even though it flows almost entirely in a chronological pattern.  It has always fascinated me to try and understand why an author would include some details while excluding so many others.  As a Latter-day Saint, I understand how important the Nauvoo temple was and is in our history.  However, Lucy Mack Smith makes no mention of it whatsoever in her history.  Yet, other important events in Latter-day Saint history are featured quite prominently, such as: the discovery and translation of the Book of Mormon, the Missouri persecutions, and, of course, the martyrdom of Joseph Smith and his brother Hyrum.  There wasn't anything in the book that wasn't of particular interest.  I found myself engaged in each episode of Lucy's life or the life of her children. 

What I didn't get from The History of Joseph Smith by His Mother which I expected to get was a new or different perspective of Joseph Smith.  I wanted to see him from a more personal viewpoint, but I was, for the most part, disappointed in that hope.  You get glimpses of who Joseph was, as a boy and man, but nothing that moved me on a more intimate level.  I can't help but think of Jesus the Christ by James E. Talmage and how profoundly that book affected my interpretation of who Jesus was and is.  Then again, Jesus the Christ was a book dedicated entirely to understanding one person, whereas The History of Joseph Smith by His Mother isn't really about Joseph Smith but his family.

The History of Joseph Smith by His Mother is an excellent book to understand some of the nuances of Joseph Smith, his family, and the beginning of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.  Joseph Smith will only become a more well-known figure throughout the world as the years roll on and it's not a bad idea to understand his beginnings—especially his sprightly and dynamic mother—and a little more about his life, even if you're not a Latter-day Saint.  As a Latter-day Saint, reading The History of Joseph Smith by His Mother gave me more to believe and appreciate about the Church I belong to and why I care so deeply about it."

Other Topics of Interest:
People of Paradox: A History of Mormon Culture
The Autobiography of Parley P. Pratt
Ezra Taft Benson: A Biography

Tuesday, November 26, 2013

Book of the Month: Mooncalf

The Book of the Month for December will be Linda L. Zern's Mooncalf.  Here is a brief synopsis of Mooncalf:

"Over Olympia and Leah's heads, Americans race the Russians to the moon; on their television sets young men fight and struggle in the mud of Viet Nam; and America holds its breath between heartbreaking tragedies. But on Miss Brinker's school bus, in the seat with the rip in the green plastic, Olympia and Leah fall in love, the way children do: immediately, completely, and without knowing or caring why they shouldn't. Olympia Crooms, with her happy hair, and Leah Breck, with her silly red dog, are two smart girls. Olympia's father works other men's orange groves in rural Central Florida and tells his daughter that school is the best way to reach for the stars. Leah's father moves his family from the Space Coast to the country where she and her brother can climb orange trees, imagine lions in the tall grass, and learn to feed baby cows milk from a bottle. At Evegan Elementary, two smart girls find each other and have to decide if they will learn the hardest lessons of all: the false traditions of their fathers."

Click here to visit the author's website:

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Saturday, November 9, 2013

Why I'm not that Excited for Catching Fire

 Adam C. Zern opines on his lack of excitement to see The Hunger Games: Catching Fire:

"My wife and I have friends attending The Hunger Games: Catching Fire opening on November 21st, the day before its official opening.  Normally I would be very anxious to see a film of its hype and promotion as soon as I could.  Yet, for Catching Fire, my excitement to see it has remained tepid.  In fact, I was far more anxious to see the original The Hunger Games film adaptation when it was released in 2012.  But why is that?

To begin with, Catching Fire the book has lost some of its shimmer since I read it.  I enjoyed it.  I even liked it more than the original book, but I still felt it was a stepping stone to the book and story that really mattered, which is Mockingjay.  (I felt Mockingjay was the strongest book in the series by the way, but I am definitely in the minority in my opinion).  Catching Fire is the The Empire Strikes Back for The Hungers Games trilogy while lacking some of the more interesting elements of a story like The Empire Strikes Back.  I still feel Suzanne Collins's method of forcing Katniss and Peeta back into the ring was slightly factitious; albeit, I was willing to swallow the contrivance in the book and probably will accept it just fine in the film.  Once Katniss and Peetah entered the dreaded arena, the story's focus changes from global concerns to individual struggles and the story loses some impact at that point.  It was still an enjoyable read, but one in which I wanted the ending to come a little too much instead of enjoying the ride.

Having said all of that, perhaps when I go to see the film I will be pleasantly surprised by its focus on the political machinations that eventually lead to the series' breakneck finale.  The trailers have certainly played up the political and societal impact of Katniss's first participation in the games.  I'm hoping we'll get more of the additional insight into the scheming which Katniss is ignorant of but what made the first film an excellent adaptation.  I have no indication that they will neglect the story-beats that made the first film so enjoyable (and far more tense), but having, in the end, only the book to make a judgment, I can only expect what I've read.  Furthermore, I’m hopeful I’ll be pulled back into the story due to Jennifer Lawrence’s performance as I was in the first film.  She is perhaps the single most important reason The Hungers Games film worked as well as it did.  Hopefully she’ll do it again for Catching Fire and have some additional help as well. 

Will I see Catching Fire in the theater?  Of course.  I am still interested in seeing it, but I'm not nearly as excited as I thought I would be.  My hope is that once I do see it I will be so thrilled with it and the story it tells I'll be more anxious than ever to finally watch The Hunger Games story I care most about—Mockingjay.  Here's hoping."

Other Topics of Interest:
Bedtime Stories with Adam & Sarah: The Hunger Games: Catching Fire
Reflections: Catching Fire
Reflections: Mockingjay

Wednesday, November 6, 2013

Reflections: Heart of Darkness

Adam C. Zern opines on Joseph Conrad's Heart of Darkness:

"If you're not familiar with Joseph Conrad's Heart of Darkness, then you’re at least familiar with its influence.  Apocalypse Now, Francis Ford Coppola's Vietnam-war film, is widely known.  (And in a different medium, a recent video game, Spec Ops: The Line, was based on Conrad's novella).  The classic line, which I was not aware comes from Heart of Darkness, "The horror! The horror!" is often repeated but little understood in context.  Heart of Darkness earns its place in literature not because of its explicitness but because of its psychological impact.

As its title implies, Heart of Darkness is not a cheerful book.  It explores themes and ideas of barbarism, atavism, racism, colonialism, moral relativism, avarice, obsession, among others.  Obviously Conrad's novella has something to say and it's said in such a way that it sticks to you.  Ever since finishing the book, I have been pondering its implications and lessons.  For that reason alone Heart of Darkness is worth reading.  It gives one something to think about, even if that something isn't terribly pleasant. 

I found Heart of Darkness to be a somewhat odd story.  So much of the 'darkness' referenced is not actually seen by the reader.  The reader doesn't see Kurtz, the infamous and notorious symbol of fallen man, until late in the book, and at that point the transformation is complete and the man himself is merely a shade of what he once was.  The dark deeds have already been done.  The reader experiences the after-effects, the fall-out, but not the events.  Yet, somehow Conrad was able to drill into me the import of what had occurred, and I felt a conflicting sense of pity and repulsion toward Kurtz.  It's a testament of how a story can be told powerfully without being gratuitous. 

Heart of Darkness is definitely worth reading.  It's a fascinating example of how a story can act like a scalpel in opening up the human psyche and give readers a glance inside.  What we see inside can be debated, but Heart of Darkness appears to have already made a diagnosis.  For my part, I was interested in its conclusion."

Other Topics of Interest:
Reflections: The Island of Doctor Moreau
Overrated: The Road
Pointless Stories and the Morality of Fiction

Sunday, November 3, 2013

Books to Movies: Ender's Game

Adam C. Zern shares his thoughts on the film adaptation of Orson Scott Card's Ender's Game:

"As a long time fan of the Ender's Game book and the subsequent franchise that has grown up around it, sequels, prequels, and expanded universe, I was incredibly excited to hear that the book would be adapted into a film.  I was always thought Ender's Game could be made into an outstanding film--the ending alone is perfectly cinematic--but it would certainly be challenging.

My first and biggest worry for the film adaptation was the man tapped to direct it.  Gavin Hood is not a particularly talented director, in my opinion.  X-Men Origins: Wolverine was absolutely abysmal, and to move from that project and take on Orson Scott Card's science fiction opus was not encouraging to me.  Although I feel Gavin Hood did better than I was expecting, I still think he made a very mediocre film which lacked the attention to detail that a story like Ender's Game required.  As I've written before, there were a few key elements I felt should have been a part of any Ender's Game film adaptation and Gavin Hood wasn't able to truly express any of them in a skillful way.

The biggest problem with the Ender's Game story from a film adaptation standpoint is the fact that it surrounds children.  It seems quite apparent that a Haley Joel Osment only comes around every once in a while.  Needless to say, trying to get a room full of child actors of that quality is a daunting if not impossible task. I still don't think the acting in the Ender's Game film had to be as poor as it was.  (I feel like The Sandlot had better acting in some instances).  It wasn't all bad in the acting department, though.  Harrison Ford as Colonel Graff was a perfect casting decision and he did an outstanding job.

Most depressing of all is that the film's ending, so brilliantly portrayed in the book, is kind of a dud in the film.  The scene is one of my favorites out of all of the books I have ever read, but the scene in the film makes little more than a whimper.  The set up for the Battle Room and Command School was very striking and interesting, but it never culminates into anything as emotionally involving as what the book offers.

Sometimes the film adaptations outpace and go beyond the books that inspired them.  Ender's Game the film is not one of those cases.  It's a mediocre film based on an excellent book, but I do think it was good enough to warrant sequels and thus my hope still lingers that the Ender's Game franchise will eventually get the attention and skilled talent it deserves."

Other Topics of Interest:
Books to Movies: The Hunger Games
Books to Movies: The Host
Memorable Moments: Ender's Game - Terribly Reality

Saturday, November 2, 2013

Book of the Month: November

The Book of the Month for November will be Robert Heinlein's The Moon is a Harsh Mistress.  Considered one of the finest science fiction novels ever written, The Moon is a Harsh Mistress won the Hugo Award for Best Novel in 1967.  Set in 2075 the book follows a lunar colony that rebels against the Lunar Authority, which attempts to control the colony from Earth.  The book deals with ideas and concepts like human freedom, passion, politics, and technical speculation. 

See the full Book of the Month list here.  To vote for the Book of the Month in the coming months make sure to 'Like' us on Facebook.