Douglas Coupland and others

Have just finished All Families Are Psychotic by Douglas Coupland a writer I greatly enjoy (although am yet to read his purportedly ‘classic’ Microserfs). This particular title is high on the humour and lower on the ‘drama’ than others. I was making the comparison to Carl Hiaasen in another forum, because this story features many of the things which make Hiaasen’s stories such fun, disfunctional people doing disfuntional things being the key element here. Not that that disfunctional is an unusual element in a Coupland novel, but here the disfunctional things are usually directly funny or lead to funny situations/consequences. Not that that should put you off it’s not all laugh out loud, half the characters in the book seem to be HIV positive. This is not ‘Girlfriend in a Coma’ or ‘Hey Nostradamus’ but it’s still pretty cool.

Prior to this I had read I am Legend by Richard Matheson, because I had also just seen the movie. And boy am I glad I saw the movie first because otherwise it would have ruined the book. If you know both you will understand my point, if you know either or neither trust me on this, the person who wrote the movie had obviously found out about the plot by talking to a guy in a pub, after they’d both had a few beers.

The movie stands alone, it has the uber-cool premise of last man alive (… on the planet, maybe – book & film slightly differ but at the beginning that’s not important by the end it’s crucial) it’s got a not too bad central perfomance from Will Smith, and the early scenes of him driving around a New York partially reclaimed by nature are visually stunning. The film also deals well with his desperate loneliness which he tries to remedy by talking to mannequins he has ‘posed’ in places he visits regularly. This strand is original, and in fact more staisfying an insight into his state of mind than that given his paper-bound incarnation who resorts to alcohol at any and every manifestation of stress.

In most other areas the book is superior, and it is fundamentaly different, particularly in realtion to the ‘infected’ population (some have referred to them as vampires as they have many similarities). The key thing in my opinion is that these two works of fiction both develop the plot, particularly in relation to the ‘infected’ along massively divergent lines. And to all intents and purposes these could be considered two different products sharing the same title and a similar starting point. And of course that is what they are anyway, that is what every film adapted from a book is, regardless of how the plot of one sticks to, or diverges from the plot of another, etc. They are two different things, in different media that work on the human brain in completely different ways.

Most books require the reader to complete the missing elements (to use their imagination) most films present much of this information up there on the screen in the visuals, maybe only in the scenery and the clothes of the protagonists, but there is tons of information that we pick up subliminally from the images, in books this often only needs to be hinted at for us to construct our own ‘reality’ for the storyline.

I always find it hard to go into the cinema and leave my love of a novel outside. I know that I sat through all of the Lord of the Rings adaptations shouting (in my head) at Peter Jackson et al for changing, ommitting, and sin of sins, adding stuff to the films. I know I’d have enjoyed them all more if I hadn’t read the books, but of course in the long run I’m more interested in the books, and the Middle Earth I imagined that Tolkien was describing, than anything I saw on screen.

Anyway, I Am Legend, pretty-goodbook, okay film, two different stories, two different experiences. If you like ‘action’ type movies with a bit of sci-fi you’ll probably enjoy the film. If you like to read sci-fi go for the original novel.


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