Saturday, December 18, 2004

Book: Holes
Author: Louis Sachar
Original Release: 1998

This is a cool book.

I've liked Louis Sachar for a long time. His Sideways Stories from Wayside School is a classic of screwball grade-school humor. But when I set Holes down, I said, "Shit, this man can write."

Twelve-year-old Stanley Yelnats (IV) comes from a long line of guys who just can't win. They blame the famous Yelnats bad luck on the dirty rotten no-good pig-stealing Stanley Yelnats the first, who incurred a gypsy's wrath just before leaving the old country. Now, wrongfully accused of stealing a pair of famous shoes from charity, our Stanley gets sent to Camp Green Lake, where bad boys get turned into good boys by means of digging holes.

There's no lake.

For that matter, there's no green.

There are, however, a lot of holes. Along with a Warden who puts rattlesnake venom in her nail polish, a sadistic guard called Mr. Sir, the fatally poisonous yellow-spotted lizards, and fellow campers who put Stanley right at the bottom of the pecking order. Welcome to the next eighteen months, Stanley.

From these very basic beginnings, Sachar spins a story where three different storylines tangle like creeper vines. The first storyline is the tale of Stanley Yelnats the first's exit from the old country, and just what he did to make that gypsy mad. The second is the tale of Green Lake at the end of the 19th century, and how it came to be neither green nor lakey. The third, of course, is our own Stanley's experiences at Camp Green Lake, and how his actions put right the wounds of the past, whether he knows it or not.

There's an element of magical realism to this story that I wasn't expecting but enjoyed quite a bit. Also, the guys in Stanley's cabin aren't misunderstood puppy dogs. They're as hard as rock, and you have to watch to catch any hint of vulnerability. Sachar doesn't fall into the trap of making them all reform into model citizens, even though they're affected by Stanley as much as he is by them. Stanley's one friendship, with the silent and mysterious Zero, isn't cemented in an instant, but is a believable process.

Pick this up for a memorable, truthful, funny story.

Movie: "Holes"
Director: Andrew Davis
Original Release: 2003

My motto (or one of them, at least) is "the book is always better." That being said, there are a few movies that come close to matching the book. "Holes" is one of them. It helps that they got Louis Sachar to write the screenplay, so he knew what to leave in and what to take out.

I don't need to recap the plot (I hope!). While Disney went with big (or at least respected) names for their adult actors, they were smart enough to use relative unknowns for the kids' roles. Possibly the most famous (relatively speaking) is Shia LaBeouf, who's been on the Disney TV show "Even Stevens" for several years.

Sigourney Weaver (the Warden) and Jon Voight (Mr. Sir) make great, slightly loopy villains. LaBeouf brings out Stanley's shy awkwardness without it becoming too annoying, and the interaction between him and Khleo Thomas (Zero) makes their characters' evolving friendship believable. While the jumps between past and present take some getting used to, once you sort it out, it works pretty much as in the book. The sweet (and doomed) romance in the Green-Lake's-past storyline especially got to me, but you all know how much a sucker I am for that stuff.

Possibly my largest gripe is that they completely changed Stanley's physical type. In the book, he was very overweight, and while he lost some, he certainly didn't slim down to the toothpick proportions of LaBeouf. The official reasoning was that a severely overweight actor would have too much difficulty with the physical portions of the acting, especially during the high-temps on-location shoots for Camp Green Lake. Hmmm. Anyway. I still liked it. A good idea is probably to read the book first, though, or you might have a hard time sorting out who is who with all the different storylines.

Merry Christmas, y'all! Or whatever holiday of your choosing.