Directed by: Andrew Davis
Written by:Louis Sachar
Starring: Sigorney Weaver, Jon Voight, Tim Blake Nelson, Shia LaBeouf, Patricia Arquette
Released: October 30, 2003
Grade: B

I haven’t actually heard of it before now but Holes is quite a popular children’s book in the United States.  Disney snapped up the rights to the story and secured original author Louis Sachar to transform it into a movie screenplay.  The fact it’s a family story pitched to a young audience must have made it difficult to market in Australia this time of year.  Surely more interest and business would have been generated had the release date coincided with school holidays.

Stanley Yelnats (LaBeouf) is a kid born without luck.  A curse was placed on his great grandfather and it has followed the family ever since.  In a moment of freak chance, a pair of shoes falls from the sky and into his arms.  The police immediately arrive and he’s found in possession of stolen merchandise.  Found guilty, he’s sent to a juvenile detention centre known as Camp Greenlake for 18 months.

The Warden of the camp (Weaver) has an interesting method to whip the boys into shape.  As her loyal employee, Mr Sir (Voight) says to Stanley on his first day "If you take a bad boy and make him dig a hole every day in the hot sun, it will turn him into a good boy.”  It’s a strange theory but sure enough, the boys are driven out to a deserted plain each day and asked to dig one five foot deep hole.  They do it every day without fail.  They sense that they’re supposed to be looking for something but aren’t sure what it is.

The pieces are put together thanks to a separate story that is told concurrently with Stanley’s.  A hundred years earlier, there was once a lake and a town on the spot where Camp Greenlake is today.  There was a woman known as Kissin’ Kate Barlow (Arquette) who taught the children at the local school but was caught kissing a “coloured man” and ostracised from the community.  There’s a link between Stanley and Kissin’ Kate Barlow but of course I won’t tell you what that is in this forum.

The story has an element of depth which is nice.  I hate seeing overly simplistic films pitched to kids and young adults.  I was disappointed with the lack of time spent developing the characters of the kids at Camp Greenlake.  They are more interesting that The Warden and Mr. Sir so I suppose if I do want to find out more I will need to read Louis Sachar’s novel.  Still, I am a fan of Sigorney Weaver and Jon Voight and did enjoy their screen presence (even if they are a little over the top).

If you’re seeing this film in Australia, you’ll be happy to know that this isn’t an ordinary release.  Before the film gets underway, you’ll get to see a wonderful short film called Cracker Bag which was directed by Australian Glendyn Ivin.  Cracker Bag won the best short film prize at this year’s Cannes Film Festival and is a shoe-in to win the short film prize at the Australian Film Institute Awards later this year.  It’s great to see short films being released this way and I’ll support any studio which does similar in the future.