Is There Something On My Face?

After my post about All You Need Is Kill the other day, it only seemed appropriate last night to give Edge Of Tomorrow another watch for a little compare and contrast action to see if my preference for the movie over the book would hold up.

Overall, it did. To me, a movie is the superior way to tell this story. The repetition of the same sequence comes across better and does the job more quickly than it can be done in print – there’s less heavy lifting to convey the point. As a bonus, it also allows for some moments of humor that don’t come across in the book as well for me – Cage getting taken out by the truck on the battlefield and then on the base before correcting his timing. Let’s the pressure off just enough while also communicating the repetitive nature of his situation.

More than that, the change in the main character comes across much better visually than in the book. The accumulation of all those reps through the day begin to hang on Cage like an extra layer of grime and the look in his eyes changes from the salesman at the beginning of the flick to the hardened veteran by the end. Maybe other people got that from the book, but it works better for me visually.

Then there’s all the things that were changed from book to movie… which is just about everything. I like the idea of Cage being the marketing guy who is brought low rather than just another recruit – it makes the journey that much more significant. Having the story focus on a single battle that has higher stakes works much better for me. Giving the Mimics an intelligence beyond that of a an engineered virus and adding the idea of the Omega worked better for me as well because it gave the story some kind of closure – a single goal as opposed to “we just gotta kill em all everywhere”.

Oddly enough, some of the negatives from the movie were also present in the book. The explanation of the Mimics on Earth was never that well explained, but then again, I didn’t feel it was really that good in the book either. Bill Paxton’s SergeantFarell always seemed one-dimensional to me and I wished there’d been more of him, but reading the book and seeing a failed attempt at fleshing that character out made me realize that it makes sense for him to be exactly who he is in the movie. The ending of the movie felt a little too cute sometimes, but the book’s ending was so lackluster that I really enjoyed the ending of the movie.

So, to sum up, if you thought the movie was okay… maybe try reading the book. It’ll make you appreciate the movie some more.

All You Need Is A Good Movie Adaptation

It’s rare that I enjoy a movie more than the book. After all, taking all the details of a well-written novel and compressing them into about ninety minutes is a nearly impossible task. And that’s before taking into account the mechanisms that work really well in print which don’t translate at all into motion pictures. Throw in that the special effects inside your head are always a bit more vivid than the screen and it’s a recipe for disaster.

As with anything in life, there are always exceptions. And I ran into one this past weekend.

I was in search of coffee and something to pass the time with while waiting for my daughter’s ballet performance Friday afternoon. On a whim, I picked up Hiroshi Sakurazaka’s book All You Need Is Kill, which is the source for the Tom Cruise and Emily Blunt movie Edge of Tomorrow. Over the next two days, I devoured the book and realized about two thirds of the way through that there was no way, barring a last-minute save by the author, that I was going to like the book better than the movie.

Thinking it over, I think it’s similar to why I prefer John McTiernan’s version of The Hunt For Red October more than Tom Clancy’s book. The movie leaves out a bunch of stuff that might be interesting to the hardcore audience but that, if not outright boring, would be not as interesting to the general public. An author certainly has to worry about losing his audience, but I tend to think that readers are more patient by nature than a watcher. That’s not to say superior, it just has to do with the initial buy in. Someone going to a movie is setting aside a couple hours to be entertained and then can get on with their life. Someone picking up a novel is making a much longer commitment. Every minute on screen is precious whereas pages come a little cheaper.

There’s also the matter of inner monologue and dodgy dialogue between characters. The thoughts of a character can be incredibly valuable and inform the reader about who that person is… or they can show just how thin the character really is. Same with dialogue between characters that makes a reader roll their eyes. It happens in both mediums, but I think readers will forgive a bit more just because of the investment.

Overall, I thought the book was good and the concept was really good, but it just works better as a movie. Some of the ways that they showed the main character’s progress throughout the day was illustrated so much better on the screen than the page. Also, there was a clarity to the goal that felt lacking in the book – even when the main character succeeds, I wasn’t totally sure why. The movie had a resolution to it whereas the book says “and then we kept going”.

Maybe it has to do with seeing the movie first. Reading the book, I couldn’t help hear the sergeant speaking in Bill Paxton’s deep Kentucky accent because the book never fleshed out the character enough to make me think any differently. It also doesn’t hurt that I think Tom Cruise was perfect for the role – he pulls off the smarmy jerk that you still want to root for really well.

Which is sort of what I want from this kind of story anyways. Give me a couple interesting characters, some decent spectacle, and hang it all on an interesting premise. It’s not the book’s fault that it should’ve been a movie the whole time I guess.

Kicking It Outta The Nest

Normally, I spend some time at the beginning of the year coming up with some new goals for my new spin around the sun (I resolved to give up resolutions years ago and it’s so far been the only one I’ve managed to keep successfully), but this year, I picked up another one along the way. Sort of a goal hitchhiker if you will.

About 18 years ago, I had an idea for what I thought would be a novel. After spending a bunch of time writing out the opening few pages and getting overly frustrated, the thought occurred to me that maybe this wasn’t a book after all. Maybe it was a movie. So I downloaded a free copy of CeltX, learned a (very) little about screenplay formatting, and re-typed my opening scene. Still wound up frustrated and set it aside. This dance continued for a long time.

Two years ago, I decided to actually learn about the craft of screenwriting. I watched interviews with writers, read a couple books, and read dozens of scripts all while taking copious notes. I went back to my original screenplay and added a little here, a little there. Almost like I was building a rock wall, but only after digging the rocks up in my backyard. The script that I finished was based on a friend’s idea, and in spite of being the longest piece of sustained writing I’d done since college, we couldn’t quite agree on where it should go and I set it aside. In the meantime, I still had this other script waiting for me.

A few months ago, I realized it was pretty lame to have this script that had started it all just sitting there, unfinished. So I went back and gave it a read, surprising myself with how far it had gotten. Even more surprising was that I’d sketched out the remaining scenes before setting it aside – something I’d completely forgotten. I had the first two thirds of it written, knew the ending, and had an outline of how to get there. Now it would be tremendously stupid not to finish, so I got to work. Typing “fade out” after a few days was very satisfying.

Then came the hard part: revising. I’m not a fan. Not at all. But, much as I’m not a fan of flying but love travel, it’s something I’m willing to deal with if it gets me where I’m going. In this case, I wasn’t trying to find a warm spot in the sun, but a finished script that I’d be happy with. I was well aware that the first draft was a mess and that the second would be better, but nowhere near good. That’s not fishing for compliments or pick-me-ups, that’s just being realistic about my level of inexperience. I told myself that a finished third draft was the soonest I’d show anyone.

Last week, I got there. Now that I’d been staring at this thing for a couple months, perspective had been somewhat lost and there wasn’t any other good excuses to keep it from anyone else. So I showed it to my first reader and got a pretty solid thumbs up. It’s now in the hands of a person who worked in the industry doing script coverage as well as a fellow writer.

It’s an interesting mixture of curiosity, giddiness, and terror handing over something like that. But hey, what can you do? Then little bugger has to learn to fly at some point, right?

Aw Luke… won’t see him no more

It’s been a hot minute or three since keys have been punched in anger around here, and it only seems fitting that after 26 months away from my last entry that I’m back to talking about Star Wars again. I don’t know why these things happen, it just seems right to roll with it when they come along.

Once again, I’ll have to disagree with the marauding hordes of true believer geeks who think that The Last Jedi is the worst Star Wars movie since… well… the last time they saw The Force Awakens. Funny how quickly their opinion changed, isn’t it? All of a sudden, that one isn’t looking so bad now that they have a new punching bag to work on. Of course, this will probably hold true for when the next episode sees light of day (or dark of theatre depending on how literal you’d like to be) since JJ Abrams will be at the helm of that one. It’ll be interesting to see how many folks crawl back to what was the most absurd thing I’d heard in a long time when they said that they thought The Phantom Menace was better than TFA. Right… and Greedo shot first…

Truth be told, some folks will never be satisfied with any Star Wars movie outside the original trilogy – it’s their childhood and those memories only get more golden as their hair gets more silver. As someone who curses under his breath every time Michael Bay runs out another Transformers abomination, I can sympathize. (On a sidenote, it’s my contention that centering a movie around sentient transforming robots wasn’t the main hurdle and that there was and is a good movie or three to made out of that material – it’s just that Michael Bay is a lazy, immature director with the attention span of a 6 year old after a dozen pixie sticks and a bottle of Mountain Dew… but I digress…)

Personally, I love the new Star Wars movies because of their combination of reverence and irreverence for the original material. It acknowledges how beloved the characters and story is to its fans while at the same time realizing that the only way forward is to blaze its own trail. As I mentioned in my previous post, yes there are some repeats and callbacks, but there’s also twists and extra depth to them. Sure, Maz’s place was a callback to the cantina in Mos Eisley… but did anyone think there’s only one space bar in the whole galaxy? Hell, that probably wasn’t the only bar at Mos Eisley…

The most interesting part of The Last Jedi for me was in the bonus features where you can actually see and hear Mark Hamill’s reluctance and outright disapproval of how his character was being used. So speakth Skywalker…

After reading the script for the film, Mark Hamill told director Rian Johnson, “I pretty much fundamentally disagree with every choice you’ve made for this character [Luke Skywalker]. Now, having said that, I have gotten it off my chest, and my job now is to take what you’ve created and do my best to realize your vision.”

Hamill says that the character of Luke Skywalker doesn’t belong to him anymore, it belongs to the fans and the world at large – they just let him borrow it. For my money, that’s one of the best descriptions of what happens to art once the artist has released it into the world – it’s not theirs anymore. George Lucas kinda-sorta recognized this when he sold Lucasfilm to Disney… and then bitched and moaned that they didn’t follow the ideas he left behind. Sorry bub, guess you shouldn’t have sold the store then, huh? Star Wars fans would do well to realize that it doesn’t necessarily belong to them either.