When I was in fourth grade, my teacher read the book aloud to us. A few months later, I went to see this in the theater. Ten years later, I find a copy of it in our basement. I saw it again last night and while there are some flaws, the film still holds up.
This is an exception to the belief that the movie isn’t as good as the book; the movie is the book. What really helps is that the screenplay was written by the author, Louis Sachar. Featuring a star-powered cast for a serious kids film that includes Sigourney Weaver, Jon Voight, Shia Labeouf in a pre-Transformers role, and the Fonz, this is one where no actor is better than the other as they all help make the story come alive.
Stanley Yelnats IV (Shia) is sent to a camp for troubled youth after he is found wrongfully accused of stealing shoes. The whole camp is a scheme headed by The Warden (Sigourney) in an attempt to find some treasure hidden many years ago. Inbetween the main story, there are several flashbacks spanning at least a whole century that in the end, tie the whole story together.
For a place called “Camp Green Lake”, the whole idea is that there is no lake and very little green. The color green is seen in The Warden’s yard and at an oasis on God’s Thumb, a.k.a. Mount Fonzarelli, in the third act and the ending. It’s quite refreshing after an orange and brown dominated film.
Around the 56 minute mark, I noticed that The Warden moves forward in time a bit differently. In the scene where Mr. Sir takes Stanley to The Warden’s house, The Warden hides behind a curtain before opening the door. If you slow down that scene, there is a moment where she moves a few inches in the span of two frames without any motion blur or whatever. It’s a sneaky way to hide different takes but there is a slight flicker when played at normal speed. I never caught it as a kid but now I’m surprised at how it slipped past.
This film, one could say, has Chronic Cross-Dissolve Syndrome where the use of the cross-dissolve as a transition is overused to the point where it becomes distracting and defeats the purpose of a smooth transition. There are some shots where a cross-dissolve is unnecessary as one shot may be only three seconds long, too short to register, and fades into the next. It also suffers from Superimposition Syndrome where multiple shots are superimposed on top of others. I counted at least four shots in one frame a few times. Now, this can be done well like in Mulholland Dr. where it is used to evoke a dream state. Here, it becomes confusing and messy.
Fans of the book won’t be disappointed. There is a lot of narrative that takes place in the run time of two hours and none of that is wasted. It still holds up after the ten year mark. Hopefully by the next decade, the book will still be read in grade school and the movie will be shown as a supplement that doesn’t detract from the source material.