Film of the book: ‘A Walk in the Woods’ (2015)

It’s a while since I read Bill Bryson’s brilliant and hilarious book A Walk in the Woods (first published in 1998). I was a little worried that the film would feel rather flat compared to the book. It turns out that I was right to anticipate this. The film is worth watching – the music is lovely, the scenery is wonderful, the actors are likeable – and it has a surprisingly warm-hearted tone. However, the wordy sardonic humour (which is Bryson’s trademark) was mostly missing. Some narration from the book would have been effective here. The film has been turned into a commentary on the joys of friendship and the importance of appreciating what you’ve got. The character of Bryson was significantly aged, as in the book he’s in his forties, while the wonderful Robert Redford was (I think) nearly 80 at the time he played this role. So the film becomes a meditation on ageing too.

The general outline of the plot is similar. Travel writer Bill Bryson gets itchy feet and decides to hike the Appalachian Trail, despite his wife being unhappy about it and everyone basically saying he’s nuts to attempt it. None of his friends want to accompany him on the walk, but then an old acquaintance, the foul-mouthed Stephen Katz, asks to come along. The two men have different temperaments and get on each other’s nerves. They meet various annoying people and have silly mishaps on the way. Will they finish the Trail? Will they even survive without being eaten by bears?

The incidents of the book are moulded into a feature-length story in this instance. Another change is the character of Stephen Katz, who is not nearly as irritating and foolish as his book counterpart. He is presented as a character to sympathise with. Bryson’s books are packed full of fascinating facts and musings but there were few of these in evidence in this film. I admit it would be weird to shoehorn in all these facts. That would make it more of a documentary. Maybe this book just doesn’t translate to screen that well and had to be altered to be more of a conventional film.

I liked it but I was expecting to laugh more.

Low-resolution image sourced from Wikipedia.

11 thoughts on “Film of the book: ‘A Walk in the Woods’ (2015)”

    1. Thanks! 🙂 The book is really worth a read but I’m not sure I would recommend the film.

  1. Like you I read the book a while go, I watched the film and it felt a little flat to me, I remembered really enjoying the book though. My husband liked the film and thought it was one of those “nice films”, he hasn’t read the book.

    1. I think it would have been difficult to capture the book as a film anyway. It was a nice enough film and maybe if you haven’t read the book then there’s no real complaint about the film! Thanks for stopping by 🙂

  2. Hmmm I wonder if Bill Bryson was able to play a part in the production, or he sold all rights to the producer in the making of this movie? This is the kind of thing where we book lovers go, the book is (almost always) better than the movie! Great review, NS!

    1. I don’t know, I assume he did have some input, but the book would be difficult to film and so I wasn’t surprised it turned out quite different. I agree, the books are almost always better than their adaptations! Thanks for reading 😀

  3. I usually prefer to read the book before watching the movie, but in this case it might have been better to see the movie first. I’ve been meaning the read/watch A Walk in the Woods since reading Wild by Cheryl Strayed, although she hiked the Pacific Crest Trail.

    1. Interesting, I always like to read a book before watching, but this could be an exception. It depends if you like Bryson’s style and want lots of intriguing trivia. I haven’t read Wild, it sounds more serious and heartfelt whereas A Walk in the Woods is lighter.

  4. Your review has made me excited about this book. Yes, I gotta read it first before I can watch the adaptation but I loved reading your review just the same. I am sorry the humour was a bit bland but then, I believe somethings just can’t be reproduced, you know – as you say it’s Bryson’s trademark! In a way, it’s best thy couldn’t adapt it perfectly because now the value of the writer’s work remains intact! 😍❤️

    Lovely review, as always, N! 🦋🌻

    1. The book was a great read, the film was worth watching but was just a different tone. I would also think the humour had to be altered to suit a wider audience. Thanks! 😀

      1. Yeah. That may be the case as well!
        Well, thank YOU for introducing me to the book + the film N! I will surely be reading it soon! ❤️

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