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21 November 2003
Huckleberry Finn, a novel written by Mark Twain has been adapted into several different film versions. Each version has a new “reading” based upon the time period in which it was made. These versions are reflective of the political and social ideas the audience might possess at that time. Although each film is derived from the original work by Mark Twain, they vary enough that one version may be considered superior to the others in regards to their reading of the film.
One of the first filmed versions of Huckleberry Finn opened in 1939, and stars Mickey Rooney as Huckleberry Finn. His portrayal of Huck is playful, and comical. This story is portrayed to be a fun, and lighthearted adventure, instead of one developing serious political ideals regarding rights and liberties of the individual. The idea of the African American being completely autonomous in nature, is not reflective of the times, therefore shaping the film in its portrayal of Jim.
Jim’s role in this film is somewhat unnecessary, in that he appears to be an afterthought in the plot. He is in essence tagging along on Huckleberry’s adventures. This distinguishing characteristic is essential in analyzing the production goals of this version. These goals can be considered reflective of the time period in which they were filmed. Jim is not seen as an independent or capable character; in fact he often relies on Huck for guidance and direction. Because of this films lack of development of Jim and his importance to Huck, it is inferior to its 1993 counterpart.
The Huckleberry Finn version of 1993 presents an entirely different film with distinctive differences in its presentation and representation of individual characters. This film, in its presentation alone is reflective of the time period in which it was made. Contemporary audiences often prefer realistic films, which this version provides. In its desire to present a realistic version of the story, Huck’s escape from his father is portrayed in detail. The director has Huck meticulously carry out Twain’s plan of escape, as outlined in the novel, providing the audience with an accurate and believable explanation and understanding of the beginning of Huck’s adventure.
This film is also reminiscent of the time period in which it was made as it develops and presents characters in a way which would prove acceptable to the contemporary audience. Jim is developed as a mature, pensive, capable adult throughout the film. This is shown as Jim’s character is introduced and presented throughout the movie. In the beginning of the film, Jim is seen telling fortunes to other slaves, immediately he is established as a strong character. He is fully competent and in charge of himself, and capable of manipulating other slaves. The notion that Jim is a superstitious person is also void now that the audience knows that he uses his “ability” to divine spirits purely as a mean of profit. This reading differs from the original novel as well as the 1939 version of Huckleberry Finn.
Throughout the film, Jim is aware of his situation as a slave, and uses this knowledge to manipulate Huck in order to achieve freedom. Although the book also describes the situation surrounding Huck’s desire to turn Jim in, the film develops Jim’s strong character as it shows him using his manipulative ability in conjunction with Huck. Jim is heard saying “Huckleberry Finn is the only white man who never lied to Jim,” and “Huckleberry Finn’s the best friend Jim ever had,” allowing the audience to infer Jim’s ability of manipulating Huckleberry Finn, and the situation.
This version of the novel also develops Huck as a somewhat needy character, in need of a father figure. Jim provides this guidance, and Huck is obedient and respectful to Jim’s input and ideas. Huck depends on Jim for direction, and the film makes it clear that Jim is always in Huck’s mind. He is present in every scene; at home, while he is in prison, and also on the plantation. The camera consistently finds Jim, if not in a close-up, then in the background, continually implying his overseeing Huck.
This film’s representation of Huckleberry Finn necessarily differs from the 1939 version as a result of the relatively different audiences, and their
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