Like many others, I was greatly looking forward to the release of the film adaptation of Where the Crawdads Sing .
I was a big fan of Delia Owens’s novel, having read it during lockdown in 2020. I delighted in the escape to North Carolina in the 1950s and 60s, at a time when I really needed it.
I found the lead character, Kya, fascinating and mysterious. Moreover, I was sure Daisy Edgar-Jones (the fantastic star of Normal People and indie horror film Fresh) would be great in the role.
Then I saw the movie and am sorry to express my disappointment. I have no qualms with the cast, who are all excellent, particularly Edgar-Jones. Rather, it is the production design that lets it down.
I had envisioned (as I am sure Owens intended) the marshlands as a place of greenness, wetness and mud – a place of danger and obscurity, but also life and freedom.
The setting in the film is full of reeds and rivers, but also CGI birds and obvious green screen. It is pristine, utterly dirt-free. This flawless setting does not feel real or immersive.
Meanwhile, its protagonist, who is meant to be living a wild-child existence alone in the marsh, always looks well-kept and camera-ready – other than a short flashback where, as a child, Kya has a little dirt on her face and feet.
Such perfectionism jars with the story.
The lack of grit gives it the feel of just another churned-out Hollywood production.
It is not the first time I have noticed this. The film adaptation of The Book Thief – another best-seller that Tinseltown figured was ripe for the taking – proved another let-down.
That novel’s fans were as unimpressed as critics were unconvinced.
Far from the harrowing backdrop of war, the studio practically made Nazi Germany picturesque. Its lead character had pretty clothes and beautiful, blonde curly hair.
With a sweeping John Williams score to boot, many described The Book Thief as Oscar bait. Gone were the emotional depth and unique structure of the novel.
While The Hunger Games proved far more successful (and set off a trend of many dystopian teenage films to follow), the series was another example of characters who were meant to be poor and starving in horrifying circumstances, looking far from being on the brink of survival. In fact, while the first book consistently described how hungry the characters were, the movie almost made a point of showing its characters eating.
One supposes that if you are going to have kids killing each other, they should at least look good doing it.
Tinseltown cannot seem to help “Hollywood-ising” things, over-producing and making everything look slick.
Studios refuse the feral and grubby settings of the books they adapt, not wanting to let things get “too real” and possibly deter audiences with bleak content.
We can accept adapting books may be a losing battle. Movies will never fully satisfy the reader’s complaint of “well, that’s not how I imagined it”, but some have done it better than others.
When a studio produces a book and it is less than the sum of its parts, its soul can be sacrificed to its sheen.
And too often the result is to leave us more hollow than replete.