What I do have here though is a chance to get a little bit fancier than my usual book posts, because I’ve had the movie version of this sitting on my hard-drive for what must be a couple of years now. I bought it before my last trip back to the UK with the intention of using my iphone to watch it on the flight. Then I realized that maybe spending two hours squinting at the subtitles might not be the best way to look after my eyes in the desiccation chamber of your modern airliner, and just loaded up Angry Birds instead.
However, my eldest son’s been sick recently. Obviously I feel terrible for him, but because he’s spent so much time sleeping it means I’ve finally been able to commit to watching something more than 30 minutes in length. Hurrah! So it means you get the joy of a compare/contrast session between the book and the movie. Three cheers for the common cold!
It’s fair to say that books are usually better than their movie adaptations. Usually but not always. Part of that is just inherent in the nature of the transition from one medium to the other – unless you’re adapting the shortest of short stories you’re simply not going to have the running time to leave everything in, and even the most skillfully executed surgeries are going to remove something that some reader somewhere considered important to the original.
Sometimes, however, that acts as a boon. Cut out the padding and deadwood, rebalance things a little and you leave yourself with a tighter, more focused, but still essentially different story. There’s also, of course, the small point of the reader bringing their own imagination to bear on the book in a way that’s simply impossible with a film. For the record, if asked to name movies that were better than the books I’d say Blade Runner, Apocalypse Now, a few of the Bonds, possibly Trainspotting, and definitely (gasp) Lord of the Rings. If that list seems short then that’s probably just a function of the how few times I’ve both read the book and seen the corresponding film. And to that list I’d now add Let the Right One In.
Not that the book is bad. It’s really pretty good, but that necessary filleting that took place when it was turned it into a movie has produced a much stronger piece of work. A lot of the work of the ‘extra’ plotlines in the novel is to fully locate the action, and locate it in a grim, depressing, suffocating satellite town of Stockholm in the early eighties. Not a pleasant place to be for any of the characters. The movie is able to achieve this with more visuals and pacing and thereby place the focus firmly on the pair of protagonists at the story’s core – the social misfit Oskar and Eli, the ancient vampire trapped in the body and mind of a twelve-year-old.
I was a little disappointed that the story arc of Tommy, perhaps the only wholly sympathetic character in the book, got dropped, but ultimately it’s all to the good. You also lose some plotlines involving a ring of paedophiles, a beached Russian submarine and cold-war angst, a fire in a school, and large parts of the story of a crazy cat man and the drunks he hangs around with. Oh, and save for a single fleeting shot, you also lose the entirety of Eli’s origin story.
None of this matters, because this is such a contained, controlled, measured film that the cumulative effect of all those strands is more than adequately compensated for. One shot of a bulky woollen jumper tucked into stonewashed jeans and you know exactly what year it is. The dialogue averages out, over a two-hour-long film, at maybe two lines a minute, which is achingly slow and allows for the visuals and performances to really sink in. And of these performances, and of more significance than anything else I’ve mentioned, is that Lina Leandersson in the role of Eli is phenomenal. Oskar loses some of his edge from the book, and at times comes across as just a bit slow in the head, but Eli is perfectly realized: distant, vicious, vulnerable, and just desperately in need of some form of human connection. You get all of this in a single shot of her face and that –that– is why I’ll never dismiss movies as a lesser art form.