Friday, March 16, 2012

The Wolfman

When I was a teen, I lived out in the middle of nowhere. We had no cable--three TV channels if we were willing to watch shows with our arms in the air, doing contortions with the rabbit ears all for the occasional break in the snow. The radio was just as bad. We were cut off. 

I read a lot, a whole lot, and whenever I could manage, I went to the bargain theater and watched movies all day. Sometimes the same movie over and over, taking notes during subsequent viewings. 

Because of this, I bought a lot of movie tie-ins. To this day my husband teases me about the first time he went through my room, and found that all my records and tapes were soundtracks, and all the books on my shelves were novelizations of various movies. Yes, I owned a lot of other stuff too, The Who, loads of Bowie, tons of Stephen King and Clive Barker and anything else I could get my hands on, but what I kept on the shelves were movie tie-ins.

It was research, you see. I was concerned with how what I wrote would be “seen” by the reader, so I wanted to compare scenes from movies, to a writer’s description of that same scene, just to see how the words and pictures lined up. 

It was a major failure.

Most of the time the novelizations were terrible. They either had the same name as the movie and told a completely different story, or they followed the dialog closely but everything else was out of left field. Like Back to the Future. 

Imagine a Back to the Future where Doc Brown is a fame whore and Marty is a complete insensitive ass. BTTF was bad in terms of novelization, but it wasn’t alone in that. Most tie-ins are complete crap. 

That said, The Wolfman by Jonathan Maberry is kinda amazing. It follows the story, sticking to the plot, but actually does what a move-tie in is supposed to do—expands on it. It shows you the things that wouldn’t work quite so well on screen, like giving a deeper look into character thoughts and motivations. He took a lot of liberty with things like dialog, but you can see that all the important bits are represented in the book, and often punched up a bit. The book doesn’t lose anything from the movie, but rather it effectively builds upon what is there, and I found all the characters much more sympathetic--and understandable in terms of motivation--in the book than I did in the movie. 

I also love what Maberry does with an action scene. I’ve always been a little uncertain about scene and POV shifts that take up only a paragraph or two. I worry this will become choppy and disorient the reader. But I found his execution of it to be really impressive, and I might actually give it a try when I am ironing out some of my own action scenes. 

Where the book succeeded, and the movie clearly failed, is in the beast itself. In the book we are allowed to form our own ideas of what the wolf looks likes, at least to an extent. The creature is believable and scary in its power. On the screen, he looks like the victim of terrible movie makeup. I love that they were trying to pay homage to the original film with returning to the flat, man-faced look of the beast, but I really think the original did that only because they had little choice. In the new movie version, it’s hard to take the wolf seriously when he looks like a pissy Persian cat most the time. The beast needed a maw, something protruding and non-human. The remake’s wolf just looks like he needs a shave and some dental work. Not very scary.


Kate Martin said...

How interesting that you always seek out the novelizations! I always avoid them like the plague. I, too, grew up in the middle of nowhere with little to no TV. No movies other than what mom would put in for me though. I spent all my time in my room daydreaming. :)
This was a very readable adaptation. Mayberry clearly has a command of language and story. The book was enjoyable and often tugged me along even though I had already seen the movie and so knew what was going to happen.

Nicole Galloway said...

Like you and Kate, I had a sheltered life. Although, I was in Suburbia. My mother was extremely strict about movies and television shows, so I read and read some more. Generally, I've stayed away from novelizations, as well. Since they get such a bad rap.
Although, I may read some in the future. This one was impressive. After reading it, I watched the movie again and got so much more out of it. There were these subtleties I missed in the first viewing that Jonathan Maberry picked up on and expanded upon. I'm really glad we were assigned this.