Jean, 39, lover of sci-fi, horror and fantasy, reader of comic books, conqueror of genre fiction.
I'm not even going to pretend that viewing the movie wasn't the main reason I decided to pick the book up, because it was; I'd known of the book, and I do read plenty of zombie fiction, so I might have gotten around to it eventually. But what I knew about the book, and what people talked about, was only a small part of the mythology that Marion builds for his world, and the movie helped to show me that, and it was that that interested me about it. So it gave me the idea for a new type of review: a movie versus book throwdown!
I'll start by saying that what immediately caught my attention while watching the movie was that, far from the typical message of zombie media that zombies are society's shit come back at them to destroy them, and everything was hopeless, this was a story of hope, and love, and how it can spread and heal. The book contains the same theme, though, naturally, it goes more in depth. Both show that hope, and unfortunately hopelessness, can spread like a, well, zombie plague. The movie maybe leaves it more sweetly simple, with the elegant image of an almost-unreal heart beginning to beat inside the chests of the zombies who are "infected" by R and Julie.
The book tilts to the darker side of things. While R and Julie change the plague, so does Grigio by losing all hope, while the others gain it. Surviving for survival's sake, to the point of losing what makes us human in the forms of creativity, joy, individuality, is illustrated in the book as "the new plague", and shows how the humans are, well, losing their humanity while the zombies are gaining theirs. Or at least R is....
In the movie, the overtly humorous tone of his inner monologue made me fall in love with the character. The casting is perfect, and I've since seen more evidence of Nicholas Hoult be a fine, charming and diverse actor. And, Nora observes in both book and movie, he just has one of those faces, you know? He could be twenty-something, or thirty-something. There's a sort of mercurial quality about it. And maybe that's the beginning of his change. In the movie, he's seen as something of a slacker--his hoodie is apparently a suggestion of unemployment--while in the book, he's well-dressed, probably headed for a good career in the business world when the apocalypse happened. His dress shirt and tie, in the book, classically a sign of conformity in our society, suddenly make him stand out among the drab, informal humans. And the suggestion that he slowed down for the first time in his life by becoming a zombie is a poignant reminder of how we drive ourselves--that he can now stand still long enough to just memorize the grooves in a record is in of itself a romantic idea.
He has a love of words, because the zombies lose their words and he struggles to keep a hold of what little he knows. To expand on it. He loves to listen to language, is frustrated in his inability to read. This is part of why names are sacred, because they lose their identity and by naming, it gives them something. So he holds on to he fragment he has, that his name started with an 'R.' He's deeper in the book, and the almost erotic pleasure he takes in words more explored, but the characterization remains pretty even, transferred to the movie.
Oh dear. Here's the only place where I feel as if the book let me down somewhat, and that's unfortunate, since the book starts this way. The airport, we're told, is a Hive; whereas, in the movie, it's simply implied that humans return there out of memory, much like the mall in "Dawn of the Dead." The Boneys, what the zombies inevitably become, their ultimate form of evolution (with something disturbingly alien about them) are shown as being savage, if a bit smarter in a predatory way in the movie. In the book, well... They start a church, in what could be seen as a sort of criticism against religion in our modern world; they seem to use it to control the other Dead, as well as using fear tactics, like following zombie hunting parties and taking Polaroids of the way humans slaughter their kind. There's a school, as well, where they try to teach their zombie children to hunt, and while I like the way that that story pans out, ultimately, with the children being less afflicted and closer to life because all children are born with innate hope and creativity, everything about the school seemed too organized and, frankly, silly. And, good God, but why would you let the human you led into the airport eat within hearing distance of this "school"?!
R is paired with another zombie and given children to look after, by the Boneys. This all seemed like... extremely unnecessary plot development, that didn't really go anywhere. Again, it seems the Boneys keep their fellows in check with rituals they followed when they were Living, but it just gave a sort of weird feeling of unease.
And then there's the sex. The fact that M, R's best friend, watches porno he's found in suitcases around the airport, sometimes with zombie girls who then attempt to sort of recreate the act by sort of... slamming themselves against each other... I suppose it was supposed to be funny, or sad, but to me it just read as creepy. No girl wants to think about a 6'3", husky zombie taking up rape-y tendencies... Well, maybe some people do, but I did not, thank you.
The movie wins this round, I'm afraid, for sticking to a more vague sort of generic zombie movie background.
On the other end of the spectrum, Julie is what the book does extremely right, compared with the movie. The movie gives us a gun-toting badass, who doesn't ever stop trying to run away from the person she's supposed to be falling in love with. In the book, she feels like she could be a real person. Sure, she has a bit of the manic pixie girl that male writers seem to be enamored of lately, but I'll say that her eccentricities are well earned, as she desperately, like R, tries to hold onto her humanity. She's vulnerable, intelligent, strong. And if she's a bit whimsical as well, it's because the world she lives in no longer supports, or even really tolerates, whimsy.
The fact that she's forced out of the airport by the threat of the Boneys, and then back to her father by the threat of him coming to find her, makes her infinitely more sympathetic in the novel than just her constant need to put R in the rearview, like in film.
Is an actual force in the novel. And we see him change, we see his motivation, and how long he held onto hope, before just giving in. And his chance at redemption through that little part of his brain (soul?) living on in R. The interactive dreams R has of Perry in the book are beautiful, and sad, and makes him much more of a presence in the story. when he's finally ready to find out what "comes next," I was in tears. It was a lovely way to give R a male friend that he can actually communicate with, and relate to, and while hints of that remain in the movie, they're only just vague things.
Okay, I'm sort of mixed on the ending of the novel. Grigio's death seems... gratuitous and typical, and I would have liked to have seen someone regain their sense of wonder and hope, as I do truly believe that no one is totally without hope, not when it's being kindled right before their eyes. BUT I adore the idea that R's evolution is complete when it's he who realizes that he loves Julie (not the other way around) and that he's capable of love again, making him into something different, something more, and sharing that with Julie who becomes... what? I've read Marion's writing a sequel, and I'll be curious to know if he deals with that or lets it be mysterious. (I think we'll definitely be seeing more of R's "wife" in the next book!)
As with most adaptations, the movie is solid, but lacks the depth of the novel. It does add some necessary humor but, unfortunately, takes depth away from the lead female character. I found the prose to be, at times, pretentious, as well as some of the grandiose and darker ideas about humanity etc. I loved both of them.
"What a massive responsibility, being a moral creature." That one line seems to sum up the novel, but is sadly missing from the film. Yet they both get points for being solid, fun works of fiction, that successfully take the zombie genre in unexpected directions.