When “The Hunger Games: Catching Fire” opened last weekend, many young people familiar with Suzanne Collins' trilogy were excited to experience this film version of her second book.
But, being familiar with the book sometimes can make the movie experience less satisfying. Readers may know a favorite book by heart or know what characters should look like, according to their imaginations. Then there are all those missing scenes. These things often mean movies don't measure up.
A dozen students at Willowdale Elementary in the Millard school district have the chance to test the book/movie debate for themselves in a new after-school club, the Book Into Film Club.
The club is the brainchild of teacher-librarian Jessica D'Astous, who took a similar course on adult books in college. “It was one of my most interesting and fun classes.”
Why couldn't that be translated into something for her young students, she asked herself. She saw the club as a great way to introduce some of her students to wonderful children's literature.
And she is certain what these students are going to learn. “The book is usually better than the movie,” D'Astous said. “There is so much more meat to the books.”
Although the school, including Principal Susan Kelley, were supportive of the club, D'Astous hit a snag. The club would need public showings of the films, and the cost of paying for the licensing rights to each film appeared to be prohibitive.
Luckily the school was able to find a blanket license for 10 films through Criterion Pictures. For $285, the club could see all 10 movies, plus any other teacher or even the PTA could use the films under the agreement.
With that hurdle cleared, the club had its first meeting Nov. 13. Before the meeting, club members — a mix of third-, fourth- and fifth-graders — had read “A Series of Unfortunate Events: The Bad Beginning,” by Lemony Snicket. At the meeting, they watched the 2004 film based on that book, with a break for a light snack and leg-stretching halfway through.
The plot is pretty simple: Three children lose their parents and are thrust into the cruel world, under the guardianship of the wicked Count Olaf. The count conspires to gain the children's fortune, only to be outwitted time after time.
“I like to read books,” said third-grader Thomas Roth, adding that reading a book a month in addition to his schoolwork isn't a hardship. He is excited that he hasn't read most of the books on the club agenda, so they will be new to him.
The club members sat quietly through the 110-minute movie, and after its end and another quick break, were ready to take part in the discussion D'Astous led.
What were some of the differences and similarities between the book and the film, she asked them. The kids all had ideas, especially on the many differences they found.
They thought some of the characters were different. The film left things out. The film included some scenes from later books in the series.
The biggest difference, they said: the ending. The film has a happy ending; the first book, and most in the series, leave the three children facing new challenges to overcome in the next book.
Club members weren't harsh critics. They liked both the book and the movie. Their only objection was Jim Carrey's portrayal of Count Olaf. They thought he overacted his part.
One student who liked the happy ending of the movie was Aidan Miller, a third-grader. He joined the club because “it sounded fun and interesting,” he said. “I'm always curious about new books and movies.”
Before they left, the kids voted on the next book and movie. “Percy Jackson” won. Other choices: “Aquamarine,” “Charlotte's Web,” “Horton Hears a Who,” “Mr. Popper's Penguins,” “Diary of a Wimpy Kid,” “Fantastic Mr. Fox,” “Because of Winn Dixie” and “Indian in the Cupboard.”
After the meeting ended, D'Astous said she was happy about the kids' observations and comments during the discussion. “They are so intuitive, and they absorbed more of the book that I thought they would.”
To keep club members honest and make sure they have read the book each month, they will have to take a quiz. There will be only eight questions to answer, but the kids can only miss one. If they miss more, they can retake the quiz one time.
If they skip the quiz or miss too many questions, they won't be allowed to see the film, but D'Astous doesn't think that will be a problem.
The club was limited to 12 members so everyone could participate; D'Astous didn't think too large a group could have a meaningful discussion after the film.
After that initial meeting, she was hopeful the club was going to be a success.
Principal Kelley said she thought that the club was a great idea. “So many kids are into books and so many are into movies, this is a great way to bring them together.”