Thursday, June 11, 2015

From film to book to trash bin

Dawn of the Dead

By George A. Romero & Susanna Sparrow


Publisher: Gallery Books

Pub. Date: May 26, 2015 (reprint)

Rating: 1 out of 5 stars

Novelizations are always a little tricky to review. The entire idea of novelizing a film seems a bit odd. You are taking a separate art form and placing outside its intended existence. You could say that about going from novel to film too. Yet while filmmakers strive, in theory, to form a different creation using all the nuances of sight and sound, the act of novelizing too often comes across as simply another way to exploit and create merchandise to sell. That isn’t to say that it can’t be literature although frankly, I cannot think of one novelization that makes it so. But they can be entertaining and, at best, can add some insight to the characters and action that the reader may have already seen on film. Off the top of my head I can think of a few novelizations that do that very thing well: The Howling by Gary Brandner and Dennis Etchison’s Halloween II and III and The Fog writing under the pseudonym of Jack Martin come to mind. These are examples of good novelizations of horror movies that stand alone as novels and add a little something extra to the films.

Dawn of the Dead by George A. Romero and Susanna Sparrow is a novelization of Romero’s classic film of the same name. The film and book originally came out in 1978. This edition from Gallery Books is a reprint published in May of 2015 and comes with an introduction by Simon Pegg (Shaun of the Dead). It’s an entertaining intro but it doesn’t really add anything of note to either the film or the novel. But I doubt anyone will buy the book for the introduction. So how about the book itself?

Unfortunately Dawn of the Dead, the book, does not fare well either. In fact, it is downright abysmal. It does not add anything to our understanding of the film nor is it very entertaining. It follows the film action quite closely but almost to the point of sounding like a exhausted writer reciting a bored treatment. When we do get details that are not in the movie and should help move it along, it is of all the wrong areas. For instance we get detail after detail of our anti-heroes walking through the mall but their inner thoughts and motivation remain cartoonish with no real insight beyond what we saw in the film. What troubled me is that the film itself was full of subtle touches. Much of what is happening as the characters survive and fight the zombies in the stereotypical world of the shopping mall comes across as a satirization of our own consumer driven society. None of this makes it into print. What we get is a not very well written account of “they did that and then they did this”. There is just bad writing throughout the book. The author will switch between two or even three characters doing something in entirely different parts of the mall all in one paragraph. It makes for a very badly structured and confusing narration.

The novelization of Dawn of the Dead has little horror, little suspense, and little emotion. Those few who read the book without knowing the movie will be confused and bored by the haphazard writing. Those who saw the film will be better off passing it up altogether. The film itself is a classic and a must see for anyone who loves horror movies. For that matter, it is a must see for anyone who loves movie making. But novelizations like this one not only add nothing to the aura of the film but does the movie and the filmmaker a grave injustice, no pun intended.

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