A Look Back: Holes

When I was in elementary school, my social studies teacher told our class that Iceland was pretty much like you’d expect from its name. But also Greenland wasn’t all that hospitable either. It was just called that to attract settlers. Thus I learned a two for one lesson about history and the power of advertising. Now Camp Green Lake, the camp in “Holes,” the movie and children’s novel by Louis Sachar is also a complete deception name wise. There once was a lake, but it dried up long ago, due to a curse that will play a central role in the film, starring Shia LaBoeuf as the unlucky hero Stanley Yelnats. Now it’s a juvenile detention camp for “bad boys,” to which Shia is sent after getting caught stealing a pair of sneakers from a famous athlete (but there’s more to the story than that). In order to have their character built, the multi-ethnic cast of youngsters is forced to dig a hole of a certain size each day in the desert. Of course, there’s more to the story here, too, which unfolds to a satisfying conclusion with plenty of life lessons learned along the way.

As mentioned, Shia is plagued by bad luck, but it’s not unique to him – every male in his family is under the same curse which has something to do with his no-good-dirty-rotten-pig-stealing-great-great-grandfather who broke a promise made to a fortune teller (Eartha Kitt). Oddly, enough there is a descendant of Eartha’s among the hapless inmates (Khleo Thomas), known as Zero, but who is actually pretty smart. But before Shia and Khleo can bond and escape from the camp, Shia must negotiate the pecking order of the colorfully nicknamed group of boys (Shia’s own moniker is “Caveman”), learn how to manage the arduous toil of hole digging, and deal with the triple threat of the formidable Warden (Sigourney Weaver), their supervisor Mr. Sir (Jon Voight) and their counselor (a term used loosely), played by Tim Blake Nelson. Eventually, Shia figures out that the Warden has a bigger goal than character building, and indeed she does. Her plan, which ultimately involves Shia and Khleo escaping, the curse being reversed, and the good guys living happily ever after, involves a mind-boggling array of clues, including spiced peaches, sunflower sees, yellow spotted lizards, a good girl turned outlaw (Patricia Arquette), a mountain and of course, the sneakers.

I once went to a movie called “Disturbia” featuring an older Shia, which promised to be intriguing, except for the fact that the first twenty minutes of the film were shown upside down. Although the error was finally corrected, I wasn’t thrilled about having to sit through them again, so I persuaded my companions to split. However, “Holes,” is a good enough movie – as well as the kind both kids and adults can enjoy – and I would willingly sit through the first twenty minutes with the screen upside down. Because when you finally correct the mistake, it’s well worth it.

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