As the only literate Reject, it’s my duty to find the latest, the greatest and the untouched classics that would make great source material for film adaptations. I read so you don’t have to.
There has been a lot of commotion and debate surrounding the new edition of “The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn” because it waters down the language (at least a certain part of it). It has shocked people that a classic could be so obliterated for the sake of political correctness, but the book was weakened years ago considerably – by movies.
It’s time for a fresh cinematic take on Mark Twain‘s – a take that is gritty and hilarious and strongly-worded as the book truly is.
The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn
By Mark Twain
“You don’t know about me, without you have read a book by the name of ‘The Adventures of Tom Sawyer,’ but that ain’t no matter.”
There’s no need to recount the story here, because it’s so famous. Normally in this column, I only cover books and other printed pieces that haven’t had an adaptation yet, but this novel has spawned dozens. Some are better than others, but it’s been an honest five decades since the adaptations had any teeth at all. The 1993 version starring Elijah Wood was a Disney, family-friendly adaptation (which also swapped out the word “nigger” for “slave”); the 1960 version directed by Michael Curtiz was a solid film, but even it focused more on the wacky humor than the commentary; and the 1939 version with Mickey Rooney bills it as “his happiest role.”
Granted, the book is a very funny book, but there’s a lot more to it than simple humor. So far, no movie has captured its spirit.
There are people in the world that would boycott it.
Writing/Directing: A modern day take on a Western that’s grisly and has the courage of creativity to include the warts and all? There’s only one writing/directing team up to the task: The Coen Brothers. If they can make a home-made sex chair the centerpiece of a relationship, they can certainly use the word “nigger” in a movie.
An Unknown as Huck Finn: Few young actors come to mind here. Luckily, the Coens and their casting directors had a great deal of foresight in casting Hailee Steinfeld in True Grit so it seems clear that they could find the male version out of a crowd. Although casting Hailee Steinfeld as a boy would be a bold move, and it would make Huck’s cross-dressing even weirder.
Anthony Mackie as Jim: Mackie has the acting chops here to create an indelible character, to challenge the actors around him, and to give them a lot of material to work with. If he was cast, he’d steal plenty of scenes and bring the odd mix of gravity and levity that the story demands.
John Goodman as Pap: The drunken bastard who acts as a catalyst for the entire story, Goodman could play Pap with his eyes closed, and it would be devastating to see what he could do with them open. There are zero redeeming factors to Pap – he’s money-hungry, locks Huck up in a cabin, and feigns any sort of human feeling.
Stephen Root as The Duke: The Duke is supposed to be in his 30s, but Stephen Root is fantastic and needs to be cast in everything ever.
Mary Steenburgen as Aunt Polly: Steenburgen is a subtle actress that hasn’t been in the big spotlight for a while, which is a shame. Perhaps it’s just my love of Back to the Future III that places her instantly in my mind for this role, but there’s little argument that she wouldn’t be great.
Who Owns It:
This is a tough one. The novel itself is in the public domain because the author died more than 100 years ago. That theoretically means that anyone could film it. On the other hand, the Twain Estate may have some claim to the film rights, but nothing in my research could confirm that.
People who think this book is racist are wrong. Plain and simple. It’s a complex piece of our American history that demands to be told in the raw way that the tone of the book reads. It’s slapstick and subterfuge with a powerful lesson about changing a view on intolerance.
It’s a novel that speaks in the tongue of its time, and it certainly deserves a film adaptation that does it justice instead of waving around a PG rating to let parents know their child won’t be exposed to anything unsafe or challenging. Nothing against the Disney-fied versions, but this classic work of American literature should at least be given a strong-mouthed counterpart on film for everyone to enjoy.