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Saturday, March 30, 2013

Holes: The Book and the Film

Holes is a 1998 novel written by Louis Sachar. Set in the Texas desert, is tells the tale of Stanley Yelnats IV, a chronically unlucky teenager who is sent to a bizarre correctional facility called Camp Greenlake, where there is no lake. Sentenced to digging a five foot deep, five foot wide hole every day for 18 months, Stanley finds friends in his fellow prisoners, who go by monikers such as X-Ray and Zero. As he learns more about the history of Greenlake, and reflecting on his own familial history, Stanley learns to make his own luck, and to find the key to his future.

The 2004 film Holes is based on the book, starring Shia Lebeouf as Stanley and Jon Voight as Mr. Sir, and follows the plot to the letter. Apart from referring to Mr. Pensanski as "Dr. Pendanski," it's about as perfect an adaptation as you can wish for. It helps that Louis Sachar wrote the movie's script.

First off, I just want to say that this book deserves the awards that it won. It won not only the Newbery Medal but also the National Book Award for Young People's Literature. Imaginative and clever, this book is one of my favorite tomes, being a partial inspiration for me setting a lot of my works in Texas. The chapters are oft short and brisk, sprinkled with colorful vignettes and episodes. The movie is also like it in this regard, but boasting a beautiful selection of cinematography and acting. I love Sigourney Weaver as the Warden, who adds a cold menace to the film's cast.

But which of the two is better? Overall, I'd have to go with the book, which added a whole layer of introspection which the movie had to go without, like a layer in one of Sam's onions. One of the things the film did get right, however, was individualizing each of the members of Stanley's group, D-Tent. You know who each person is, with the noted exception of Squid, who gets barely any screen time at all. The only shining moment that he had in the book is co-opted by Armpit, though I can understand Sachar's reasons for doing so. The book Holes also had a more mature sequel called Small Steps, starring Armpit, a fellow member of Stanley's group. Don't get me wrong, I love both the book and the movie, but the book still manages to get the edge.

Mind you, there's some swearing in both the book and the movie, so it's not exactly all ages fare, but there's nothing major. There's also the small matter of Stanley's familial curse, which lends a murky supernatural element to the story. Parents may want to stand by to explain the matter to their kids.

RATING (Book): 9.5/10
RATING (Movie): 9/10

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