Film Review: Bird Box

Spoiler Warning: There will be some. No, I’m not going to talk about the CGI birds.

Still taken from film.

This is the second part of my blog posts about Bird Box, the post-apocalyptic / Dystopian novel by Josh Malerman and the Netflix adaptation of the same name. In Bird Box, characters are not allowed to see, otherwise they will commit suicide or attempt to hurt themselves, and so must navigate the world blindfolded.

When thinking about the Netflix adaptation of Bird Box, I don’t want to whine that everything in the film didn’t match everything in the book. Altering small details in an adaptation doesn’t matter to me. However, there were some drastic changes made to Bird Box for its adaptation that altered the entire narrative and – I’d argue – made it worse.

Firstly, in the novel, Malorie’s sister dies after a period of time once the crisis has hit. At this point, Malorie and her sister have already been trapped in their house for a while, and so have adapted to survive in a world where sight is dangerous. Following her sister’s death, a pregnant Malorie is forced to seek new shelter, as suddenly she is left alone and vulnerable, and needs someone to help her with the birth. This all means that Malorie’s sister’s death is saddening and impactful, because the reader has had time to become familiar with her, and sympathise with Malorie’s loss of a family member and her loss of the family home. Malorie’s sister’s death is also a catalyst which pushes Malorie to be strong and brave, taking a risk to ensure the survival of her baby. In the film, Malorie’s sister dies almost instantly in a car collision. Malorie then sees a house nearby and seeks refuge. This does not create anywhere near as much impact. The audience barely spends any time with Malorie’s sister before she dies, and Malorie herself is little affected apart from being somewhat mopey when she arrives at the house. This change in the narrative hardly seems to benefit the film at all, and makes me wonder why they decided to change it.

Secondly, the entire premise of Bird Box was sadly undermined in the film adaptation because characters automatically removed their blindfolds when they were inside, assuming themselves to be safe. However, the characters themselves demonstrate awareness that the creatures can get inside buildings. This begs the question: How can characters guarantee somewhere is safe, without looking, simply because it is inside? This was particularly irksome when they came across new locations, such as a supermarket or empty house to raid. Malorie also does this – yanking her blindfold off the minute she steps inside a room when seeking shelter for the children, when there is no guarantee that there isn’t a creature inside waiting. This was a foolish thing to overlook – Malorie from the novel would never do this, especially when the lives of Girl and Boy would be put at risk.

Still taken from film.
Still taken from film.

Thirdly, in the film, Boy and Girl are frustratingly disobedient. In the book, Malorie trains the children from birth navigate the world with their eyes closed – they even wake up with their eyes closed. The children obey her every command perfectly, understanding how serious it is that they do what she says. Admittedly, Malorie’s regimented, strict, protectiveness over Boy and Girl was carried over into the film well, as I thought Sandra Bullock was a good representation of Malorie’s character. However, though Malorie regularly shouts and demands they follow her instructions, Boy and Girl are continuously disobeying, wandering off, getting lost, and almost take their blindfolds off as a consequence. Whilst this scene is meant to “increase the tension” of the film, it would never have happened in the book because the children were well-taught to obey Malorie’s every word, at all times, regardless. This directly undermines the emphasis the film places on Malorie’s regular instructions to Boy and Girl, and makes Malorie’s strict personality redundant.

Still taken from film.

Finally, there is another drastic change in the film adaptation.  In the novel, once they are on the river, Malorie knows a time is coming when she must look – only for a second – because the river will fork and she must be able to see in order to steer. This is another example of Malorie making a decision which, though it could be potentially dangerous for her, would ensure the children have a chance to reach safety. This parallels Malorie’s decision to leave the house following the death of her sister, as easy and as comfortable as it would have been for her to stay. Ultimately, these two events test Malorie’s bravery and strength, and her determination as a mother. However, in the film, Malorie announces that they are approaching rapids, and one of the children must look, in order to navigate and shout directions. Then, in a “noble” act of love, Malorie decides no-one will look, deciding she will not risk the life of Boy or Girl. This decision is meant to be seen as honourable and brave, and yet it comes across as foolhardy and dangerous. As a result, all three of them nearly drown after being thrown about on the rapids. This does not foreground bravery or present Malorie as a strong mother figure, as the scene does in the novel.

To sum up, these are four key problems with the Netflix adaptation of Bird Box that have arisen simply from unnecessarily changing the source material.

An Aside: In a world where to look means to die, I would expect characters to be more proactive in blocking sources of daylight. In the book, every window is covered with blinds, towels, newspaper, tape – anything to stop a fraction of light getting inside. In the film, the blinds are barely pulled shut and all the curtains are made from lightweight, thin, pale fabric. Admittedly, this gives the film an arguably “aesthetic” pale colour palette. Yet, this is just another element of the film which has been overlooked, and seemingly undermines the entire premise of Bird Box before it has even properly begun.

Still taken from film.

Unfortunately, after enjoying the book so much, I was left disappointed by the film adaptation. If you’d still like to experience the story of Bird Box, I’d recommend you read the book instead.

– Judith


Book Review: Bird Box

Still taken from film. 

This blog post may be a little overdue, after the recent criticism and the seemingly never-ending memes that were circulated about Netflix’s film adaptation of Bird Box, a post-apocalyptic / Dystopian novel by Josh Malerman.

The film adaption was released on Netflix in December 2018, directed by Susanne Bier.  However, I’d seen Bird Box in bookshops and had been keen to read it for a while. The tagline particularly caught my eye:

If you’ve seen what’s out there … it’s already too late.

So, before I even knew there was a Bird Box adaptation, I read the novel and really enjoyed it.

It is similar in style to The Road by Cormac McCarthy. The children, Girl and Boy, are nameless. Short sentences and capital letters are used to increase the tension. Furthermore, Bird Box is primarily concerned with family, and the survival of Malorie and the two children in her care.

The book is also similar to the fantastic film A Quiet Place; Bird Box was published in 2014 and A Quiet Place wasn’t released until 2018, so the criticism that Bird Box simply copied John Krasinski’s fantastic idea is an ill-founded one, I think. Unlike A Quiet Place, in which the characters are not allowed to make noise, the characters in Bird Box are not allowed to see, otherwise they will commit suicide or attempt to hurt themselves.

Bird Box has conventional Dystopian elements, such as focusing on a group of survivors working together to scavenge for supplies, find safe shelter, and protect one another from danger.

I liked the structure of the book and the use of alternate chapters. The chapters alternated between Malorie’s current life with Boy and Girl, as they try to reach the river and sail to safety, and Malorie’s past life, as the crisis hit and she found out she was pregnant.

The use of first-person narration was incredibly immersive; I felt like I was directly inside Malorie’s head at all times, experiencing her thoughts and feelings. It was scary to “see” the world from her perspective – to know there could be a creature in your house at any point, lurking behind you, watching you, trying to entice you, and yet you have to resist the urge to look.

I also liked that no clear explanation was offered to what the creatures are, where the creatures came from – or even if there are any creatures. Nobody can prove their existence because nobody can ever look. Furthermore, this deliberate ambiguity is more effective than being confronted with a grotesque monster, as the fear of the unknown is arguably more gripping.

All in all, I was very pleased with Bird Box and would recommend. When I learnt there was a Netflix adaptation, I was keen to watch it.

If you’d like to see what I thought of the Netflix adaptation, come back next week to find out!

– Judith

Book Review: Jurassic Park

Image via Cosmopolitan.

“You really do have dinosaurs on the brain.”’

If you don’t know what Jurassic Park is, have you been living under a rock?

The Films

Jurassic Park is a science fiction novel by Michael Crichton. It was adapted into a film by Steven Spielberg, which was released in 1993. It had 2 sequels: The Lost World: Jurassic Park (1997) and Jurassic Park III (2001).

My Photo [Jurassic 1 Poster].jpg
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In 2015, the Jurassic Park franchise expanded when Jurassic World was released in 2015, directed by Colin Trevorrow, starring Chris Pratt and Bryce Dallas Howard. Having seen the original films, I watched Jurassic World for the first time this summer. Jurassic World is basically a soft reboot of Jurassic Park (1993) with some questionable characters and plot elements, which has some fun moments nonetheless and much better CGI dinosaurs.

Its sequel, Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom was released in the summer of 2018, which I watched too. I thought Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom was much better than its predecessor in characters, storytelling, and visuals. It was the scariest Jurassic Park film I’ve ever seen and in places was incredibly gruesome and gory.

A third sequel is planned, preemptively titled Jurassic World 3 and is estimated to be released in 2021.

The Novel

Jurassic Park by Michael Crichton, as most already know, is about an amusement park and zoo founded by John Hammond. The park is filled with real dinosaurs, recreated in laboratories using DNA recovered in dinosaur fossils and preserved insects. The paleontologist Alana Grant, the botanist Ellie Sattler, the mathematician Ian Malcolm, and Hammond’s two grandchildren, Timmy and Lex, are invited to view the park before it officially opens. Whilst all seems fun and interesting initially, the park begins to malfunction, and so the dinosaurs escape, wreaking inconceivable havoc.

I loved this book more than I even thought I would.

It was instantly entertaining and instantly scary, as there are dinosaur attacks in the book omitted from the film, so the characters are never far away from a predatory encounter.

The arguably most memorable scenes from Jurassic Park (1993) are when the Tyrannosaurus Rex escapes and when Timmy and Lex are hunted by Velociraptors in the kitchen.

2 - T Rex
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These scenes are expertly written in the book and genuinely frightening – more so than in Spielberg’s film because your imagination can truly go crazy. Every time characters have to run or hide, it’s so exciting and tense.

1 - Raptors in the Kitchen
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In addition to the intense events within Jurassic Park, there was also lots of interesting scientific information about the various dinosaurs. This made them more complex than just ‘scary monsters’, explaining Grant and Sattler’s fascination with them, and highlighting Hammond’s exploitation of them.

Crichton really paints Hammond as the villain of the piece, which doesn’t come across as strongly in Spielberg’s film. Hammond is a man eager to get rich and create popular entertainment quickly by exploiting living creatures for gain, whilst neglecting to fund proper care and research into what individual species require and the dangers they pose. Ian Malcolm criticises Hammond and the industry of modern science, predicting the park will devolve into chaos immediately, due to the park’s focus on commercial gain rather than safety and careful study. No doubt this analogy can be applied to modern zoos today.

Jurassic Park was a highly entertaining book, and I’d happily re-read it. I ordered Crichton’s sequel, The Lost World, the same day I finished Jurassic Park.

I strongly recommend if you love the film franchise but haven’t yet read the book on which it’s based!

– Judith