R.I.P. Richard Matheson

I’ve always been a big reader but I didn’t really become the horror fan I am until a little over a decade ago.  While the first author for me to really become a fan of in that genre is Stephen King, reading King quickly leads to other authors. One of those authors was Richard Matheson, who passed away Sunday at the age of 87.  I was very saddened to hear this news, even though Matheson seems to have led a very full life.  I think it’s alway sad when someone that writes the stories that keep you company throughout your life is suddenly silenced.  I felt the same way last year when Ray Bradbury, another author I discovered through Stephen King, passed away.  Even though I never had the opportunity to meet either of these gentlemen, their stories are still part of my life.  Below are just a couple of my favorite Richard Matheson novels :

I Am Legend– Most people my age are familiar with this story due to the Will Smith movie of the same name.  While not a terrible adaptation, it joins the other two films based on this story in, somehow, not getting the story quite right. I made my boyfriend also watch The Omega Man and Last Man on Earth last summer.  Neither of those films are great but Last Man on Earth comes closest to getting the end right. Do yourself a favor and read this novella about a man who is the last standing as humanity has been swallowed up and spit out as vampires.  If the ending doesn’t punch you in the gut, you may be a vampire.

What Dreams May Come– This novel, like many others that Matheson wrote, also was adapted for the big screen starring Robin Williams.  The movie does a decent job of portraying the story of a man trying to find and reconnect with his wife in the afterlife after a tragic accident tears apart their relationship.  Personally, I love the movie.  The book just goes deeper into Matheson’s thoughts on death and what comes after.  It is truly beautifully written and one of those books that, when I finished it, I had to sit quietly for a few minutes to let it digest.  I also spent years tracking down another copy after my old roommate poured juice all over another copy I had discovered at a used book store.

Stir of Echoes- I refer to this book as Desparate Housewives with more paranormal elements. Tom Wallace is an ordinary guy until he’s hypnotized at a party and starts being able to hear things he shouldn’t and learn the neighbors’ secrets.  I loved how these secrets got darker and darker.  This book is a really fast read as well, I think I finished it within a couple of days.

Hell House- This is Matheson’s haunted house story. The plot of the story, about a group of people going to investigate a haunted house, is very similar to Shirley Jackson’s The Haunting of Hill House. Shirley Jackson has been one of the few horror authors I’ve liked since high school so I had to read this to see how similar the two stories were.  I believe I also read this for a group discussion on Goodreads.  This book does amp up the sex and violence and is not shy about it. It is also one of the few haunted house stories I’ve read where it was hard to sleep after.  

These are just four of the many stories written by Matheson that you can get lost in.  I am happy, since I cannot say I have read all of Richard Matheson’s works, that I get to maintain that author/reader relationship with Matheson just a little bit longer. Rest in peace.

Why World War Z Doesn’t Translate as a Summer Blockbuster

 

wwz

My boyfriend and I somehow managed to pack 3 different movies into our weekend.  We saw The Purge (Which we both agreed would have worked better as a novel due to too many ideas.), World War Z and Monsters University (Which was the cutest and best movie of the weekend.).  Of these three the one I was looking the least forward to was World War Z. In fact, by the time we bought tickets my expectations were extremely low.  So I was happy when the movie was over to realize that it was not the worst movie I’d ever seen but I wouldn’t describe it as “great” like others I know.  I had already resigned myself to the fact that the movie would not resemble the book from which it steals its title, so here is why I thought World War Z was only an OK summer movie:

  1. It was generic– I am a huge zombie fan. I probably would have seen this movie even if the title hadn’t brought back memories of a book that I adored.  Being a huge fan of something makes you more critical when you view/read an item that fits the genre you’re obsessed with.  Was this movie fun? YES. Was it explode-y and loud? YES.  Did it add anything unique to the zombie subgenre that is quickly becoming over saturated? NO. My biggest problem with this movie is that it took from a book that was unique and added something new to the subgenre and became your stereotypical summer movie. Great escapism that will be forgotten come the time the leaves start to fall.
  2. Too much Brad Pitt, not enough zombies-So many of the articles, like this one, I have read about the movie have described it as “passion project” for Pitt.  My brain translates this to “vanity project”. This was obvious to me from the first preview. I actually asked, “Where are the zombies?”  I still feel like I am asking this question.  World War Z isn’t about one guy saving the world from zombies, its based on “recollections” of a war that the entire world fought.  The zombies in this movie go back to my complaint about things being generic. There aren’t enough of them, the makeup is stuff I’ve seen in a dozen other zombie movies, and the “flocking” movement makes it hard to distiguish the zombies from the people running from them in the bigger action sequences.  The generic zombie makeup bothers me because I have watched plenty of bad zombie movies because they do awesome things with make up.  I will say that Brad Pitt (who I do think is a great actor) is a good choice for the only guy we follow, mainly because he is one of the only men I can think of who could not shower for over a month and women would still swoon.
  3. The action is kinda lame.– I actually like Marc Forster but my favorite movie from him is Finding Neverland, a movie with lots of heart but no action. I literally saw this movie 7 times in the theater. I also don’t remember hating The Kite Runner or really thinking that the movie destroyed that book so he is capable of making movie adaptations.  BUT, I also saw Quantum of Solace in theater and thought it was kind of lame. At the time I thought it was because I am not a Bond fan. But others who are have told me they thought it was full of boring action sequences. World War Z is full of lots of running and shooting and has some tense sequences. But there are no real scares. Ok, maybe one jump scare.  I get that studios want to get as big an audience as they can in theaters for summer blockbusters but this movie would have been better rated R than PG-13.  As a PG-13 movie, it just feels watered down and I do not like my zombies watered down.  In fact, this movie is more of a thriller than a horror film.

 World War Z, as it was written, is a horror story and not just because the world is fighting the undead. It has gore and elements that are genuinely scary.  It is also unique in the way it takes itself completely serious and reads to some like non-fiction.  I think this is why some people put the book down.  Some parts are a little slow and dry.  But the overall affect is to make the book read like an oral history.  This tone is why I had my doubts years ago, when they announced the movie adaptation, that any studio would ever get this book right.  The closest movie I can compare in tone to World War Z  as a novel is Contagion.  Steven Soderbergh creates a scenario that is both realistic and scary.  But that movie was released in September because of its more serious tone.  You can’t use it to sell other things (except flu medication). It has human emotion in it, but no gun battles or people running.  It’s not escapism in the way we think of our summer blockbusters. The novel World War Z, while being about a zombie war, has more serious things to say.

Another reason World War Z would never work as a summer blockbuster, or really as a movie, is that there are too many memorable scenes and characters and too many locations.  The Brad Pitt movie calling itself World War Z is as global in scale as a two hour movie can get.  I own the audiobook adaptation of World War Z and, while it is amazing, I was disappointed to find out it was abridged. I think there is an unabridged version out there but I cannot find it.  Still, in editing the novel down, I missed some of my favorite characters and scenes. This would’ve been inevitable for any movie adaptation. There’s something about the structure of this novel that makes you miss those excised pieces more.  This novel, while not a doorstopper in length, just feels too big to have ever succeeded as a movie.   Still, a better effort could have been made to include some elements from the book. A  character or two, the name of Patient Zero, or the way the world fought back against the zombies at the end. No spoilers here, but the end of the movie was just completely unbelievable.  I wish I wasn’t hearing sequel talk about this movie, but that’s maybe the one reason why this book would’ve worked as a summer blockbuster, if they had done it right.  With any good book you don’t want it to end. With any (even bad) summer blockbuster, as long as the first makes enough money, there will be a guaranteed sequel.  I just hope that the next movie focuses more on the zombies and the world as the title suggests and not Brad Pitt.

And if my point hasn’t already been made, here it is a Venn diagram, from the Oatmeal.

 

John Scalzi Signing and Review of Redshirts

Saturday was a really fun and busy day.  Started off at work, then rushed over to the John Scalzi signing at Barnes and Noble, stumbled upon a street fair happening outside my front door, saw Man of Steel and celebrated a friend’s birthday.  I found out about the signing the day before because I follow Scalzi on Twitter and on his blog.  Sometimes it’s a good thing to follow an author you’ve never heard of on social media because it’ll give you an idea about their writing style and personality (or at least persona) before leading you to their books. I’ll admit it was a bit strange going to an author signing for whom I’d only read one book and the book being promoted, The Human Division, is the 5th book in a series I’ve barely even heard of. But we all have to start somewhere with authors, right?

I had heard good things about both Scalzi and Redshirts while I was finishing up school.  I picked it up after needing to put down another book and looking for something escapist, fun, and humorous. Redshirts is definitely all three of those.

redshirts

Title: Redshirts

Author: John Scalzi

Publisher: Tor Books, 317 pages

Genre: SF, Humor

Rating: 5 stars

Here’s the synopsis for Redshirts from Goodreads:

“Ensign Andrew Dahl has just been assigned to the Universal Union Capital Ship Intrepid, flagship of the Universal Union since the year 2456. It’s a prestige posting, and Andrew is thrilled all the more to be assigned to the ship’s Xenobiology laboratory.

Life couldn’t be better…until Andrew begins to pick up on the fact that (1) every Away Mission involves some kind of lethal confrontation with alien forces, (2) the ship’s captain, its chief science officer, and the handsome Lieutenant Kerensky always survive these confrontations, and (3) at least one low-ranked crew member is, sadly, always killed.

Not surprisingly, a great deal of energy below decks is expended on avoiding, at all costs, being assigned to an Away Mission. Then Andrew stumbles on information that completely transforms his and his colleagues’ understanding of what the starship Intrepid really is…and offers them a crazy, high-risk chance to save their own lives.”

It’s hard to write a review of this book without going into spoilers but you don’t really have to be a huge Star Trek fan to understand what’s going on here: Redshirts do not fair well on that show.  There are references to that in the new Star Trek movies. I don’t really think of that as a spoiler, just a piece of American geek culture everyone should know. So if you didn’t know, I just upped your geek cred a bit. You’re welcome.  That premise alone could make for an entertaining parody, but Scalzi delves deeper than that. This book references everything from Star Trek to the movie Stranger Than Fiction (which, if you haven’t seen, you should) and still feels fresh and unique.  The first three quarters of the book are entertaining and funny and the last 1/4 goes deep in a way that is unexpected but is wholely satisfying.  This is one of those books that I had tried out through the library but will be adding to my own collection when I get the chance.