Our rating: 4 out of 5
reviewed by: Emilee Somers
The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn has been one of my favorite sagas since grade school - the nostalgic tale of a boy, his raft and his river somehow epitomizes a wilder, simpler period in American history. I always regretted the lack of a definitive movie interpretation. While this version has its’ flaws, it is by far the most accurate and appealing adaptation I have seen, topping even Disney’s version with Elijah Wood.
Huck Finn (Patrick Day), partner in crime with the infamous Tom Sawyer along the 19th century Mississippi River, has grown weary of life with his wealthy widow guardian. He gains unexpected liberty, however, when he is forced to run away after the return of his alcoholic father. Huck teams up with Jim, a slave running from the threat of being sold further south, to make an epic trip to freedom by an unusual mean - a raft. Viewers (along with Huck himself) realize the depth and strength of his character as he and Jim endure everything from murderers to unscrupulous conmen and a vicious family feud. Joined by an array of comical, tragic, and sometimes unseemly characters, the unlikely duo take us on the adventure of a lifetime. Their story captures the stark contrast between the slow nostalgia of ’white’ southern wealth with the harshness of slavery, while revolving around a surprisingly appealing young hero, who must ultimately choose between following his culture or his heart.
Most memorable among their companions are the King and the Duke, two swindlers who pose as everything from doctors to preachers to actors. These characters constitute the only questionable material in the film. They perform a crude (though non-graphic) skit, and while collecting donations at a camp meeting (posing as a missionary) the ‘King’ eagerly hugs and man-handles some of the women, making himself the ‘sketchy old creep’ we were warned about as children. Aside from those two scenes, there is little objectionable content in the film. A man visits a tavern with prostitutes, is thrown from a window and later murdered. A feud decimates the entire male side of a family. However, none of the violence is at all graphic. There are only one or two swears, in stark contrast to Disney’s version, which is overloaded with strong language. The greatest flaw I saw in this film was -- despite its’ otherwise faithful rendition of the book - that it left out a major part of the story.
Like the novel, Huck Finn deals with the bigotry that was rampant in antebellum south. However, Huck is a breath of fresh air, with his compassionate nature and willing self-sacrifice in helping a runaway slave. Though initially conditioned by the racism with which he has grown up, Huck learns to see past Jim’s color into his heart (this is what has always made him my favorite, but Tom Sawyer fans will be pleasantly surprised with the reappearance of Twain’s beloved characters). Though somewhat slow at points, this film struck me with the beauty of its’ music, landscape, and character. Unlike the rough-and-tumble Huck of most productions, Patrick Day’s performance brings Huck to life with a depth and sensitivity that keeps him from becoming just another mischievous Tom Sawyer. Where other versions have fallen short in their surface interpretation of the novel, this adaptation captures the very essence of Twain’s humor, nostalgia, and social commentary. It is not just a boy, his raft, and his river -- it is his strength of character, his compassion, and his love for a man rejected by society that make this story the endearing epic that it is.