Archive for the ‘Post-apocalyptic fiction’ Category

The initial trailer for the film adaptation (and I use this term loosely) of Max Brooks’ 2006 novel World War Z premiered last week. I’ll get to my take on it in a minute, but the most noticeable and interesting thing about the trailer’s release was the amount of negative backlash toward it from fans of the book. From what I saw on twitter, comments on the trailer’s youtube, and elsewhere, the level of discontent from fans was (is?) at levels I think of as usually reserved for older, or at least more, I dunno, “canonical” books and characters (Beowulf and certain adaptations of Alan Moore come immediately to mind).  Not that some genre fans don’t get all uppity about even the slightest changes made when their beloved, recent texts are translated to film, and often understandably so, but I don’t think I’ve ever seen the level of ongoing hatred toward a film that, to be honest, looks like it could be quite good.

As someone who spends a lot of time reading and thinking about science fiction, post-apocalyptic stories, horror, and the like, and who is a fan of said genres, I understand being nitpicky about changes made and pointing out why they make sense or don’t. I am also a huge fan of Brooks’ novel, and have taught it in a college Intro to Fiction course with great success. I’m sympathetic to gripes about changes, but the people condemning the film entirely are going too far in a way that makes them look like foolish Star Wars dorks. Here’s why: There’s absolutely NO WAY you could create a faithful film adaptation of this book (as Arleigh over at Through the Shattered Lens rightly notes, this faithful version would need to be done as a serial on [cable] TV). It’s just not possible. Additionally, since the film began production and info about it started being leaked, fans of the novel who were paying attention have known about certain changes and should probably be resigned to a very different story than the one they loved.

So, to my mind, the bulk of loudmouth, purist fans trashing a film they haven’t seen are engaging in a kind self-important rhetoric without any real function beyond proving that they read it first and are “better” genre fans than those who are willing to say they’ll see the film with an open mind and may even like it.  They posture that they won’t even watch it but will spend hours online telling everyone else why it will be so awful.  They’re kind of like the kid back in school who knew everything about Star Wars or Harry Potter or whatever and who lived for being a genre pedant who talked down to you and ruined it for everyone else.  Such behavior is reactionary and dumb and fundamentally anti-fun.

That said, I would argue that the film version of World War Z, so far as the trailer lets on,does deviate significantly enough from the novel that it would be right, or at least in better faith, to retitle it something else with a sub-title explaining “inspired by Max Brooks’ World War Z” (an argument I’d also make, though more emphatically, for the poorly titled, Will Smith vehicle I am Legend).  Or, even better, let it slip into more fictional territory and say: “Based on the true accounts of the zombie war as told in Max Brooks’ World War Z.” To nitpick a bit, the title actually was already apparently changed to omit the subtitle “An Oral History of the Zombie War.” And I’m actually surprised that Brooks didn’t push for something like this given that the entire structure of the storytelling (ie, the multivocal, Studs Terkel-inspired, interview format) seems to have been replaced or sidelined in favor of a pretty standard action, hero’s p.o.v. format.  That and retaining the title as “new” for the possibility of doing it in the novel’s style via a serialized, episodic TV format down the road.  But I guess WWZ is a catchy title, so I won’t let this usage ruin my potential for enjoying the film they are actually making.

So, here’s the trailer.  A few thoughts on it vis-a-vis the novel after the cut:

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Okay, after my marginally-positive (or at least optimistic for the future) take on last week’s episode, I’m backtracking hard.  I was a brief optimist, but everything that didn’t work about the show in the first two episodes, but maybe you let slide in hope of a sort-of-watchable post-apocalyptic experience, pretty much smacked you in the face in the most recent installment.  Then there was more bad stuff added on top of that.

For me, I’ll go ahead and say it is likely I won’t intentionally watch any more of this show . . . at the very least because the writers/producers seem to think anyone who would watch it is dumb enough to go along with the kind of nonsense they are coming up with.  (Seriously, a novel with these problems would never get published.)

So, forget the hedging or “hey-they-have-room-for-improvement” angles, here’s a few short takes on why this episode was so dismal:

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I’m still watching this show . . . for now.  While I watch very few tv shows, I’m too much of a sucker for post-apocalyptic stories to not at least stick this out for a few weeks.

Overall, the second episode (called “Chained Heat” . . . apparently because there are people “criminals” in chains and it’s hot where they are, get it?) improved a bit on the original pilot/premiere episode (it’s streaming here).  This improvement is largely due to character development for Charlie, the female lead, and further revelations of background information (mostly conveyed via flashbacks).  The overall quality of the show will likely get better as more episodes are aired (in my eyes, anyway) due to accumulation of knowledge about the story’s world, the need for which could have been avoided with a pilot more intent on setting the scene than getting the action going.  The same is possible, though not certain, of Charlie’s character development, which will likely be the make-or-break element of the show’s success or failure.

That said, the show’s storylines are still clunky and the acting is pretty mediocre.  That and a number of problems with the premise that I pointed out here and Seb Breit covered exhaustively here remain.

Spoilers below the cut

this totally makes sense

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NBC’s mostly-poorly-received post-apocalyptic drama will air its second episode tonight.  I reviewed the pilot/premiere two weeks ago and am planning on at least watching another 2 episodes.  So, I was looking over other reviews by those with real interest in the p-a genre and came across this excellent and exhaustive critique by Sebastian Breit.  He makes some of the same arguments I do, but is far more wide-ranging and comprehensive in both major critiques and setting nitpicking.  And his points are dead-on.  If you are watching this show, you should read this:

A first look at NBC’s Revolution-Sebastian Breit

“Full disclosure: I’m a sucker for post apocalyptic TV series. I loved JMS’s Jeremiah when I was younger, and I very much liked CBS’ Jericho despite its flaws. Ignoring the politics of the people behind it I found William R. Forstchen’s One Second After a quite compelling read. S.M. Stirling’s Dies the Fire series also ranges rather high on my ‘have to finish reading it’ list. So you can probably imagine my delight when I stumbled across NBC’s new project called Revolution earlier this year. The two men behind the project also made me prick up my ears. Erik Kripke of Supernatrural fame and Jon Favreau, the man behind the Iron Man movies are two titans of recent scifi and fantasy entertainment. Ever since the announcement that it had been picked up in spring I was excited about it, even though the promo videos offered reason for concern. Here’s what its all about:

Revolution takes place in a post-apocalyptic future. Fifteen years earlier, an unknown phenomenon permanently disabled all electricity on the planet, ranging from computers and electronics to car engines, jet engines, and batteries. People were forced to adapt to a world without technology, and due to the collapse of public order, many areas are ruled by warlords and militias. The series focuses on the Matheson family, who possess an item that is the key to not only finding out what happened fifteen years ago, but also a possible way to reverse its effects.

Is it any good? Well, they pre-aired the show’s pilot a few weeks and I was able to watch it. And what can I say? I’m a jaded bastard. You see, the problem is if you like post-apocalyptic fiction and consume your fair share of the genre you not only become somewhat genre-savvy but also become very observant regarding the small things that can make or break a setting. And Revolution? Well, in my opinion it’s not off to a good start in that regard.” [emphasis added]

 

When I reviewed James Dashner’s Maze Runner trilogy a while back, I praised it for doing several things that I think the best YA dystopias (and quality YA SF in general) tend to do well.  Foremost among these were limited exposition of the story-world and keeping a steady pace of events or episodes.

While I stand by those original points about the trilogy, upon finishing the recently-published prequel to the trilogy, The Kill Order, I’m a bit disappointed in how those very same things were handled in this particular book.  While the prequel isn’t awful (it’s certainly a decent adventure story that kept me reading), it falters on several levels and one can’t help but wonder if Dashner either rushed this one out or simply ran out of ideas for the series.

[Plot spoilers follow]

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Most people have probably heard that NBC has jumped on the post-apocalyptic bandwagon with a new show for fall called Revolution.  Helmed by executive producers including J.J. Abrams, and kicking off with a pilot episode directed by Jon Favreau (the Iron Man films and, of course, Elf), there appears to be a fair amount of anticipation for the show (and NBC is doing a ton of promotion, including theater pre-screenings of the pilot in select markets).  The anticipation might just be studio-generated hype, or earnest and ongoing interest in the post-apocalyptic genre, but, in my mind at least, there is also the fact that network tv has an abysmal track record with the genre, and I expect some are probably interested in whether this show will totally trainwreck despite the big names attached.

The series premier (ie, the pilot episode) will air on September 17th, but the studio has already posted the full episode, which I watched this past weekend, on their website and Hulu.  Here it is (link below if wordpress drops the embed):

Watch the pilot on Hulu

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Thoughts on Margaret Atwood’s Oryx and Crake by way of wilderness and post-apocalyptic genre traditions
"Snowman wakes before dawn"

“Snowman wakes before dawn” – Oryx and Crake fan art by Jason Courtney
More images: http://www.perdador.com/f6update/illustration_f9.html

I gave a guest lecture yesterday on Oryx and Crake for a colleague’s 200-level Environmental Literature course.  My presentation was organized around the ways that the book participates in genres, challenges some of  their conventions, and updates the “classic” dystopia (WeBNW, 1984, et cetera) by moving the locus of power from the centralized state to a more nebulous net of corporations and their mercenaries.

Because nearly any lower-level survey of environmental literature will necessarily include readings drawn from the mostly-American, white male-dominated, wilderness tradition, my prep also involved looking for ways to connect what is going on in Oryx and Crake with those texts that students had recent familiarity with.  I’m not sure how well the lecture worked in setting this up, but the result was something that, in retrospect, seems quite obvious.  However, I hadn’t previously fleshed it out, which was kind of weird (I guess wilderness writing hasn’t been on my mind much recently).  My main take away point is this:  Post-apocalyptic protagonists share a number of traits with protagonists or narrators of the wilderness genre.  This has interesting implications for connecting a reading of Snowman in Oryx and Crake to both genres.

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