Archive for September 22nd, 2008
I may have thought Thomas M. Disch was a raddled old bigot but if I die – and I’m not planning to – I hope no-one writes an article like this about me.
I don’t buy hardback books because I find paperbacks vastly more useful; when I am God Emperor all novels will be paperback originals. This has given me a patience with publication dates that I have now extended to DVDs where the problem is not the format but the ridiculous mark up slapped on them upon release. So I’m a bit behind the curve but I get there in the end and this weekend was when I Am Legend finally dropped below the ten quid barrier.
If you watch a lot of SF films you are used to disappointment but it is actually a lot better than I was expecting. It is still poor though. There are warning signs early on with Emma Thompson’s evil scientist being called Dr Krippin and the appearance of an incredibly poorly done CGI lion. This dodgy CGI is a constant throughout the film – all the vampires look like grey, shrunken versions of the Incredible Hulk – and undercuts the focus on Robert Neville (Will Smith), the last man in New York. Smith is clearly right at the edge of his limits as an actor playing a man under extreme psychological conditions but he manages well enough. There are two particularly good scenes – where he follows his dog into a dark building and later when he is ensnared in a own trap – where the stress, fear and isolation of his life are perfectly conveyed. Both scenes are artistically disembowelled by the appearance of the cartoon monsters though.
I Am Legend went through quite a long Production Hell and it shows in the Frankenstein’s monster nature of the finished article. You have got three competing films here: a CGI popcorn action flick which is all the more intrusive for being mostly kept at bay; a gruelling post-apocalyptic drama; and, finally, a godawful spiritual melodrama. This is expressed in emotionally manipulative flash backs and, most of all, in the ending that quickly unspools from the appearance of another survivor.
The ending that appeared in the theatrical release is not actually the original ending though. My version of the DVD doesn’t contain the original ending (because I am a skinflint) but it is widely available on the internet:
There was a lot of praise for it when it first surfaced but although it is better than the theatrical ending that is not to say it is any good. Too much has gone before.
There are a few assumptions about the Transatlantic publishing gap that quite a few people make: UK paperbacks are better quality than US ones, US hardbacks are better quality than UK ones and UK covers are better than US ones. The latter is certainly something that I’ve always believed but ajr has an interesting post about whether it is true any more. He was inspired by this Bookseller article but the original article loses points for not having a poll. It does contain an interesting quote from designer Jon Gray that suggests this is a recent change though:
In the US, the designer, art director, editor and author will create a cover that they feel is right for a book, and then that will be shown to a sales department. It would then be shown to the trade. This often means that your cover is first and foremost a nice piece of design, relevant to the book. In the UK over the past year or so, we’ve started to work backwards.
As always this is the fault of the supermarkets.
Anyway, I can’t say this new design-led approach in the US is one I have witnessed, particularly within the science fiction industry. Indeed when ever someone in the science fiction world pleas for slightly nicer covers there is always someone from the industry quick to pop up and say: “ugly covers are the way we’ve always done it, besides that is what the punters want and authors should be grateful just to be published”. That is not to say there aren’t plenty of good US SF covers but the overall standards are not very high and the lows are just so much lower than in the UK.
(I am obviously a corporate stooge because I have spent this entire post playing the man, not the ball…)