Book Review · Book turned into a movie · Movie Review

Double Feature: The Lost City of Z – David Grann

lost1I know that the Amazon rainforest could be dangerous, but I didn’t realize how much of a deathtrap the forest was to foreigners.

Honestly, it’s a miracle that anyone came back from any expedition into that forest in the early 20th Century. These expeditions came about because, as time moved on, there was less to discover, and the Amazon was seen as one of the last major areas needing to be mapped.

The Lost City of Z is about Percy Harrison Fawcett and his multiple treks to the Amazon Rainforest, include the one that took his life. Over the years, he slowly gathered information about the ruins of a grand city in the deepest part of the jungle. It was this last journey, to find Z, where he, along with his son Jack and Jack’s friend Raleigh, went into the forest and never returned.

As the author, David Grann, prepares for his own expedition into the rainforest, he brings together Fawcett’s story, including theories about what happened on the last journey into the forest.

What’s keeping my score low is that it took a good 70 pages before I was into the book. I really had to push myself to continue as Grann described Fawcett’s early life, and to be honest there was a couple of chapters I had to skim.

Once Grann started to describe all of Fawcett’s journeys into the Amazon, I was pretty invested. There were still some rough patches, but I was able to get through them now that I wanted to know what happened to Fawcett, Jack, and Raleigh.

There’s no easy answers with Fawcett’s fate, but I do think Grann gives the best conclusion with the data he was given. While there isn’t real closure for Fawcett’s team, Grann was able to get to the bottom of Z. I was thankful for this, I don’t need neat endings (especially in non-fiction), but man, it would have been a bummer to have gotten zero answers with the time invested.

Which makes me interested in what approach the movie will take. The journeys are definitely cinematic, but what about the ambiguous ending? Will the movie try to fill in holes with its fictional take?

Three hours later…

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lost2I’m so conflicted about this movie. If I had gone in cold and didn’t read the book beforehand, I would have really enjoyed The Lost City of Z.

The problem is that maybe 10% of the movie is accurate to Fawcett’s story (if that). I was thankful the movie didn’t even try to pretend, there wasn’t a ‘based/inspired on a true story’ in the beginning of the film.

I understand making changes to a story for time and a narrower focus, but I was sad that Fawcett was a completely different character. I’m not blaming the actor, Charlie Hunnam, in any way, this was actually some of his best work.

Because so much is different, my best advice, if you’ve read the book and want to go see the movie, is to crumple everything you know into a ball and toss it to the side. That will be the only way you can enjoy the film, because the biggest connection to the book is in name alone.

I’ll probably try and watch it again once I’m farther away from the book, because like I said, there are some really good elements in the film. The acting is good, the narrative that they do create is interesting, and the movie does a good job of showing how beautiful and terrifying the Amazon is.

The only negative for me in terms of story, and probably because Fawcett is so different from reality, is that Fawcett went from zero to sixty on his belief in the lost city. His Indian guide mentions Z (randomly), and Fawcett is dismissive. Then he finds some pottery in the woods, and he’s like, “Oh my, the city of gold is real” and immediately becomes obsessed.

I just wanted more of a buildup to his obsession with Z, because I think that was the most powerful story out of the book. A hard, but good man, slowly pulled away from his family and society to find his true love and passion in the Amazon, an obsession that leads to his downfall.

All in all, I think if you go in realizing that the movie is a terrible adaptation, but a solid movie, I think you’ll have a far better experience. Just look up the real Percy Harrison Fawcett afterwards.

Book: 6/10

Movie: B….maybe?

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