Over the winter break, I had the opportunity to see Unbroken. As I have also read the book, I thought I may write a comparison of the two (à la what I did with The Monuments Men last year). I’m just sorry this is not as timely, as by now the movie has been out nearly three weeks. My chance to see the movie came just last week.
The book provides more of a background on Louis Zamperini’s early and post-war life. The movie just hints at the former and uses a few notes at the end for the latter. In those hints of Louis’ early life, we see, just like in the book, how Louis was a troublemaker who redirected his energies into track with his brother Pete’s assistance. We also see how much Louis’ mother, Louise, loves her son.
The movie opens to the last flight of the Super Man (see photo and caption on right), an event about a third of the way into the book with flashbacks to Louis’ early life and track success, including the 1936 Berlin Olympics. I will not give details as to not spoil the book or the movie. I will say, though, that this effect worked out nicely. After that segment was over, the movie dove right in to Louis’ crew’s only mission with the Green Hornet that led to Louis, Allen “Phil” Phillips, and Francis McNamara becoming adrift at sea for 47 days. That, obviously, leads directly into their time at sea. I thought all of this closely followed what happened in the book. However with much of the time at sea edited out for time, but the remaining bit clearly got the gist of it across. But there were things from this part of the book that was left out that occurred earlier int he war: the Christmas Eve 1942 bombing raid on Wake Island and the April, 1943, Japanese bombing raid on Funafuti in which Louis and his crew were caught. These were key in the book.
The movie deviated from the book most once Louis made it to the POW camp in Japan. In the movie, Louis is seen going directly to the Omori Camp outside Tokyo, not the interrogation camp, Ofuna, like in the book. Omori was the second of three camps Louis was imprisoned in. The harsh camp life was shown-cleaning latrines, wooden bunks or bare floors for sleeping, little food, and enforced labor. This was the same in both the book and movie. However, much of the time in camps during the movie focused on the relationship between Louis and Mutsuhiro “the Bird” Watanabe. This caused the other relationships formed in real life to not be shown on-screen (see next paragraph), to see the many ways the POWs resisted their captors (utterly fascinating!), or their joy at each appearances of a B-29. Then after a scene involving a food drop at Naoetsu, the camp Louis ended the war in, the movie jumps directly to Louis’ homecoming, skipping any mention of how the POWs found their own way to the coast, his long recovery, or reunions with his old crewmates as depicted in the book.
Overall, the movie clearly focused on Louis. Other historical figures that played key roles in the book were cut entirely or kept to a minimum. Louis and Phil were the best of friends, but the movie shows them as more of comrades. Most of the other crewmen were also friends, where they came to life in the book they were just bodies in the movie. Once imprisoned, they made other friends and once Louis and Phil were separated, Louis went on to make yet others. In the book, Bill Harris, John Fitzgerald, and Fred Garret worked together with Louis to find ways to “get back at” the Japanese guards, steal additional food, and map the course of the war. In the movie, Fitzgerald is the only person named. What can be presumed to be Harris and Garret are seen but that is all. Looking at the guards, Watanabe was the only one depicted; other cruel guards were not featured nor was the one kind guard, Sueharu Kitamura.
All said, the movie still manged to depict the heart of the story in the book. I was just sad to see how some key players in the book were downplayed, but short of a miniseries that could not be helped (Hollywood, take a hint). Overall, a winner and much closer to the book than when I compared The Momuments Men.