Friday, July 18, 2008

The Ruins

One of the better books I read during the 90s was Scott Smith’s debut novel, A Simple Plan. It took him around fifteen years to publish his second, The Ruins. Maybe no novel could live up to that much buildup, but The Ruins disappointed me greatly. It seemed overlong, and I thought in the end, it didn’t go anywhere. So I was less than enthusiastic with word The Ruins was being turned into a movie. Since there is a general rule that good books get destroyed by movies, I couldn’t imagine what would be done with a book I didn’t like.

The story focuses on four American early-twenty-somethings, on vacation in Mexico. A new German acquaintance invites them along to visit his brother at the site of an archaeology dig, and the bored Americans go with him. They find a Mayan pyramid, and become trapped there when the local indios won’t let them leave. Apparently, a near-sentient, carnivorous plant grows on the pyramid (this doesn’t play out as stupid as it sounds), and the locals are willing to kill to keep it from spreading. The trapped kids have to find a way out before they become plant food.

Maybe this is some sort of inverse rule, where bad novels are turned into better movies. Although it isn’t a great movie, compressing the action of the book into an average length movie serves to heighten the suspense (Smith wrote his own adaptation of the book, so give him the credit. With the exception of the whiney, moronic Amy (who believes if they tell the Indians, who have already shot one of their party to death, that one of them is injured, they’ll allow the vacationers to leave), the cast is believable and mostly sympathetic. And the ending of the book, which I hated, has been changed to something much more appropriate.

A surprisingly effective movie, well worth a rental.

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