This is terrible news. There are so many reasons why, but I’ll focus on just a few.
First, what makes Bryson’s books so great is hardly plot — and without a plot-centric text, you end up with a film adaptation that will be, at best, either a very loose or exaggerated adaptation. Bryson’s books are great because he’s an outstanding wordsmith and keen observer who fills his pages with witty banter (half the time bantering merely with himself). His books are shaped not by what happens (or happened, for those that take a look at events in the past) but how he depicts what happens.
To be a bit cliched, when I read his books it really isn’t about the destination — his, wherever it may happen to be, or mine, as a reader headed for the last page. Instead it’s about the details along the way, the nuances in unexpected situations, the moments of hilarity or, occasionally, somberness that arise. So, I think much will be lost in the attempt to bring his books to screen.
Does diverging from a text necessarily ensure a poor film? No. But does walking, as the subject of film for entertainment rather than, say, documentary/information have a greater chance of leading to a poor film? I’m going to say yes on that one. My opinion is one that I’ve formed with very little research. I never bother to see “Wild,” the film adaptation of Cheryl Strayed’s book by the same title. I did read the book, and enjoyed it, though it read a bit like what I imagine Strayed might have seen as a self-help reference for herself.
That’s fine; its intent as a text is different from Bryson’s, and accomplishes it, although I appreciate the nature of Bryson’s intent far more. But I didn’t see the film because I mean, really, it’s a movie that essentially fictionalizes one woman’s account of a personal journey. That’s nice. Plenty of people like that, and it works better for this book because the book is driven by event and self-reflection more than description.
Still, when it comes to self-reflection there are many life moments that are meaningful but not necessarily movie-worthy. To make them movie-worthy one would, I believe, have to corrupt their very essence. Movies are meant to entertain. Meaningful moments are not, by definition, entertaining. Might they be? Sure. But to make them universally so, ready for the big screen, takes some fudging of the details, and there my interest is lost.
“A Walk in the Woods” made its debut at the 2015 Sundance Film Festival, and from what I’ve read, and agree with in speculation, it sounds like the focus is really on the relationship between Bryson (portrayed by Robert Redford) and his walking partner, Katz (played by Nick Nolte). That’s fine. Movies are often about relationships and how they change over time. But then it’s no longer “A Walk in the Woods,” per se, no longer about the trail, about its history and oddities and intrigues. And that’s probably good, because as movie-for-entertainment, that would be terribly boring.
But ultimately, it’s bad, because Bryson is a brilliant writer, and I feel that adapting this particular work of his tarnishes it.
You can view the trailer here.