Friday, February 18, 2011

Movie Review: The Whale Rider

Back in September I read the book version of this (which I believe is the source material) and I liked it well enough. So when I came across the movie at my school library (full disclosure, I was actually looking for The Social Network at the time, that movie gave me so much trouble to track down) and I liked the movie well enough too but again, I just didn't fall madly in love with the story.

The Whale Rider
Summary: In a Maori tribe in New Zealand a grandfather has pinned all his hopes for the tribe's future on his son's unborn son. But unfortunately for him, the son dies in childbirth and his twin sister survives instead and she instead is given the name Paikea (the name of their founding ancestor). She then has to struggle to prove to her grandfather that she is the best person to lead the tribe (which everyone except her grandfather seems to accept anyway) even if she isn't the promised son.

The Good: I remember wondering when I was reading the book why Paikea wasn't the narrator (after all, this is her story and having someone else narrate it made her feel rather distant, as if she was already a legend that was being retold*) so I was happy for that change. The story still wasn't told exclusively from her point of view, ie the story didn't need to have her in the scene to advance and that helped the story from feeling too limited, so while the outside narrator in the book gave the story a bit more depth I still think the narration here worked well.

The Bad: Having seen both the movie and the book now, I really prefer the way the book told the story and didn't get anything new out of seeing the movie instead. I also didn't like a lot of the changes from the book to the movie, Koro is a more confusing character (not complex either, confusing), I'm not sure if the book's narrator is even in the movie (I think so but I'm not positive), and some of the events (like the beached whales) occurred differently from the way they did in the book. It's not a bad book to movie adaptation but it's not the best I've seen either.

The Music: One advantage the movie does have over the book is being able to hear all the Maori spoken (even if the subtitles usually didn't translate it) and chanted. Since this is a story that deals heavily with Maori culture being able to actually hear the language is a rather nice bonus.

The Visuals: While all the underwater shots of the whales were nice (and I am curious how exactly they did those shots) nothing visually about the film really stood out to me. It's just, well, rather normal looking, no cool camera angles, panning, saturation, ect to make it really stand out.

In the end, I think I would rather recommend people the book over the movie version of this story but if people choose to watch the movie instead that's fine too, it just wasn't quite to my taste.

*Which may have been the point now that I think about it but I'm pretty sure that wasn't the author's intent.