Sunday, February 20, 2011

I Am Number Four (book and movie)

If you read my last blog, you know that I am on a brief kick of books turned into movies, or in the case of Red Riding Hood, screenplays turned into books. I read I Am Number Four as an advance reader's copy (not even the published hardcover) just last year. I'm amazed at how quickly they can do that. Advance copy one year. Movie the next.

You'd think, then, that the movie wouldn't be all that great for being made so quickly, even before the populace had time to spread the hype on this book. You might be surprised. Alfred Gough and Miles Millar helped write the screenplay. They are also the creators of Smallville; the content is similar.

Here's the basic plot without too many spoilers. Number Four is one of nine alien children from the planet Lorien sent to Earth to avoid a bloodbath by evil Mogadorians, aliens who took over and destroyed their planet. The problem is that those evil aliens have come to Earth to do the same, and all that stands in their way are these nine kids. But the number is down to six because three have been destroyed, and Number Four knows he's next due to a convenient safety measure that only lets the Mogadorians kill the nine in order. Every time one dies, a new tatoo appears on the others' legs.

So, the nine have always been on the run, never staying too long, never making close friends, always forging new identities, with the help of a Protector for each one. When Number Four and Henri, his Protector and father-figure, discover Number Three's death, they erase their lives in Florida and start anew in Ohio. But Number Four, now called John Smith, isn't willing to hide in the shadows forever. He wants to live life and find love and be as normal as he can be, so he goes to the local high school, where he begins to make both friends and enemies and stir up unwanted notice. Even an innocently taken photograph can lead the Mogadorians to his doorstep, and he's running out of time.

I loved the movie. Perhaps it's because I couldn't remember many details from the book, having read it a year ago. But the details began to come back to me as I watched, so I know the movie was following the big picture of the book, at least.

As with all movies made from books, a lot of simplifying has to go on. The story has to fit into two hours, and it has to make sense without a lot of exposition. I thought the movie handled the basics really well without feeling like it was trying to cram all of the book in. It felt like a movie, not a book turned into a movie.

There are differences, of course, that the diehard fans will hate. Personally, I don't think the movie had the budget to pull off the book's crazy, complex, layered last battle, but the simplified movie version is good enough for the movie watchers. It might disappoint book fans as so much is left out. But it would have taken too much explanation and time to fit it all in. The movie stayed simple, and that's why I think it works. However, if you do see the movie before the book, read the book, too, so you can get all the cool stuff from the end.

Remembering more of the book now that I've seen the movie, I'll add a few words on that. Sadly, but perhaps tellingly, I didn't review I Am Number Four when I read it, even though I was reviewing a lot of other books at the time. I think what happened is that I was reading a lot and I'd just had a baby, so I reviewed only what I considered the best. I don't think I Am Number Four was so bad. It just wasn't the one that stuck out in my mind at the time. I thought the idea was unique, I do remember, and the only negative thing I can concretely remember thinking was that the main character, Four, seemed younger than he was supposed to be. He's made to be older than I remember in the movie, though. I think he felt a little like he was in middle school in the book when he's actually in high school. But the movie makes him look like a senior, at least. Could be the choice of actor; he just looks older.

One of the things I particularly enjoyed that they kept well from book to movie was the role played by the Chimera (though still cooler in the book), but I can't say anymore; too spoilerish.

Although the movie is rated PG13 for scary aliens and alien-related violence, including a scene where a small ball with razors revolving on it is placed in a guy's mouth (but no blood or gore is shown), I was pleased with the morality of both the book and movie. No clothes coming off. Nothing more than kissing. And the icing on the cake, aliens from Lorien fall in love with a person for no cheating!

Overall, the acting was good, the special effects were decent, the storyline was clear, and the movie was just fun. Even if you've never heard of I Am Number Four, which I doubt by now, since they've been advertising it like crazy on TV, I think you will enjoy it. No need to read the book first. Save it for after, and you won't be disappointed. You'll feel like you're getting more story by reading the book second, and you'll want that because I Am Number Four is just the beginning of a series and the sequel, The Power of Six, isn't available until September.

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