In my experience, music and film have the ability to alleviate or crystallize unhappiness. While literature, among other wonderful things, has always shown me that I am not the only one who suffers. How comforting.

This year I had the great fortune of reading three amazing books. These are Yann Martel’s “Life of Pi”, J.R.R Tolkien’s “The Hobbit” and David Mitchell’s “Cloud Atlas”. Let me admit something first, I will read anything except sordid chit-lit, horrors or annoying American crime/action novels.

I like stories driven by strong characters and with social commentary. I like a little philosophy and books that give general insight into the Human Being and what makes him/her tick. I enjoy a good laugh too.

So, I was overjoyed at coming across these wonderful books this year. Luckily purchasing “Cloud Atlas” and “The Hobbit” off the streets and receiving “Life of Pi” as a birthday gift. I was even more excited to find out that all three books would be adapted into films set for release in 2012!

Now having completed the book/film combos, I can finally share my thoughts on the six creations in the order in which I watched the films.

LIFE OF PI

Book

This was such a special book. It told the story of a young man who survives a shipwreck only to be trapped on a lifeboat for 227 days with a Bengal tiger, Richard Parker. Already that premise had me intrigued.

As the reader eases into the book, it is not clear whether this is a fictional tale (hey, fact is stranger than fiction yo!) because the story alternates between first-person accounts by the subject, Piscine “Pi”, and the writer who was interviewing Pi because someone had told that he had a story that would “make him believe in God”.

The biggest hook in the book was how it dealt with faith and religion in ways I have never encountered before. This character, whether conjured up or indeed existent, was a practicing Hindu, Catholic and Muslim. I can relate to that in a small way having grown up exposed to both the Roman Catholic faith and Islam and especially seeing how both its adherents are normal, (mostly) rational and functioning human beings.

The writing was intelligent, beautiful and caused many deep reflections on life—as a good book always does. I remember pausing to check how many more pages were left to go and feeling really sad that it would be over soon.

Film

Directed by Ang Lee, who a friend recently commented made the “most romantic movie ever” with “Brokeback Mountain, the film did justice to the scenes in the Pacific Ocean. He successfully communicated what I felt was the enormity of the ocean, its volatility and ability to change as swiftly as (and with) the wind, to sprout life and bring death.

While I understand that time is not on a director’s side I still feel that Pi’s ordeal at sea was less tragic on film. There were too many back-to-back action scenes. If Pi wasn’t training Richard Parker, he was catching fish or making a separate raft or whatever. There were few moments of reflection, flashback and inner dialogue at sea.

Oh yeah, they introduced a female love interest. *bangs head against wall*

It must be said though; the film was as colorful on screen as it had been in my head.

THE HOBBIT

Book

I laughed a lot while reading this. It was such a fun book. Bilbo Baggins, the hapless Hobbit and “thief” in the company of 13 dwarves and a wizard set on a dangerous and exciting adventure to far off magical lands. Hats off to Mr. J.R.R,Tolkien, the man could create dynamic universes with magnificent creatures and weave interlocking plotlines like nobody’s business.

On the surface, this is an interesting (and well-told) story about a little, inexperienced “man” part of a company of strong tough “men” who, through luck and quick thinking made it back home with such stories to share. But on deeper reflection, this book is much more than that. As I’ve just stated, if we examined the characters through our own inequities as “men”, we can’t help but rejoice at how a little guy helps saves the day. Bilbo can be any on of us, pushed out of his comfort zone by forces stronger than himself. He eventually proves himself worthy as an ally and also learns just how smart and capable he is.

I recently purchased a book that combines, research, works and interviews to explain “The Magical Worlds of Lords of the Rings” (David Colbert, 2002). In it, the author poses the question, “Why is Frodo the Ring-Bearer?” Colbert observes that it is so that Tolkien could portray the process of a small, ordinary creature turning noble.

I guess the same is true of Bilbo.

Film

Fantastic. A few edits and rewrites but all in all, I loved it. For all those bemoaned the length of the film, I say, STFU! More screen time for the Hobbitses, how is that a bad thing? And Director Peter Jackson already proved himself with the trilogy Lord of the Rings. I have full and complete faith that the next two installments (coming out in late 2013 and 2014) will be super epic!

CLOUD ATLAS

Book

Dear God, where to begin? Firstly, Mitchell has some serious author balls. Ha! Creating ten or more prime characters suspended in seven complex worlds across space and time is a laudable feat.

That the reader continued to care for characters and their fates long after the first halves of their stories had dropped off the page shows the author’s skill. Among the many triumphs of the book is Mitchell’s incredible ability to build solid continents for his characters.

I use the word “continent” to pay homage to the intense and immense level of detail and imagination that went into creating the spaces, languages, background of every person in every “short story”. In an interview with LA Times, Mitchell talked about the characters as if they were corporeal beings. He says, “You have to know what the major characters think of each other. You have to keep in your head fictional autobiographies, what they think about…Sexuality, spirituality, work, money, language, class…Keeping that in your head at the same time. Its an amazing job, and I love it.”

It pays off big time because the premise of the book is that people are all linked to each other in the present, past and future. How (and that) his characters catch glimpses of each other through various media has a bearing on how each character perceives and reacts to the other.

In short, you have to read the book,

My only beef with Mitchell is how the links seem a little cliché and flimsy. How the materials about a preceding character’s past got into the hands of each new one was sometimes a little too “coincidental” for such high-level writing. And I am convinced that “The Ghastly Ordeal of Timothy Cavendish” was a stand-alone piece that added little to the overall chain-link of events.

Film

I really did not like it because I feel that it misrepresented the book. Strangely enough, I got to know about the book from its movie trailer. I like Halle and Tom and would probably watch anything they star in. It was by a stroke of luck that I actually came across the book from a street vendor.

On completing it, my first thought was that “Cloud Atlas” was definitely NOT a story about love across space and time. It was about men and women who acted with courage despite the odds against them. The film was cleverly put together but only just so. Worst of all, the three Directors, the Wachowskis and Tykwer, took the “happily ever after” route.

I hate added scenes! Woi! And as much as the actors played multiple roles thus visually aiding the viewer in understanding the place of each person in a tale spun by Fate and Destiny, come on! The Zackary character was a teenager in my head. Seriously.

In short, you have to read the book.

  • http://freelancecontentcreator.com David

    I like you commentary, especially on ‘The Hobbit’. I have always been a fan of Tolkien’s books. I have seen all the movies and I have all the books, except “The Hobbit.”