This book to film comparison contains spoilers.
Having loved Louis Sachar’s book as a child and as an adult, I watched the movie for the first time basically waiting for some stupid plot change that would bring it all crashing down. There wasn’t one: Holes has to be one of the most faithful feature-length adaptations I’ve ever seen.
Narrative and point of view
While the narrative doesn’t stay with Stanley as strictly as it does in the book, every major plot point makes it into the movie.
Personally, I liked it better when things stayed with Stanley in the book and some of the other details were revealed towards the end. It leaves the reader wondering whether Stanley and Zero really will make it out okay. In the movie, however, some of the dots are connected in a much more obvious manner, leaving the viewer to do little work. One of my favourite passages in the book is in the last chapter, and it reads:
Stanley’s mother insists that there never was a curse. She even doubts whether Stanley’s great-great-grandfather really stole a pig. The reader might find it interesting, however, that Stanley’s father invented his cure for foot odour the day after the great-great-grandson of Elya Yelnats carried the great-great-great-grandson of Madame Zeroni up the mountain.
Something about the simplicity of that paragraph just makes me smile. It’s the kind of thing I imagined—even when reading the book—hearing in a voiceover, bringing everything together neatly just before the screen fades to black.
Instead, it sometimes feels as though the viewer is being hit over the head by someone screaming about the parallels between Stanley, Zero, and their families. Madame Zeroni’s voiceover in the movie felt almost cheesy as Stanley was carrying Zero up the mountain. I suppose it is, at its heart, a story and a movie for children so maybe the blatant signposting might be considered necessary for a younger audience.
In the book, though Stanley is a big kid, he’s bullied by a much smaller boy called Derrick Dunne. It’s Derrick’s bullying that really brings Stanley’s story together. If Derrick Dunne hadn’t thrown Stanley’s notebook in a toilet, Stanley wouldn’t have been hit in the head by the shoes on his way home. Similarly, if Derrick Dunne hadn’t thrown Stanley’s notebook in a toilet, he wouldn’t have been able to corroborate Stanley’s timeline and ultimately prove him innocent of the theft.
The movie omits this particular point, making a sweeping statement about Stanley’s innocence that is never really explored of explained. In all the excitement of Stanley’s release, however, it’s easy to brush that minor detail aside.
To his credit, Shia LaBeouf does an admirable job of portraying Stanley as a sweet, unassuming kid. Even though Derrick Dunne may be absent, and Stanley may be more gangly than chubby, there’s something endearing about him.
His general manner and squinting gaze throughout most of the movie says he’s too timid (and perhaps too kind) to fight back. That is, until he gets to Camp Green Lake. Even if it wasn’t the true aim, digging holes at that camp certainly does have a way of building character.
Camp Green Lake
We know from the book that Camp Green Lake is closed by the Attorney General and sold by the Warden, who is in desperate need of money. We also know that it will eventually become a Girl Scout camp. But, aside from those minor details, there’s nothing much said about the rest of the occupants of Camp Green Lake.
Though the book insinuates that it might merely be the Warden’s obsessive behaviour and inability to keep records that shuts down Camp Green Lake, the movie goes a step further. We are provided some backstory in the movie for Mr Sir (who is in breach of his parole) and Mr Pendanski (who’s not a real doctor or counsellor).
With these added tidbits about other staff, an even bigger question of legality surrounds the camp and the people running it. There’s no question that the camp will or should be shut down after these revelations.
On a happier note, the boys at Camp Green Lake are relocated to facilities with proper (and probably not criminal) counsellors. This information is a welcome addition and a nice way to wrap everything up. There may be fewer holes to fill for the audience but, by the end of the movie, everyone is in their proper place and the story feels comfortably complete.
I am surprised at how much I enjoyed the Holes movie; up until last year, I hadn’t even known it existed. I’m really pleased that everything made it into the movie, and especially grateful that the side plot of Katherine Barlow was left completely intact. There are few feature-length films that can resist altering plotlines these days but the filmmakers of Holes have done a spectacular job.