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young adult book reviews & more

From the page to the screen: Adapting The Book Thief

For readers, there's always a simultaneous excitement and worry when we learn that one of our favorite books is being adapted for the silver screen. On the one hand, it's undeniably exciting to see the stories we love come to life visually, but on the other, the movie will never match up perfectly to the images we have in our own heads.



This worry is the main reason why many people I know are hesitant to see the movie version of The Book Thief by Marcus Zusak, and I have to say that I completely understand. However, I am in the unique position of someone who has (1) not read the book, though I am ashamed to admit that, and (2) seen the movie, as I had the opportunity to attend an advance screening. So, I can't exactly reassure my friends that they won't be disappointed in some respect, but I can tell you all that the movie was spectacular and brought me to tears.

And I think this is a movie that will bring many others to tears, whether they've read and loved the book or not. Why? Because the people involved with this movie have been so committed to telling this story. At a recent press junket for the The Book Thief movie, Producer Karen Rosenthal mentioned that Director "Brian [Percival's] vision for this film was to make it as organic and real as possible and not allow visual effects to overpower this elegantly simple story, and allow the characters to take us through, especially Leisel." That's the kind of statement that can only come from someone who gets it—so major props to the Director and Producers! I think their vision really carried through.

Leisel, Rosa, and Hans

The ultimate test of that vision, to "allow the characters to take us through," was in the casting. I think they did a great job. The characters Hans and Rosa Hubermann, played by Geoffrey Rush and Emily Watson, felt so real to me. And it's because Geoffrey Rush and Emily Watson are such great actors and because they took so much care in getting into their roles. Emily Watson noted with regards to researching World War II, "We've seen all those movies. We've learned it all in school. . . . The book [The Book Thief] was really the resource for us. For me, anyway. That was where all the detail was." I love the extent to which the details from the book pervade the movie, down to the level of actors performing the smallest parts of their roles.

Leisel, our beloved book thief

And then there's our protagonist Leisel. Director Brian Percival noted that "the crucial thing is that we choose someone who's as close to Leisel as possible" because "It's difficult to ask somebody of that age to rely on technique or to just purely become a character like Emily Watson becomes a character." In this case, that was Sophie Nélisse. Unlike other children who auditioned for the role who were, as Percival observed, "either quite feisty or didn't have that vulnerability or were too vulnerable," Sophie has "both sides to her." Having seen her play Leisel, I wholeheartedly agree.

For those of you who loved the book and have trepidation about seeing the movie, I urge you to give it a chance—the film is wonderful in its own right. And for everyone already excited to see it, I don't think you will be disappointed! The Book Thief movie releases tomorrow, November 8.

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Leigh Purtill said...

Great review! 'm sure you didn't mean to leave out the name of the book's author name: Markus Zusak wrote the amazing novel. :)

Rachael Stein said...

Leigh - Sorry, was too busy fangirling. (But fixed it now!)

holdenj said...

And here I thought I was the only bookish person who hadn't read it yet! The movie looks like it will be very good. Really liked I Am The Messenger.

Bookmark Dragon said...

I'm glad to find a movie review from someone bookish who hasn't read this book yet. When I first heard they were making a movie out of The Book Thief I got a stomachache. I was just so worried they wouldn't do it justice. But after seeing the trailer I became cautiously optimistic. I'm glad to hear you enjoyed it, that gives me hope that I'll enjoy it too.
PS- I'm new to the book blogging community. I've been a long time lurker around the book blogging world, including here at The Book Muncher, but am only now participating in a more proactive way. I enjoy your blog immensely, and have read books based solely on your recommendations before. :) If you'd like, feel free to pop over to Bookmark Dragon. I'd love to have you. www.bookmarkdragon.com

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