Tag Archives: movies

Inception

Sure, it’s not a sci-fi novel, but when anything remotely science fiction becomes the cultural zeitgeist it’s cue for me to jump up and down and proclaim that sci-fi isn’t dead. Audiences like it! It’s making a comeback! It’s the next BIG THING!

Of course, none of this is guaranteed (or necessarily probable), though–at least in the world of movies–science fiction is far from dead (Star Trek? Avatar?).

But the other reason I wanted to write about Inception is to point out how much like a book I found it. Maybe it was the exposition-filled first half or the way the film seemed to take its time setting things up for some massively satisfying pay-offs. It’s what all the critics are calling it: smart. It’s something the best novels in the genre have in common. The intricate, detailed plotting reminded me of the Harry Potter books, to quote the most well-known example. It felt like reading a novel. You were rewarded for paying attention.

So here’s the question I’ve been pondering after this comparison popped into my head. In the “you-must-hook-them-with-the-first-word-in-your-first-line-of-your-manuscript” world we live in, how does an author reward the reader’s attention? Or, how can we end up on the right side of that thin line between “smart” and “exhausting/boring/confusing/etc”? I’m not sure I’m expecting an answer here. It’s just something I’ve been thinking about.

Beyond that, I thought Inception deserved its own post simply because it was darn brilliant. And writing-wise, it would’ve been a darn brilliant screenplay to read as well. And what about that ending? (possible spoiler) Spinning or no? I say spinning, but I’ve gotta watch the thing again to be sure.

After seeing the movie, Nick James had a dream… that he was in a dream… watching Inception. What does it all mean?

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Books into Movies

This week we’ll all be talking about speculative books that have been made into movies—what worked, what didn’t, what actually got better in movie form.

The inspiration for this topic came a few weeks ago when I watched The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy (2005). I’ve loved the book for decades, and have read it and its sequels many times (except for book 5, Mostly Harmless — avoid that one). The movie isn’t terrible… but it’s not great, either.

This is all personal opinion, of course, but I haven’t heard of anyone who is gung ho about the movie. I don’t blame the writers or directors. They just had an extremely challenging, perhaps impossible, task. When you think about it, The Hitchhiker’s Guide doesn’t really have a hero. Arthur may be called the main character, but he’s largely passive throughout and just wants to go home. He’s not really someone you can admire and root for.

The books work because of the narrator’s voice — the distant, omniscient voice of The Guide, the hitchhiker’s handbook. The quirky humor pulls together the bizarre, fairly random plot and a cast of characters who are fun, but largely lack depth. Many editors say that voice is key, and this book is a prime example! Here, voice overcomes what might normally be considered flaws.

So how do you translate that into a movie? The directors chose to rewrite the story and make Arthur a hero. He fights to save the girl, and wins her in the end. The hero is more heroic, the plot a little more straightforward, and the ending happy. You still get some of the guide’s wit and wisdom through voiceover, but it’s not as dominant.

This was probably a wise decision, given the circumstances. However, the result disappointed many Hitchhiker fans, because so much changed. The movie wasn’t true to the book they loved. Favorite lines were missing, because they didn’t fit. The movie wasn’t successful for non-fans, either. If you hadn’t read the book first, the movie probably came across as confusing and just plain weird. A good effort on the moviemakers part, but a disappointment.

Compare this to the The Lord of the Rings trilogy, a blockbuster success. Some diehard fans were no doubt disappointed at missing material — but there’s no way you can fit every scene from a fat book into a movie. Most fans were pleased and felt that the movies were true enough to their beloved books.

The movies also drew in new fans. You needn’t have read the books in order to enjoy the movies. (I read the first book shortly before the movies came out, and skipped the next two, because I felt the movies were more enjoyable.)

The credit for the success goes partly to the original books — they had a more straightforward story, with strong, heroic characters — and partly to the writers and directors who were willing to make tough choices. They didn’t try to re-create the books exactly (which can result in a jam-packed synopsis rather than a fully fleshed story, an accusation often thrown at the Harry Potter movies). Rather, they created strong movies that captured the heart of the books.

It all goes to show that a great book may or may not make a great movie. Jump in with your opinions, and check back all this week for more posts on the topic.

PS – I just read that Eoin Colfer wrote the sixth Hitchhiker installment, titled And Another Thing… with Jane Belson, Adams’ widow. It was published in 2009. More fun facts at Wikipedia.

Chris Eboch with Haunted books

Chris Eboch with her Haunted books

Chris Eboch suddenly has the urge to go make some popcorn.

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Why are scary books popular?

Many people, from children to adults, love books, movies and TV shows that are scary. This can include spooky paranormal stories, creepy Gothic romantic dramas, adrenaline-packed action flicks, or true terrorizing horror.

“I’ve always loved stories of the supernatural,” Christopher Golden, author of the Body of Evidence series, once said in an interview. “As a child, I enjoyed anything creepy or unsettling and I loved monsters of all shapes and sizes. Ordinary life is so mundane, and things that went bump in the night were always the most intriguing to me.”

What’s the appeal?

Part of it may simply be the adrenaline rush, the excitement we don’t always get easily in daily life. We are still wired for action, the fight or flight response that our ancestors probably had to face on an almost daily basis as they hunted, or defended themselves against wild animals and other tribes. Now the stress builds up slowly, at school or at work or at home. A good scare can release it.

Scary stories can also help you deal with your own fears. They can give you specific tools to use, like examples of how to escape from kidnappers or fend off a mugger. Watching characters survive dangerous situations, or overcome the bad guys, can give you confidence that you could survive a similar challenge.

“One of my all-time favorite books is Where the Wild Things Are by Maurice Sendak,” editor Joshua Glazer has said. “It introduced me to my first monsters—and taught me how to make friends with them. I think that’s the role of scary literature in a kid’s life. It provides a safe and neutral realm where kids may engage their fears without becoming consumed by them.”

Granted, it’s unlikely that your average reader will ever have to face a true Wild Thing, diabolical super villain, alien, ogre or vampire. But sometimes the example is more of a metaphor.

“Growing up is intrinsically horrific,” Cynthia Leitich Smith, author of Tantalize, has said. “You’re a shape-shifter in your changing body. You’re a vampire in your thirst for life. Your emotions can turn you from Dr. Jekyll to Mr. Hyde. Essentially, Gothic fantasy is all about reflecting this reality through metaphor.”

We hear a lot about escapist literature. But sometimes literature helps us to face our fears instead.

What does your choice of literature say about you? Does it change depending on the circumstances of your life? Do you feel better after a good scare? Why?

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So bad it’s good?

I must have been among the last 30 people in the U.S. to see Avatar, but recently, I did. Without re-opening the whole can of worms on this movie, it struck me as the strangest combination I’ve ever seen of wondrous, amazing stuff and utter dreck in the same movie.

And it got me thinking about movies that are “so bad they’re good.” This is almost a sub-genre, the stuff cult hits are made of, and it seems that most of the candidates are spec fic. I’m sure everyone would have his or her own list, but some of the old campy sci-fi or horror classics — Mars Needs Women, Barbarella, Plan 9 from Outer Space, Deathrace 2000, Sssssss, Island of Terror — would make a number of them.

But I have never heard anyone say a book was “so bad it’s good.” Books are just good… or not. Why do you think that is? What’s the difference between movies and books in this regard?

Or have you ever read a book that was so bad it was good, and if so, what was it?

— Joni, who wonders if books are taken too seriously to ever be campy

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Coming Soon to a Theater Near You…

Spec Fic’s in the theaters, y’all! Here are some great books hitting the big screen first quarter 2010:

January 15
The Lovely Bones by Alice Sebold-the story of a teenage girl who, after being murdered, watches from heaven as her family and friends go on with their lives, while she herself comes to terms with her own death.

February 12
The Lightning Thief by Rick Riordan-A teenager named Percy Jackson discovers that he’s the demigod son of the Greek god, Poseidon. He embarks on a journey across modern-day America with his friends to save his mother, return Zeus’ stolen lightning bolt, and prevent a war between the gods.

March 5
Alice in Wonderland by Lewis Carroll-Alice Kingsley, now 19, attends a party at a Victorian estate, only to find she is about to be proposed to by a rich suitor. She runs off, following a white rabbit into a hole and ending up in Wonderland, a place she visited many years before, though she doesn’t remember it.

March 26
Clash of the Titans from snippets of Greek mythology (yes, I’m cheating a bit here)-Perseus volunteers to lead a dangerous mission to defeat Hades before he can seize power from Zeus and unleash hell on earth.

Check back with us in April for more book-to-big screen magic!

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Right Now in Speculative Fiction

Teens love vampires! Er… books about vampires. Why not get them interested in the original fang-fest by pointing them toward Bram Stoker’s Dracula blogged in real time. It started May 3rd, so they only have to catch up a little bit.dracula

Seven Star Productions already has the first draft of a screenplay in the works for Carrie Ryan’s The Forest of Hands and Teeth, “a zombie thriller set in colonial times.” Read Ryan’s reaction to the news about film rights here. Warning: much use of the word “squee” involved.

Should libraries stock graphic novels? Do these books promote the love of learning, or do they take interest away from more challenging literature? Krista McKenzie weighs in on YALSA’s site.the dark planet

The Dark Planet, the final book in Patrick Carman’s Atherton trilogy, is out now! A mad scientist’s puzzling plan is finally revealed, and Edgar finds out the true purpose of “the mysterious satellite world of Atherton.” Haven’t read the other books in the series? You can enter to win the entire trilogy here.

Writers: think your book got the worst review ever? Wallow in your misery by posting the review on this blog and inviting readers to decide if it really is the Worst. Review. Ever. Actually, you might feel better after reading all the scathing reviews of other people’s books.twitter

Odds are, you recently joined Twitter. (Am I right??) If you don’t know who to follow, check out this list of 100+ Best Authors on Twitter–sixteen of whom write for young readers and thrity-four of whom write specualtive fiction. These authors, including Laurel Snyder and Anne Mazer, “carry on a conversation with their followers and present information they might find valuable.”

cheryliconParker Peevyhouse never thought Dracula would buy into the blogging craze.

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Do Movie Critics Hate Authors?

The answer is no, movie critics don’t hate authors. At least not as far as I can tell. What many movie critics hate is fact checking, which is another reason why film studios shouldn’t bury the name of a story’s creator deep in the mile-long credits at the end of the film. (See “Does Hollywood Hate Authors?” for my previous rant.)

Because the marketing for the new movie Coraline plays down the Newbery-winning, Hugo-winning, Nebula-winning, Eisner-winning author who wrote the story, lazy critics across the country are assuming that only Tim Burton could combine dark themes with feature-length stop motion animation. Assuming to the point of printing their opinions on “Tim Burton’s Coraline.”

One of my old Superguy buddies, Randy Milholland, imagines that Neil Gaiman isn’t happy. He also imagines that Neil Gaiman has access to a sniper rifle. In the world of Randy’s webcomic, “going postal” has been replaced with “going authorial.”

gaiman

Panel from February 9th "Something Positive" webcomic by Randy Milholland

Update: Actually we don’t have to imagine Neil Gaiman’s reaction to such critics (or to the above webcomic) because Neil has a frequently-updated and incredibly popular blog.

Neil isn’t upset for himself, recognizing that the small credit he gets in the marketing material is already more than most authors receive. He’s upset for the director, Henry Selick, for reasons going back to The Nightmare Before Christmas.

A couple of days ago the front page at CBC (Canadian Broadcasting) website announced that it had interviews and reviews about Tim Burton’s Coraline. Which I saw moments before I saw a piece on the Chicago Tribune print edition front page announcing its reviews of Tim Burton’s Coraline. And my hackles started rising.

The hackles were, I should point out, not on my behalf, but for Henry Selick, who directed The Nightmare Before Christmas: he worked on the story with the screenwriter, Caroline Thompson (another person whose contribution tends to be forgotten), and the songwriter, Danny Elfman, to turn Tim’s character sketches and poem into a film script, then he spent years in a warehouse in San Francisco overseeing people moving dolls around a frame at a time, with Tim off making fine movies; and, then, a couple of weeks before the film came out, the title was changed to Tim Burton’s The Nightmare Before Christmas. Which tends to mean that people assume that Tim made the film and if they even notice Henry was involved as director, they assume it was in some strange kind of junior role. (Nope, he was the director. He grew Tim’s poem and character sketches into a movie. Tim produced it.)

Injustice and disrespect abound in movie credits, marketing materials, and reviews alike. Sixteen years ago Henry Selick got a raw deal that still overshadows his career on entirely unrelated projects, like Coraline. But I’m still outraged on behalf of Neil Gaiman and the larger majority of authors who get even less credit for their work.

Gaiman got his revenge, by the way, without the use of bullets:

So I was already not impressed with the CBC website or the Chicago Tribune, and then someone sent me a link to an online newspaper in which the reviewer’s first paragraph explained Tim Burton’s career and then went on to explain, in an extremely dim sort of way, why Coraline was a Tim Burton film, and I twittered about it. And then watched the delighted twitterverse pile onto the poor gentleman in the comments page with surprise, realising that this power must only be used for good.

I never thought I’d say this but… Hooray for Twitter!

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