Hollywood is always shoveling a lot of something, and occasionally its glitzy spade tosses a few genuine stories over its shoulder.
“Holes” is one of them. It debuted last weekend No. 2 at the box office with about $16 million (behind the Jack Nicholson-Adam Sandler comedy, “Anger Management,” embedded at No. 1 for its second week). The $16 million take for “Holes” surprised some industry insiders, who thought the picture was a diamond—in the rough.
As “Holes” started flickering on roughly 2,300 screens across the country, the movie’s director, Andrew Davis, spoke with EthicsDaily.com over the phone from his office in Santa Barbara, Calif.
“I’m reading reviews, most of which I’m very, very happy with. Some I’m not,” he said. Publications that found the movie slower than a melting ice cap included the New York Post, Chicago Tribune and Atlanta Journal-Constitution.
“We’re getting responses that theaters are selling out,” he said. “I read the good reviews to my actors and partners.”
Davis first dug Louis Sachar’s novel of the same name when his producer, Teresa Tucker-Davies, gave it to him.
“I thought this was really a wonderful book for everybody,” Davis said. “It works on several different levels.”
Sachar’s 1998 book won the Newbery Medal for Best Children’s and Young Adult Fiction, the Boston Globe Horn Book Award, and the National Book Award for Young People’s Literature. The filmmakers even hired Sachar to write the script, though he had never written a screenplay before.
Davis sees a number of themes running through the book and movie: friendship, family, history, race, keeping your word and having hope. On top of all that, the movie plays like a mystery.
“All kinds of people can see this movie and get something out of it,” he said.
“Holes” is rated PG by the Classification and Rating Administration. Davis said getting a PG rating, even opposed to a PG-13 rating, was important to him.
“We wanted young kids to be able to see the movie,” he said. “And it does have some strong themes in it. And it’s got some real drama in it. At the same time, we didn’t want it to scare kids.”
Though the movie contains “mild language” according to its CARA rating, by current standards it is remarkably devoid of offensive language. That decision, too, was deliberate.
“We didn’t feel that language was going to make the movie any better,” said Davis, adding that “language” might have seemed natural given scenes of delinquent boys under the thumb of prickly overseers.
CARA also indicates that “Holes” contains “violence.” It does, though its portrayal was kept within bounds for the PG rating. Violence, however, continues to be a theme that interests Davis, who also directed “The Fugitive” and “A Perfect Murder.”
“Violence begets violence begets violence is a theme that I’m interested in,” Davis said. “Something gets paid for, somewhere else, somehow.”
In “Holes,” part of the violence stems from a community’s prejudice toward interracial relationships. That may sound like a heavy-hitting note for a kids’ movie, but not necessarily, said Davis.
“I think adults have problems with things that kids don’t have problems with in certain areas,” he said.
“I think what’s happening is that we’re living in a world now that is getting so small so fast, and we’re seeing people from all over the world who are both very different from and very similar to us all the time,” he said. “As a species, we’re trying to figure out how—across religious lines, across racial lines—we’re going to relate to each other.”
“These issues are going to have to get resolved,” he said. “We’re going to have to learn to be compatible with each other.”
“Holes” is really a gamble from the point of view of its multiple storylines in multiple time frames. Generally, studios get antsy with such untraditional storytelling techniques. But Davis said Disney, the studio behind “Holes,” really wasn’t involved until the film was essentially completed.
Davis did say, however, that he “was concerned about how we were going to tell these three stories.” But the story strands do eventually come together, so Davis chose to believe that “even if it was bumpy along the way, it would be worth the payoff.”
One of those storylines involves main character Stanley Yelnats’ pig-stealing great-great grandfather, whose theft curses the entire Yelnats family.
“Curses are only genetic,” Davis said, disavowing any personal belief in the kind of curses endured by the Yelnats clan. “If there are curses, it’s because people don’t treat each other kindly. If they treat each other kindly, they’ll go away.”
Cliff Vaughn is culture editor for EthicsDaily.com.
Read our review of “Holes.”