Book Review, Commentary, Fiction, Lidi, Movie Review, Review, Unwritten Hope

Soul Suckers Incorporated

A considerable fan of sci-fi, of all the material for young adults I have read and watched, nothing quite struck me like the ocean of pointless contradistinction between the characters, events, and settings of the novel “I Am Number Four” by Pittacus Lore and its movie counterpart. Hollywood did away unnecessarily with the life and character of Pittacus Lore’s book in order to metamorphose it into a blockbuster hit with the innocent people who watched the movie first; the movie has initial appeal but upon a second observation subsequent to reading the book, the “it” factor vanished with the charm of the original story: Planet Lorien was ravaged and devastated by the greedy, antagonistic Mogadorian race after a hostile takeover. Only nine young children, their Cepan, and the pilot of their spaceship survived by escaping before their home was destroyed. Before their shuttle left Lorien, the children were given numbers and placed under a charm ensuring that they could only be killed in order of their numbers. The Mogadorians found and killed Number One on Earth five years after the devastation of Lorien, and Numbers Two and Three soon after. John Smith is Number Four, and now the stakes for his survival have been raised.

The characters, events and settings of the movie and the book were as different as cats are from dogs; though cats and dogs are both animals, they don’t have much else in common. One of the things that made the novel stand out among others was the dynamic, unique characters that Pittacus Lore created, and it was one of the things that the movie producers radically changed. John, Henri and Number Six have all come to Earth from Planet Lorien with the few remaining others of their race to find refuge from the Mogadorians. As one of the original Garde of Nine, John had to keep hidden from the Mogadorians until the Nine became strong enough to rise up against them. Rumour had it the Mogadorians would target Earth next, and if this happened the Loric would go down with the humans. Living on Earth, John faced ordinary teenage challenges—friends, bullies, a girlfriend, school. He was quirky, strong-willed, and generally a good kid who tried to listen to the advice of his guardian, Henri, even if they did occasionally have different ideas about how things should be done.  In the movie, Alex Pettyfer was a twenty-year-old man playing a fifteen-year-old boy. John’s sensitivity and pleasant nature replaced with raw edginess and sarcasm. Missing was the careful thought process when faced with a situation that needed to be changed. When Sam Goode, one of John’s friends, threatened to expose him with truth-revealing pictures, John in turn threatened to hurt Sam to get the pictures from him after slamming him against Sam’s truck. John laughed in scorn when it turned out Sam’s threat was a bluff. In the book, Sam pointed a gun at John and demanded the truth, but John used words instead of violence to convince him he was wrong. Not much respect was shown by John for Henri, who was not as considerate of John’s opinion as he was in the book. Their relationship was not as trustful and cooperative. When Henri wanted to leave Paradise, Ohio because staying had become more dangerous than ever, John used telekinesis to throw Henri against the side of their house and drop him onto a stack of wood, and a short-lived physical fight ensued until Henri overpowered John and forced him to listen. In the book John only used his powers to hold Henri in the air until they both agreed to talk about the problem. “I lower him, set him on the floor. He hugs me. I’m surprised; I expected him to be pissed. He lets go of me and we sit down on the couch.”1 As John’s Cepan, Henri was responsible for keeping John safe and helping him to train and develop special powers called Legacies. John’s Legacies included the ability to resist being burned, emitting lights from his hands, telekinesis (all Garde develop telekinesis), and the ability to communicate with animals. John’s and Henri’s lives on paper are forged and fraudulent as they relocate all over the United States to help avoid being tracked by the Mogadorians. On earth, Henri poses as John’s father. In the movie Cepan are described as warriors, but in truth they were bureaucrats in charge of keeping Lorien running and training the Garde, those Loric people who develop Legacies. Henri seemed like a warrior in the movie, overprotective and sometimes anally retentive about his duties, but in the book he was gentler and far more emotional. “Though he is not biologically, for all intents and purposes he is my father. I love him and he loves me and I don’t want to disappoint him.”1 Henri was there through the ordeals John faced as one of the last of his alien race, and through his “teenage challenges” he dealt with as a boy attending high school. He offered support, advice, and wisdom. He saw the development of John’s relationship with Sarah Hart, though in the movie he did not meet Sarah once. Mark James was the school bully, star of the football team, and Sarah Hart’s ex-boyfriend. Mark frequently antagonized Sam Goode, and John became friends with him, so now he was on Mark’s blacklist for spending time with his ex-girlfriend and being friends with the “nerd”. Sam and his father were always involved in activities involving space and alien conspiracy theories (for reasons later explained in the second book of Pittacus Lore’s series, “The Power of Six”). Ever since his dad disappeared, Sam had been looking for clues to support his theory that his father was abducted by aliens. Thin, non-athletic, and a wearer of large, thick glasses and NASA T-shirts, he lived with a mother who was not always very nice to him. The movie depicted a stepfather as the controlling parental figure who further added to the misery of Sam’s life. John was Sam’s only friend, and Sam was John’s first friend. “I don’t want to leave. I have a real friend for the first time in my life. A friend who knows what I am and isn’t scared, doesn’t think I’m a freak. A friend who is willing to fight with me, and go into danger with me….I am not leaving.”1 Sam’s part as one of the heroes in the series was downplayed in the movie, with John being more protective and wanting Sam to be involved in as little as possible. Sam’s merit was finally acknowledged when he left Paradise with Number Six and John at the end of the story. Number Six was introduced near the end of the story during the war with the Mogadorians at John’s high school. Katarina, her Cepan, was killed three years ago, and Six had been searching for the other Garde ever since. Her Legacies included the ability to disappear and make anything she touches disappear, and control the elements, though her second Legacy was not shown in the movie. A skilled fighter, she was cockier in the movie; in the book she only fought because she had to, but in the movie she seemed to really enjoy it. Though the charm only protects them as long as the Garde stay away from each other, Six felt that the time had come to join together and prepare for war. “I had to risk it. We can’t keep running, and I’m sick of waiting. We’re all developing, all of us are ready to hit back. Let’s not forget what they did to us that day, and I’m not going to forget what they did to Katarina. Everybody we know is dead, our families, our friends. I think they’re planning to do the same thing to Earth as they did to Lorien, and they are almost ready…Why stand back and let it happen? If this planet dies, we die with it.”1 And so the battle began. The movie changed several things in this part of the story. Henri was killed before the battle, and Six arrived on the scene with guns blazing when really she quietly entered the room that John and Sarah Hart were hiding in, after she finally tracked down John. In the book Henri entered with Mark and Bernie Kosar, John’s pet Chimaera that had taken on the form of a beagle when Henri and John adopted him. John’s Legacy of communicating with animals was not shown in the movie, and so the part where John used his power to communicate with one of the Mogadorian beasts, convincing it to turn on the Mogadorians and facilitating the Mogadorian defeat, was cut out. Six, John, and Henri suffered severe battle injuries, with Henri ending up dying and Six and John needing to be carried off the battlefield. In the movie, they both walked away nearly unscathed and not much worse for wear. They were able to defeat the Mogadorians at the school, but there were more all around the world, and Six and John had to leave Paradise before more of them came. They took Sam with them because he proved a valuable asset to the Loric in combat, and he thought they could help him put the pieces of his father’s disappearance together. Before they left they cremated Henri, though in the movie he turned to ash immediately when he died. Only the Mogadorians disintegrated in the book. In the movie, Henri died in Athens, Ohio (in the movie the place was called Portside Vienna), when he went there to investigate an ariticle in one of Sam’s conspiracy-theory magazines about Mogadorians. The magazine publishers got the story from a man who captured and tortured the truth out of one of the Mogadorians. In the movie Henri went there to take down a truth-revealing video of John on the internet since Henri couldn’t get through the firewall to take it down himself. The Mogadorians were there in the book because they were also investigating the story. The Mogadorians stabbed Henri and he died after they got away. At the home of the publishers, Henri also told Sam the truth about what they were and what they were doing on Earth, though in the movie it was John who told Sam everything when Sam demanded to know after witnessing John’s powers at a carnival. In the book it was a Halloween festival-type event and in the movie it was a “Spring Scream” carnival. Mark James and his friends were in charge of running a haunted hay ride through the woods with a part where the riders got off and walked. When Sarah and John went on the ride (in the book they are accompanied by Sam and Sarah’s friend Emily) Mark’s friends kidnapped Sarah and took her to another part of the woods. Mark’s motives in the book were to make Sarah watch Mark beat up John, but in the movie he said he wanted to talk to Sarah about why their relationship had to end. In the movie Sam was following the activity, unbeknownst to anyone else, and saw John defeating the other boys like it was nothing, and saw John’s hands light up. After John saved Sarah and walked her home, he received a text from Sam saying that he saw what happened and he wanted to know what was going on. When John denied Sam’s accusation of John’s inhumanness, Sam said he had pictures on his phone that would raise questions, implying he would show them around if John didn’t tell the truth. Even after the pictures turned out to be a bluff, the violent, derisive movie-John managed to find a little sympathy for Sam. “My entire childhood has been an episode of X-Files. You know what it’s like to feel something so strong that every day you have to keep telling yourself your dad’s going to come back and take you away…and that everything we believed in was true and that we were not crazy? Please…please.”2 And so John told him that Sam’s dad was right. In the movie, after Henri died beside the railroad tracks when they leave the house of the publishers, Sam was listening to a handheld radio report and found out that John’s home had been investigated by the police, and the equipment Henri used to forge documents had been discovered. The police thought that John and Henri were terrorists (in the series the police don’t make this accusation until the second book, “The Power of Six” after discovering the destroyed school where the battle with the Mogadorians took place). A moment after Sam reported this John received a text from Sarah. Mark James’s father, a police officer, had told her about what the police found, and now she wanted to know the truth. John asked Sam to drop him off at the house where Sarah was, where a party was going on. In the book Mark was throwing the party and invited John, Sarah and Sam. The house caught on fire and John used his resistance to fire and his other powers to save Sarah and Mark’s two dogs who were trapped inside. After, Sarah asked about what happened and John told her the truth about himself. The James House Fire and the events surrounding it were not put in the movie. Also completely taken out of the movie were John’s training sessions with Henri and Sam. In the movie, when John’s first Legacy came, Henri only told John that he would keep growing stronger. “I need you to be careful…I don’t want to raise suspicion, I still have business here. In the meantime your powers will only draw attention. You keep yourself in check, you understand?”

“So I’ve got all these powers but I’m not allowed to use them?”

“Exactly.”2

In the book when John developed his first Legacy, they were able to open the Loric chest that Henri brought from Lorien, which was filled with John’s Loric Inheritance (objects that would help him develop his powers) and John’s training began. The Loric Chest was shown in the movie several times but no real importance was given to it, and no explanation was given as to its purpose. Along with the events and timeline of the movie, many of the settings for these events were changed, like Henri dying at the house of the publishers instead of at the school, Sam being told about the Loric-Mogadorian war in his garage instead of the publishers house, the truth-telling video on the internet being of John getting his scar when Number Three died instead of a video of John jumping out of Mark’s burning house saving Sarah and the dogs, the hayride where Mark kidnapped Sarah taking place at the Spring Scream instead of the Halloween parade featuring the hayride, and Sarah finding out about John on the side of the road when the police came after John instead of at the party at Mark’s house after John saved her from the fire.

The few things that the movie remake of I Am Number Four retained from the book were the basic traits of the characters and the main ideas surrounding the events and the settings. John Smith, or Number Four, was still an alien come to earth because his home planet was destroyed. He cared about the fate of Earth. “My planet is called Lorien, but Earth is my home now. It’s as good a place as any in the universe, and that’s how it’s going to stay.”2 He was motivated to move on to the next adventure by Henri’s death and a desire to save the planet for the girlfriend he had to leave behind. He saw the Mogadorians in action first hand instead of only listening to the stories; now it was personal. Henri was responsible for looking after John in the book and in the movie, and is loyal to the death toward his charge. He carried the memory of what happened to his friends and family and his wife, Julianne, as a reminder of why he needed to keep John, one of the six remaining Garde in the universe, alive. Sam was still one of John’s best friends, a key element in the war. His adventurous side was brought out when he had to fight with the Garde against the Mogadorians, his life brightened by his role in helping to save the world while discovering substantial evidence to lead him to the truth about his father. And Six was still on her own, trying to find the other Garde to bring them together to fight. She was fearless and determined to win, to save the home she found on Earth and to someday return to the home she left behind. The basic settings were kept in the movie; John and Henri lived in Paradise, Ohio, in an isolated two-story house outside of town. When Sam, Henri, and John went to the house of the “magazine publishers”, they found out that the Mogadorians had some human allies working for them. The battle with the Mogadorians happened at the school in both the movie and the book. Though it was called “The Spring Scream” in the movie, when John and Sarah went on the Haunted Hayride at the festival-type event in town, Mark got his friends to try and capture Sarah and John. John saved Sarah and proved to Mark that he was far stronger and that continuing to target him for bullying was no longer acceptable. What Sam saw John do to Mark’s friends in the woods sparked his suspicion of John’s credibility. At the school, the Mogadorians had the school surrounded as a way to try and kill John, and Six met them for the first time there. They saved each other many times during the fight, and it showed their ingenuity and strength, traits vital to winning the war.

Though the movie and the book had more differences than similarities, there were positive points along with negatives in each. In the story plot as a whole, I liked the fact that Six was portrayed as a strong, courageous, independent woman who could thrive on her own and pack a punch. She wasn’t afraid to get her hands dirty or risk her life to save her planet and ours. The story showed the value of making decisions carefully, especially if something very important is riding on what you choose to do. As a science fiction fan, I appreciate those concepts mixed in with interplanetary war. Something I didn’t like about the plot was how John made decisions that were so obviously going to lead to trouble, such as refusing to leave Paradise when Henri wanted to, a decision that ended up being Henri’s death sentence. Other than this, I feel the continuation of this series has merit. The movie and the book tell the story of fighting to defeat an uncompromising race of aliens who don’t know how to live without destroying the planets they occupy. In the book I was sometimes skeptical of the conflicts in the story. There were times when I could see an easy solution that incorporated the rules of the world Pittacus Lore presented. When Six, Sarah and John were hiding in the room of the school where Six found them, why couldn’t Six have made them all invisible so they could have sneaked past the Mogadorians? Either this was overlooked by Pittacus Lore or the omission of an explanation was meant to challenge the readers’ logical reasoning. I liked the emotions that were inspired in me as I read this book; I nearly cried when Henri died, I was scared when Sarah almost burned to death, and I was relieved to find out Mark was not as horrible as he seemed. I have read the book several times already, and it has not become old for me yet. As for the movie, I thought it was a brilliant production the first time I saw it, but after reading the book I felt it was a gross misrepresentation of the story. John’s aggressive behaviour made him less relatable, even if it fell in with the rest of the interpretation of the book. The movie on its own was logical, and the emotions were almost real, just very different from the novel and led to different actions on the parts of the characters. I think I would have enjoyed it more had the producers had made more of an attempt to follow the original story.

In an effort to keep movies from becoming too long, movie producers often need to change, shorten, or take out parts from the books they make into movies; but sometimes the tweaking of the story goes beyond what is necessary and crosses over into what the industry thinks will sell. They make useless changes to the elements of a book. Why did Six have to be blond in the movie? Why did Henri have to die days before he was supposed to? Why did they even change Athens into Portside Vienna? Authenticity is no longer a concern, as long as something resembling the original story is produced, with only the basic storyline and main characters remaining. I Am Number Four by DreamWorks Pictures was one of the most prominent examples of this so far, further pushing moviemaking from its artistic status to being a corporate, avaricious  industry based not on imagination and ingenuity, but popular belief and fluctuating trends. Producers and screenwriters need to realize that when it comes to movies based on books, only the movies that can thrive on their own (without only catering to what is “in” at the moment, and honouring the archetypical story) will stand the test of time.

                         Lisa Brock

Soul Suckers Incorporated

LA 9

Ms. Provencal

April 16, 2012

1—text or dialogue quoted from “I Am Number Four”, by Pittacus Lore

2—dialogue quoted from “I Am Number Four”, 2011 DreamWorks Pictures

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