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Monday, April 07, 2008

Nim's Island

I used to watch a lot of tv growing up and there was a commercial that ran for years with a woman running a bath and pouring in her Calgon™ bubble bath liquid, then, with what would seem like a single magic camera move to the average viewer, she would instantaneously appear again in the tub, covered from shoulders down in a fluffy sheath of bubbles. At that point she rested her head gently on the back of the tub and relinquished all her cares in the world with one big sigh. “Calgon™, take me away!” she would exclaim.

It sounded like a good idea then and it still does now, although I think it would take more than a bubble bath to take away all my stress. Sometimes I dream of just chucking it all and moving away to a tropical island somewhere in the South Pacific never to be seen again, but with my luck I’d pick an island that was targeted by the US government for nuclear testing the day after I arrived. Either that or I’d find my island was actually a not-so-former leper colony and I had company that liked to drop in for tea whenever they liked, which unfortunately also meant dropping bits of ears, noses, and what-have-you in the tea during every visit. This is the trouble with my dreams. Even my visions of heaven on earth end up being more Shangri-blah than Shangri-la. What I really want is an island like Nim’s.

This eleven-year-old has a fantastic place to live.
Nim’s Island is a lush tropical paradise with its own (inactive) volcano, awesome scenery, brilliant beyond words local animals, and on top of all that her scientist father (Gerard Butler; 300) has built a remarkable multi-level jungle home, complete with electricity, plumbing, and even Wi-Fi so she can chat with people all over the world when she’s not hanging with her pals Fred the iguana, Galileo the pelican, Chica the sea turtle and Selkie the seal. Seriously. Nim (Abigail Breslin; Definitely, Maybe) spends her days having long conversations and play dates with her seal, which I suppose doesn’t really matter since it’s only you and your Dad around and hygiene probably isn’t all that high of a priority. Me? I wouldn’t want to come home at night smelling like seal. Pelican, maybe, but seal, never.

So other than the wee tragedy of Nim’s mother being swallowed by a Blue Whale when she was a baby, Nim’s life has been happy as a Clam(zilla)’s. Every couple of months a supply ship sails by and drops off a ton of supplies, including any new releases by Nim’s favorite author so she can read contentedly when she’s not busy hitting the beach with her posse of critters.

Nim is addicted to a series of books by writer Alex Rover, a rough and tough adventurer who travels the world kicking butt and making Indiana Jones look like a ballerina. In her mind, Alex is the ultimate manly man, a testosterone-driven god, and when her father gets an e-mail from the actual Alex Rover Nim is beside herself with excitement. It also comes at an opportune moment because Nim’s Dad, Jack, has gone to sea in their skiff in search of rare plankton and hasn’t yet returned. While she’d never admit it, Nim is lonely (and maybe just a tad bit nervous) being on her own for the first time overnight. So Nim, acting as her father’s assistant, begins a series of e-mails with Alex, answering the author’s questions about the volcano on the island which Alex sends in response to an article Jack had published in National Geographic about living in the shadow of such a geological anomaly. It seems Alex needs some specific info about volcanoes for his next book.

Thus begins the connect-the-dots plot of this family-friendly film where young Nim soon turns to her
favorite author for help after an accident and monsoon leave her hurt and her father missing. What Nim doesn’t know though is that “Alex Rover” is actually Alexandra Rover (Jodie Foster; The Brave One), a timid agoraphobic novelist who hasn’t left her house in months, is terrified of flying, driving, insects, germs, … well, just about anything and everything outside the walls of her San Francisco apartment. It’s only when Nim’s distress call becomes frantic that Alexandra is able to muster up the strength to mount a rescue, and that is due to the demanding urging of her imaginary male creation, Alex, cleverly played by a much more rugged version of Gerard Butler.

It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to figure out where the movie is headed to eventually, but the
journey itself is full of adventure and laughs, even if some of the action is eye-rolling and unbelievable. Foster and Breslin, two generations of America’s favorite child stars, work brilliantly together. Perhaps it is because Foster has lived through the child actor experience and knows first-hand how to best relate to another young talent like she was, but somehow they just click and seem very comfortable in one another’s company. Butler, on the other hand, has minimal interaction with the younger actress, as most of his scenes are either alone at sea or as the imaginary Scotsman Alex, a role he inhabits deliciously, much more so than as the dull American Dad, Jack.

Nim’s Island is a well-loved children’s book, and author Wendy Orr was very involved in the making of the film, so co-directors and co-writers Jennifer Flackett (Wimbledon) and Mark Levin (Journey to the Center of the Earth 3D) along with additional writers Joseph Kwong (Sly Cooper and the Thievius Raccoonus) and Executive Producer/Screenwriter Paula Mazur (The Vagina Monologues) went out of their way to include Orr in the filming process. Orr was on-set throughout the production and spoke personally with the actors about her vision for the characters, which must have been enormously helpful to them in the creative process and extremely satisfying to Orr when she saw the final product.

Might we expect to see our stars team up again for a sequel? Considering Orr recently published a second Nim book, Nim at Sea, and Paula Mazur was the one to host the release party for the book, you can pretty much count on it.

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