I’m hoping Neil Gaiman‘s Newbery Medal win will soon be reflected in the advertising for the new Coraline movie. The book was creepy and cool, chock full of idea hooks, fun characters, and plot surprises–just what we’ve come to expect from Gaiman’s work. But for some reason the studio’s marketing department thought more viewers would be drawn to “a film directed by Henry Selick” than “a story written by Neil Gaiman.”
Attention Hollywood: If an author of Neil Gaiman’s caliber is in any way connected to your movie, you will sell more tickets by including his name in your ads!
Not that I have anything against Mr. Selick, the screenwriter/director. If I needed someone to helm a stop motion animated feature, he’d be my go-to guy. The Nightmare Before Christmas was brilliant. James and Giant Peach was very well done. And Monkeybone– Okay, let’s all try to pretend Monkeybone never happened. But still, having two hits out of three feature-length attempts over the course of 15 years shows directorial competence. So yeah, having Selick’s name attached to a new film might slightly raise moviegoers’ expectations if a commercial prods them to look him up on IMDB.
Gaiman, on the other hand, is well known for his prolific career in comics and graphic novels (The Sandman and Books of Magic, among others), traditional novels for adults (American Gods and Anansi Boys, among others), books for children (Coraline and The Graveyard Book, among others), song writing (for Alice Cooper and The Flash Girls, among others), and screenwriting (Neverwhere and MirrorMask, among others). He has won numerous genre and media awards including multiple Hugos, Eisners, Nebulas, Bram Stoker Awards and now a Newbery Medal. Some of his works have been solo efforts, others have been adaptations or collaborations, but together they make up an intelligent and mind-blowing body of work. Gaiman has earned the right to be acknowledged by name.
Studeo execs show disrespect for authors when their input is ignored or trivialized, and disrespect as well for the audience, who should be prodded to explore a story in a variety of media for a deeper understanding and better appreciation. This is especially true for movies aimed at children or teens, who need every possible encouragement to read.
Inkheart is another current book-adapted movie for children with frequent ads that don’t mention the creative contribution of author Cornelia Funke. The movie maker does acknowledge that the story is “from a best-selling book,” which might be good enough for most best-selling books, except that this is Inkheart, a story about books, the power of printed words, and the magic that comes from pairing skilled writing with the imagination of a dedicated reader. This is a movie for book-lovers, and omitting the author’s name should be a criminal offense.
Movie-making is a difficult and expensive process and we should honor the efforts of the screenwriter, director, actors, cinematographers, camera crew, special effects crew, lighting crew, sound crew, costume designers, makeup artists, set designers, and others who bring a singular vision to the screen. But even with all the money and effort poured into them, most book-based movies fall short of the books they are based on.
Each year, some really terrific books are turned into movies that totally reek. The Inkheart film currently has a 36% rating from Rotten Tomatoes, which puts it deep into the rotten end of the spectrum. Also rotten at 44% is Hotel for Dogs, based on a 1971 book by Lois Duncan. Twilight, based on the book by Stephenie Meyer, is at 50%. The Tale of Despereaux, based on the book by Kate DiCamillo, is just a bit rotten at 55%. (The fresh/rotten cutoff is at 60%, which students and former students should recognize as the dividing line between an F and a D-minus.)
Will Coraline buck the trend? Is the omission of Gaiman’s name from the commercial a studio oversight or an authorial request? We’ll find out on February 6th. And if most book-based movies are going to be graded with a big red F by the critics anyway, maybe it’s better for an author’s name to be disassociated from them after all.
What do you all think? Should authors insist on more credit for movies based on their original characters and plots, or should they withhold judgment until they see a finished product?