I knew that before I completely moved on from Pearl S. Buck’s The Good Earth, I wanted to watch the film adaptation. So, I borrowed it from my local library and was eagerly looking forward to watching it. After all, this movie won two Academy Awards in 1937 and in my mind, this was a time when Hollywood did movies well, so I was expecting to be amazed.
However, my amazement soon turned to surprise and then to disappointment. Not only did they make changes, which I know they must do when they adapt a book for the screen, but they essentially rewrote the entire second half on the novel! I just sat there shaking my head, saying to my husband, “Didn’t happen in the book” at what seemed like every scene in the second half of the movie. It was disappointing because I felt that the changes did not capture the heart of the book. In my opinion, it created a different story: Wang Lung and O-lan’s love story.
Now, this sounds nice, especially since Wang Lung really became a jerk in the second half of the novel, so maybe this re-telling is the way many wished it had turned out, but I guess I’m a purist and wish movies would stay true to the novel. To me, the story focused on Wang Lung, simple farmer, who becomes wealthy and takes care of the people in his life. Very nice. However, along the way he gets sidetracked, and in the end he realizes his love for O-lan. Unfortunately, this is not the story I read in the book.
The changes are too numerous to list, but it presented a picture of a different Wang Lung whose relationships with various family members were far different than the novel portrayed, especially with his uncle.
A few points that caused irritation:
- The main characters in the movie were not even played by Chinese actors! In a story about Chinese peasants!
- Wang Lung freely gave money to others…often happily
- Wang Lung’s uncle came to stay with them and Wang Lung didn’t object
- Wang Lung gave his uncle money…ungrudgingly
- The Uncle character was lazy but harmless, not the loathed and feared character he was in the book
- O-lan willingly gave Wang Lung her jewels and pearls
- The second half of the film was re-written and seemed to tell a different story altogether from the book’s second half.
Needless to say, I wasn’t thrilled with the movie. Maybe it was because I read the book first. But then again, maybe not. I would like to think I would have been unimpressed even if I had not read the book first.
Has anyone out there seen the movie? If so, what did you think of it? Tell me in the comments below.