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Tuck Everlasting

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I read Tuck Everlasting sometime in the early '90s, I think, and loved it. (I suspect I might not have loved it as much if I'd read it as a kid; when I was a kid, I wanted books to be clear-cut and unambiguous.) I subsequently read three or four of Babbitt's other books; I think I liked all of them but didn't love any of them.

Back in 2002, I was cautiously pleased to hear that a movie of Tuck was forthcoming. But I didn't get around to watching it 'til now.

And, sadly, I didn't like it.

It has a good cast: Alexis Bledel (who I can't not think of as Rory Gilmore) in the lead role; Victor Garber (Sydney's father from Alias) and Amy Irving as her parents; Sissy Spacek and William Hurt as the Tuck parents; Ben Kingsley as the mystery guy.

But I wish they had a better script, and that the people who made the movie had had a defter and subtler touch.

My main complaints are the heavy-handedness (they really pound the moral home, and then they repeat it at the end just in case you missed it) and the voiceover narration, which ruins any chance the story might've had at subtlety. There's a moment in the middle, when Miles explains the backstory, that could have been compelling and sad, but just falls flat. There's a moment near the end when two characters reconcile, and it would have been an excellent sad moment if not for the fact that I was bewildered by the scene that led up to that. And so on.

I did like the soundtrack. Sadly, the soundtrack album is out of print, and isn't available on iTunes, and the CD costs $40 and up used; I didn't like it that much.

Anyway. The best thing about the movie is the interview with Natalie Babbitt in the special-features section, and even that suffers from an annoyingly chirpy narrator guy summarizing much of Babbitt's life instead of letting her tell it.

I found her background fascinating. As I understand it from the interview, she wanted to be an illustrator; she put that dream on hold for a long time to raise a family after graduating from Smith (with a degree in Studio Arts, I think); but then she read The Feminine Mystique and decided to try doing art professionally. She went to her husband and asked him to write a story, given a title that she provided ("The 49th Magician"), so that she could illustrate it; he wrote the story in two hours, and she illustrated it, and it eventually sold as a kids' book. But her husband got busy with other stuff, so she made a decision:

When Sam wrote that story in two hours, I thought to myself, "Well, maybe that's how easy writing is." But he didn't want to go on doing it, and so I had to start writing my own because you can't make pictures for stories if you don't have stories to make pictures for.

Anyway. Both the movie and the interview made me want to go back to the book, to see whether I'm just misremembering how good it was.

So I opened the book, and here's the opening paragraph of the Prologue:

The first week of August hangs at the very top of summer, the top of the live-long year, like the highest seat of a Ferris wheel when it pauses in its turning. The weeks that come before are only a climb from balmy spring, and those that follow a drop to the chill of autumn, but the first week of August is motionless, and hot. It is curiously silent, too, with blank white dawns and glaring noons, and sunsets smeared with too much color. Often at night there is lightning, but it quivers all alone. There is no thunder, no relieving rain. These are strange and breathless days, the dog days, when people are led to do things they are sure to be sorry for after.

Gorgeous. I'm gonna have to re-read the book. I did just check the speech in the middle that I found so annoyingly heavy-handed in the movie; in the book, it's certainly bluntly stated, but it seems to me it's nonetheless richer and subtler than the presentation in the movie, where Tuck might as well have turned to the camera and said, "Dear viewers: Attend well, for here is where I speak unto you the moral of this movie."

In summary: Movie, sadly, thumbs down; book, thumbs up.

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