Watched The Water Horse, this weekend with the family, which garnered very mixed reviews. TLomL called it “cute” and “a fun little movie.” The rest of us couldn’t disagree more. Whyfore the difference? The rest of us read the book last year before it opened in theaters, (one of our nigh unto unbreakable House Rules is “read the book first”) and the experience coupled with the trailers we’d been enjoying switched it from the “Get thee to a Multiplex” list to “Eh, maybe on video.” And we almost didn’t do that, but in the end, Frodo’s desire to compare the two and the Princess’ curiosity overcame Sam’s apathy.
I fully realize that you sometimes have to alter, tweak, or change elements of a book to get the thing into a movie. Sometimes I wonder why choices are made, but I can understand it. But this wasn’t on the level of leaving Hermione’s founding S.P.E.W. out of the flick, or something on that level. This was a wholesale re-write.
Dick King-Smith’s perfectly charming kid’s book is about two kids Kirstie and Angus living in Scotland in the 1930’s with their mother and her father (their father is a merchant marine gone for months at a time). They go to the shore frequently to look for firewood, kelp (to put on their grandfather’s garden), and miscellany. One day, Angus and Kirstie find a giant “mermaid’s purse“, which our protagonist, Kirstie, decides to sneak home because she’s so curious about it. That mermaid’s purse turns out to be an egg sack for the Water Horse. The rest of the book is about the family’s struggle to feed and care for the beastie while keeping him secret. He’s moved from body of water to body of water ’til he ends up in Loch Ness, where a certain picture is taken of him in 1934. Along the way, silly Angus grows up a bit, grandfather (named ‘Grumble’ because of his personality) cheers up, Kirstie becomes more mature.
In the movie, we’re still in Scotland, but it’s in the middle of WWII, and Angus is the focus…he’s drawn to the water, yet terrified of it (for reasons to be semi-explained later). One day at the beach where he’s supposed to be playing, he finds this strange rock, which he takes home–which is a large estate, his mother is the Head Housekeeper there. The rock turns out to be an egg, from which hatches the Water Horse. The next day, a regiment (or so) of soldiers arrives to be housed at the estate while they guard the nearby Loch from German Subs. Angus recruits the help of Kirstie and the new handyman with the mysterious past (taking the job of Angus’ father) to help him keep the creature a secret. Which brings them into confrontation with the soldiers, helps Angus deal with the loss of his father and his fear of water.
Which would’ve been a fine little flick, if it didn’t claim to be based on the book. Trust the source. You thought the novel was good enough to buy the rights to…don’t mess with it. Why is this so hard for people to understand?
So, basically, if you and yours haven’t read the book–it’s a cute movie to watch with the kids. Otherwise…find something else.
By the way, I have to wonder…just what history books do the people at Walden Media read? Apparently, aside from one/both parents being separated from their kids, WWII’s a pretty magical time (maybe just in the UK). The Pevensies are whisked away to Narnia, the MacMorrow kids get a magical pet…