The Book Corner season 5 episode 1: Warm Bodies by Isaac Marion
The Book Corner takes on a series of books and their adaptations, for better or for worse. We start with Isaac Marion’s 2012 rom-zom-com Warm Bodies and the 2013 film starring Nicholas Hoult. Was it a fresh take on the zombie genre or a shambling mash-up?
The Book Corner
The Book Corner is a regular break from critiquing for a writing group with my former MA colleagues. We work out a theme and everyone chooses a book that we’ll read and discuss. Previous themes have included literary genre award winners and books that shaped our writing journeys.
As usual, it’s an odd mix with a skew towards SF and fantasy, and in this season we’re comparing books to their screen adaptations. You can look forward to The Dark Tower vol 1: The Gunslinger by Stephen King, Percy Jackson and the Olympians: The Lightning Thief by Rick Riordan, A Wizard of Earthsea by Ursula Le Guin vs Tales from Earthsea by Goro Miyazaki, Never Let Me Go by Kazuo Ishiguro, The Lovely Bones by Alice Sebold, The Colour Out Of Space by HP Lovecraft (vs the bonkers Nicolas Cage adap.) and Howl’s Moving Castle by Diana Wynn Jones.
Warm Bodies: the story
Book and film share pretty much the same story, which isn’t always the case.
Several years into a zombie apocalypse, R is a zombie who can only recall the first letter of his name. He wanders a deserted airport with his friend, M, communicating in grunts, moans and almost words. R, M and their fellow zombies spend most of their time reliving echoes of their human behaviour.
The secret to R and M’s advanced communication is eating the brains of live humans. These grey morsels allow them to relive the memories, thoughts and feelings of their victims.
R avoids eating human flesh until he can no longer deny his hunger. He lives mostly apart from the other undead, in an old airliner full of items he’s hoarded from the outside world. His most-prized treasure is a record player on which R listens to classics like Frank Sinatra.
The decaying Fleshies are controlled by skeletal Boneys who lead a strange pseudo-religion. R is forced into a mock-marriage with an uncommunicative female fleshy and they’re given two undead children to parent.
Food for thought
A group of zombies massacres a group of the Living and R feeds on the brains of Perry. He experiences memories of Perry’s girlfriend, Julie, and the intense emotions inspire R to save her. He takes her back to the airport and he keeps her prisoner in his aeroplane. There, she witnesses the Boneys teaching child zombies to eat people and helps R learn to drive.
R’s humanity slowly returns because of Julie’s presence. His communication improves, but his consumption of Perry’s brain tissue makes him fall in love with her.
When the Boneys discover Julie, R takes her home, but he no longer fits into the Living world. There, her father leads a community walled up in an old stadium, and he blames zombies for her mother’s death. The Boneys, unhappy with R’s influence on the other Fleshies, decide to wipe out R and the stadium’s inhabitants.
With a chance to end the zombie curse, R, M and Julie must win her father’s acceptance and defeat the Boneys.
Warm Bodies: a writer’s review
Warm Bodies is an undead Romeo and Juliet, with Perry’s memories providing a morsel of Cyrano de Bergerac. Publishing loves a remixed classic, so it’s easy to see how this hooked an industry that was also slavering for zombie fiction in 2010.
The zombie’s perspective was an original take and it’s refreshing to see a zombie apocalypse where the fall of humanity doesn’t matter. No-one knows why there are zombies and survival is all that remains. Marion hints that late capitalist excess and environmental destruction brought on the collapse. Ultimately the plague and the cure are spiritual, not biological, and the Boneys are what humanity deserves.
Marion doesn’t gloss over the creepiness of R keeping Julie prisoner or eating Perry’s brains to win her over. Yet he’s not a creepy character. It’s an enjoyable, fast-paced read that builds a consistent world, keeps you guessing and doesn’t outstay its welcome.
I was interested to discover the arc of Isaac Marion’s creation, from a short story to a complete novel. It stands alone, even if Marion later bowed to demand with a prequel and two sequels. He fell into the mid-lister’s trap and was dumped by his publisher, between sequels, after disappointing sales. The final instalment was self-published in a limited run of 3,000 signed hardback copies. He later doubled the print run, sold them all, and released an ebook edition.
Warm Bodies: the film
Zombies, Nicholas Hoult, John Malkovich, Rob Corddry. Warm Bodies had the ingredients for a 2013 hit, and it has a respectable 81% on Rotten Tomatoes, but like R’s airliner home, it doesn’t take off as it should.
The tone leans heavily towards YA and R’s Sinatra collection is replaced by audience-friendly alt rock. It’s no surprise that the romance dominates over R’s philosophical musings or a vision of the bizarre culture being created by the Boneys.
Hoult’s narration males good use of the the novel’s first-person voice, and he’s a great fit for the role. Malkovich plays Julie’s dad as an absolute ruler, so there’s little discussion of the tough choices humans have made to survive, and key beats for R’s adventures inside the human settlement are missing.
The script is witty, charming and it reinvents the genre, but it’s a no man’s land. There’s not quite enough comedy for a Shaun Of The Dead, not enough gore and shocks to satisfy horror fans, and the Boneys are a good concept but the effects are mediocre.
What’s better, book or film? The book takes it, but the film’s OK.
The Book Corner season 5, episode 2: The Dark Tower vol 1: The Gunslinger, by Stephen King
The film adaptation of Stephen King’s post-apocalyptic dark fantasy western spawned just one film, even though there are eight books. Forget good and evil, this is a battle of breadth versus brevity.
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