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— Tom Hanks as Forrest Gump, Forrest Gump

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It’s not always easy for a story to make the leap from book to big screen. Mark Twain’s The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn has fared better than some, probably because it has plenty of action to engage viewers. The 1993 movie version, The Adventures of Huck Finn, is a stripped-down but entertaining version of this classic novel.

“Reports of my death have been greatly exaggerated.”

A new DVD for an old favoriteAlthough Twain died in 1910, his movie career remains alive and well. The Internet Movie Database lists more than 60 film and television productions based on his work. Since 1918, 12 films based on The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn have been made.

Like Alexandre Dumas adventure heroes, Huck and his friends are revived and reinterpreted every few years. The Adventures of Huck Finn is a period piece, but it is very much a movie of the 1990s. The n-word is never used, and Jim speaks modern English, not the “Missouri Negro” dialect used in the book. On the DVD’s commentary track, screenwriter and director Stephen Sommers, said he didn’t think those elements were necessary. He’s right, but he probably also knew that no studio would release such a movie for fear of alienating viewers.

Life on the Mississippi

The story begins with Huck (Elijah Wood, now better known as Frodo in Lord of the Rings) living with the Widow Douglas and her sister, Miss Davis, who are trying to turn him into a proper young man. His life changes when his alcoholic, abusive pap (a scary Ron Perlman) shows up and drags Huck to a shack in the woods. Huck manages to escape and fake his own murder, hoping that his pap and his would-be guardians will leave him alone.

Huck heads for the Mississippi River only to bump into the widow’s slave Jim (Courtney B. Vance), who has run away. Huck isn’t sure he should help Jim escape — it’s a crime after all — but Huck is touched by his friend’s desperation to buy his own family out of slavery. The two quickly set off on a raft down the Mississippi.

Their adventures will be familiar to many, but it’s the cast that does a good job of bringing the book to life. 11-year-old Wood overacts, but brings gusto to his role. Vance is appropriately sober as Jim, the moral center of the story. The supporting roles are also well-acted; Jason Robards and Robbie Coltrane look like they’re having a great time playing the conmen King and Duke.

The Abridged Version

The emphasis of The Adventures of Huck Finn is on the adventures, while leaving out much of the book’s philosophizing. Purists may be disappointed, but the movie manages to capture the spirit of the book. Sommers says in the commentary track that one of the great strengths of the story is that it has good messages without ever preaching. His script is less subtle, but it succeeds in this respect.

One aspect of the book that the movie doesn’t leave out is violence. There are a few scenes, taken directly from the book, that may be too intense for young children. Despite the violence, Huck Finn is an entertaining family movie, and provides a good introduction to the book.

DVD Features

Since this movie was originally released in 1993, the quality of both the picture and sound are good. The DVD has a track with commentary by Sommers and editor Bob Ducsay, which provides some interesting background about the production. There is also a five-minute featurette about the movie as well as a theatrical trailer. None of these features are particularly outstanding, but the main reason to watch this disk is for the movie. The disk contains captions for the hearing-impaired and French and Spanish audio tracks as well as subtitles in both languages.