Friday, January 3, 2014

Warm Bodies (book and film)

It's inevitable that once something becomes popular, publishers and producers will look for similar things to help keep the money rolling in. Some of those things are complete rip offs without soul, and others just happen to be in the same genre. Warm Bodies was largely pushed as "Twilight with zombies" but all that really means is that this is a paranormal romance book. I personally wouldn't rate it as young adult, but I'm not sure where it ends up being filed in the bookstore. This book is aware of the footsteps it's being forced to follow in, and author Isaac Marion does throw in a few winking nods to Twilight, but they are not particularly kind ones.

And that is the real problem with that comparison, as there are many of us who didn't care for Twilight at all, or at least had sincere problems with its concepts of romance and portrayal of the characters, and while Warm Bodies isn't without its own faults, those two elements are not among them. As a zombie, our main character R starts off without the ability to feel much of anything, and he is completely unaffected by lust. When he meets his love interest Julie, there is no desire to eat her brains or any other parts of her body, nor does he have any desire to sleep with her. He recognizes that she's attractive, and that's all. As such I found this to be a nice refreshing approach at romance, one where the characters are largely devoid of physical attraction and therefore simply get to know each other for who they are.

The other important element to me is that while the romance is important to the story, it does not consume the entire book. This was the first book I've ever read written from the point of view of a zombie, and as such I found it really interesting. Listening to R struggle with his urges, his desires to connect with people, and the descriptions of zombie society made the creatures more interesting to me than I've ever considered them to be before. His desire for connection is also close enough to that which we want as humans that it makes him easy to relate to even if we don't understand his need to eat brains. I also found Julie and her friend Nora to be strong characters and I understood why R was drawn to them. And I'm not just saying that because Julie was a big Beatles fan.

There were moments where I felt the book dragged, either in the interest of drawing out the drama a little too long, or perhaps the author not quite knowing where to take the story just yet, but the pace of the beginning and end of the book is very strong; the climax in particular was thrilling and full of action, keeping you on your toes and not really sure where it was going to go next. There are some twists that are a little odd, but this is a book that doesn't attempt to explain any of the paranormal happenings at all. With no real explanation given for how the curse started, there's also only a flimsy explanation as to why things are changing now. This didn't bother me too much, but I can see how it might be annoying for some. But this is a reality where zombies eat a person's brain and are able to see that person's memories, so either you're going to go along for the ride with that or you're not. The ending and solution are a little on the saccharine side, but I think it worked.

Since R can't really communicate in anything other than strained, limited phrases, the majority of the book is spent inside his head. Knowing that they made a film adapation going in to this, I couldn't help but wonder how they would handle it when they got to the film. There is a degree of narration in the film, which is essential especially in the beginning when R is unable to communicate. I actually feel like they should have taken it further, something more akin to Fight Club where a little stylization could have helped it continue to feel fresh throughout the film. Unfortunately, that's not the film they chose to emulate.

While the book publishers no doubt were trying to cash in on Twilight in their own way, the movie studio was definitely trying to remind you of the film version so much more. Nicholas Hoult and Teresa Palmer almost look like doubles for Robert Pattinson and Kristen Stewart at parts. While R is supposed to be a largely unmarred zombie, I couldn't help but feel like they were going for something very similar to the way the Twilight vampires look. Perhaps more importantly, a lot of the zombie world building from the novel is discarded and most of the emphasis in the film is on their romance. There is also just the simple fact that since movies have to move quicker than novels do, a lot of the time R and Julie spend getting to know each other is condensed into montages and single moments rather than the longer moments we get in the book. I think they did a decent enough job with the time they had. While I prefer the slow awakening of attraction and emotion that R experiences in the novel, his fumbling attempts to impress the girl in the film also make him endearing.

They make a lot of changes to some of the various events in the book, particularly in the climax, but I do think the core of the story remains. One change they make is a bit of a head scratcher though - in the book, R leaps from a great height with Julie in his arms to escape from humans that are persuing them. In the film, they're running from the Boneys, zombies with very little flesh left on them. Since zombies of any kind can only be killed by having their brains destroyed, there's absolutely no reason why the Boneys couldn't jump after them. But they don't, simply because the movie needs them to stop right then.

The only other change that bothered me were some of the music choices. In the book R mostly listens to Frank Sinatra, but in the film they use Guns N' Roses, Springstein, and Bob Dylan. I can't stand the first two and while I love Dylan, he's no Sinatra. I realize it's possible they couldn't get permission to use Sinatra's songs, but I still feel like they could have made better choices.

Did you notice that the names R and Julie are very similar to Romeo and Juliet? If so, clap yourself on the back, because I totally missed it up until that scene in the film above. Despite the fact that there is a scene where Julie is standing on a balcony (in the book she's even talking to herself) and R appears below. There are other comparisons to be made even beyond the fact that they are star crossed lovers. Personally, I'm kind of glad I didn't notice it, because it would have had me rolling my eyes a bit. Looking back on it all knowing that, I can see the similarities but I think he also does enough variations to that story to keep it interesting. Unfortunately, this does seem to be a novel (and film) where you're going to end up making comparisons to other works. But that doesn't mean that either version isn't worth your time.

5 comments:

  1. I haven't read the novel, but I saw the movie. I didn't get much out of it, partially because I think Nicholas Hoult has about as much movie-star charisma as a glass of water has. I didn't hate the movie, though; it had some cool ideas, and I walked out of it thinking that the book was probably worth reading some day.

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    1. Since he is playing a zombie for most of the film, I didn't expect him to be too charismatic, so I didn't really have a problem with it. I thought he did a good job with the narration, at least.

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  2. And that is the real problem with that comparison, as there are many of us who didn't care for Twilight at all, or at least had sincere problems with its concepts of romance and portrayal of the characters, and while Warm Bodies isn't without its own faults, those two elements are not among them. As a zombie, our main character R starts off without the ability to feel much of anything, and he is completely unaffected by lust. When he meets his love interest Julie, there is no desire to eat her brains or any other parts of her body, nor does he have any desire to sleep with her. He recognizes that she's attractive, and that's all.

    That's a very interesting thought. I mean, I get what you're getting at. In Twilight, the romance was superficial because Bella pretty much thought Edward was hot and wanted to jump his bones. And from what you've written, it seems that Warm Bodies put more thought and effort into actually developing a romantic connection between leads.

    But, at the same time, this particular passage made me consider the role lust plays in crushes. Because I do think, a lot of times, it does play a role. A bit component of any crush is physical attraction, and I think that, a lot of times, sexual attraction is part of it. Not the biggest part of it, but it's there.

    (Then again, I didn't really become romantically interested in Lore until we had a long conversation about Russian films. I distinctly remember that it was the first time I thought that she has pretty eyes. So... I guess it's complicated)

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    1. The elements can differ from relationship to relationship. My biggest problem with Twilight (and I'll admit I couldn't make it past the first book, so maybe it changes) was that lust was literally all the two of them had. Or in Edward's case, he really, really wants to drink her blood. The two of them don't seem to have a thing in common, and yet they call it being in love. And I know that's how it can feel when you're young, but since they do end up together through it all, I think we're supposed to believe that's enough.

      I also think here that since zombies are a bit different than vampires, they had to avoid the lust factor for a while longer. Vampires may be cold and not living, but they look generally human. A zombie looks like a dead person, often rotting. R is barely rotting, but he is dead, and if Julie were to lust after him early on it would basically make her a necrophiliac.

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    2. And I know that's how it can feel when you're young, but since they do end up together through it all, I think we're supposed to believe that's enough.

      And I that it's precisely why Twilight romance is so shallow.

      I also think here that since zombies are a bit different than vampires, they had to avoid the lust factor for a while longer. Vampires may be cold and not living, but they look generally human. A zombie looks like a dead person, often rotting.

      Some vampires look more like corpses than others. But unlike vampires, zombies don't really have any history of being depicted as sexual - and seductive - beings. Making a zombie character a love interest defies expectations, and, like you said, it requires authors to put more work into developing romance between R and Julie.

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