Archive for November, 2011

In a recent post, I wrote how much better “Dexter” the TV show is, compared to the books that inspired it. As I mentioned, I feel like a real Philistine for saying a TV show or movie is better than the book. But there’s no getting around it. Sometimes it just is.

I’m sure if I really researched it, I’d find some more examples. But here are four off the top of my head.

– “One Flew Over the Cukoo’s Nest”:  Ken Kesey’s novel took place entirely from the perspective of Chief, who’s considerably more deranged in the book than in the movie. Kesey reportedly got pissed over Milos Forman’s decision to change that for his 1975 film adaptation. Much as I hate to contradict a cool guy like Ken Kesey, that was a good call on Forman’s part.  Chief’s meandering head trips probably seemed a lot more neo-postmodern or something back in the ’60s. But I thought they just got in the way of the plot. The movie was more succinct, and more powerful.

– “Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?”/”Blade Runner”: OK, I’m about to make a horrible, horrible confession. I don’t get Philip K. Dick. I mean, I’ve given him a shot. I’ve read “VALIS” and “The Man in the High Castle,” and just found them kind of incoherent and weird. Ditto “Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?” But “Blade Runner,” Ridley Scott’s 1982 film adaptation? Arguably the best film of the 1980s, in my opinion. Compelling insights about human identity, AND kick-ass action sequences. Hard to ask for more out of a movie. (If you’ve never seen the movie, by the way, be sure you get the director’s cut. I can’t really say more without spoilers, but the director’s cut has a few nuances that make it way more intense.)

– “Frankenstein”: Yeah, it’s really impressive that Mary Shelley came up with this highly influential story when she was just 18. But — How to express this and not sound like an asshole? — it READS like a book that a bright, romantically-minded and naive teenager would write. Full of florid content that bears little resemblance to how the world works or how people act. I mean, yeah, it’s a fantasy novel about ideas, and she wasn’t exactly shooting for gritty social realism. But about the time Felix De Lacey brought home his beautiful Turkish beloved Safie to the family cottage, I thought: “OK, Mary. You’re kinda losing it here.” The 1931 James Whale movie was way better.

– “A Clockwork Orange”: I first read the version of Anthony Burgess’ novel that was released in America when I was a kid. While the book impressed me, I still gave the edge to Stanley Kubrick’s 1971 adaptation, just because the movie was SO freakin’ mind-blowing. Years later, I read the version of the novel that was released in England, including a final chapter that American publishers excised and that Kubrick didn’t include in the movie. So the American publishers cut out a final chapter of Burgess’ novel? One that Burgess himself considered vital to the novel’s meaning? Those blasphemous thugs! What the hell were they thinking? Except … well … the final chapter kind of sucked. I don’t want to give it away. Read it and decide for yourself. But I found it jarringly inconsistent with the rest of the book, and it just reinforced my preference for the movie.

Here’s an interesting insight on the complicated relationship between writers and movies from Scott Pruden, author of the science fiction thriller “Immaculate Deception.”   (By the way, the opinions expressed in the preceding post are entirely my own. Don’t blame Scott for the fact that I’m a illiterate oaf who doesn’t understand Philip K. Dick.)

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I just finished Season 5 of Dexter on Netflix. Wow! I’ve got friends who are working their way through the series, so I don’t want to give away any spoilers. And since I don’t have cable and do all my TV-watching via Netflix, I’d appreciate if you’d return the favor should you currently be following Season 6 on Showtime. Tell me anything about it and I’ll pack my tools and plastic sheeting, seek you out and … No, I won’t do that. But I will be a trifle miffed.

Suffice it to say that I thought the show would never be able to top Season 4. Yet it did.

Which got me thinking about the books by Jeff Lindsay that inspired the show, and how they compare. Simply put — there is no comparison.

Yeah, it always makes me feel like kind of a Philistine when I say that movies or TV shows are better than the original book or books on which they’re based. Because usually, they’re not. But this is a case where the TV show isn’t simply better. It blows the books out of the water.

As you’ve no doubt gathered by now, I’m a fan of Dexter. My introduction to the series came when I picked up the second Jeff Lindsay book, “Dearly Devoted Dexter,” from the library on a whim.

I thought it was … OK. The premise, a new twist on the Miami noir sub-genre of crime fiction,  and the gleeful amorality of the whole enterprise made for a perversely enjoyable read. I thought it could have been better. But I enjoyed it enough to pick up the first book in the series, “Darkly Dreaming Dexter.” Again, I found it entertaining enough, but nothing to rave about.

Then came the series. Man!

It took a lot of raw material from the first book — many of the same characters, the same basic premise — and took it to far more interesting and rewarding places. The TV series was challenging, suspenseful and psychologically complex, while losing none of the playful archness of the books. It worked on so many levels, too. Police procedural. Ruthless deconstruction of the vigilante hero trope. A coming-of-age story made all the more unsettling by being weirdly touching.

What I admired most was the way the show relentlessly f**ks with you, the viewer. You find yourself helplessly rooting for Dexter, even as you wonder what’s was wrong with you for doing so.

Don’t get me wrong. The show’s not perfect. There’s a lot of filler. I mean, does anyone really give a shit about the romantic lives of Dexter’s co-workers? Other than a few glitches, though, the show’s still maintained that level of quality through five seasons.

But the books? I’ve read two more. And they both royally sucked.

After that first season of shared genetic material, the books and the TV show have gone in completely different directions. Characters dead in the books are alive in the show, and vice versa.

The book “Dexter in the Dark” added a goofy fantasy element. Dexter’s “dark passenger”  is no longer part of his twisted subconscious, but a demonic entity derived from the ancient god Moloch. Say whaaat?

The next one I read was “Dexter is Delicious.” Lindsay, wisely, dropped the whole Moloch subplot by then, but I still wasn’t impressed.

An element that bothered me about “Dearly Devoted Dexter” became more pronounced in the subsequent books. Basically, Dexter ended up a bystander and a victim. Throughout the books, he talks up his own ruthlessness and brilliance.Then he ends up with the (more evil) villains getting the drop on him, passively waiting for someone else to come in and save his ass. In light of his apparent overestimation of his own gifts, he comes across as a self-deluded braggart. And kind of a wuss.

Given Lindsay’s obvious fondness for alliterative titles, I suggest the following for his next book. “Dexter: Damsel in Distress.”

Now I’m counting the days until Season 6 is available on Netflix.

In-depth analysis

Posted: November 17, 2011 in Uncategorized

Today on “Chamber of the Bizarre,” we’re going to explore a historical question. Was the moon landing faked?

No. Wow! That was easy!

Support your local bookstore

Posted: November 15, 2011 in Books

I was in a chain bookstore recently. They didn’t have a “Horror” section. But they had a section — not a shelf, but a freakin SECTION! — labeled “Paranormal Teen Romance.” Please shoot me.

Here’s a video of my trip to the historic Farnsworth House in Gettysburg.

I love old science fiction TV shows and movies. Does it have a bunch of intrepid astronauts smoking cigarettes in the suspiciously cardboard-looking cockpit of their rocketship for a 15-minute flight to the forested landscape of Mars where they’ll encounter a warrior race of women with beehive hairdos? Dude, I am SO there!

But I think my favorite vintage science fiction cliche involves computers. I’ve even seen versions of this in relatively high-end stuff, like “The Prisoner” and the original “Star Trek.” Now by computers, of course, we’re talking about wall-sized metal boxes. They usually have blinking buttons on the control panel. Sometimes, for extra measure, they have a pair of reel-to-reel tape spools. And they speak in halting, tinny voices.

And every computer in vintage science fiction — no matter how advanced, no matter what alien civilization designed and built it — comes with one inherent flaw. If you confuse it, it self-destructs. And by confuse it, I don’t mean input some kind of destructive code. All you have to do is say something confusing around the computer and it will self-destruct, usually while shooting streams of sparks out of its control panel and repeating “DOES NOT COMPUTE! DOES NOT COMPUTE!” in its reedy, nasal voice.

Now, obviously it’s a good thing that real computers don’t have this flaw. Although it’s kind of a shame, too. Think of the fun you could have at the office. You’ve got some downtime. You’re bored. So you go over to the desk of that guy Lou in purchasing who’s kind of a douche. And the following exchange takes place.

You: Hey Lou! What’s shakin?

Lou: I’m busy. What do you want?

You: This statement is false.

Lou’s computer: IF THE STATEMENT IS FALSE, IT MUST BE TRUE. BUT IF IT IS TRUE, IT CANNOT BE FALSE. THEN IT IS TRUE. BUT STATEMENT PURPORTS TO BE FALSE, THEREFORE …. DOES NOT COMPUTE! DOES NOT COMPUTE! ZZIIIIRRRRKKK! (Computer throws of a shower of sparks from its control panel, then shuts down.)

Lou: Thanks a lot, asshole! (Picks up phone) Yeah, technical support? Could you send a guy up here? Somebody just said something confusing in front of my computer.

You: Heh heh heh!

Lest I sound too hard on science fiction screenwriters of the past, I’m aware that the purpose of science fiction movies and TV shows — then as now — was to entertain, not to provide documentary-style realism. And entertain they did.

And to be fair, computers were still a pretty esoteric field of study in the 1950s through the 1970s. Those writers can certainly be forgiven for not grasping how they work. These days, everybody’s got a computer. Bookstores have entire sections devoted to making computers accessible and user-friendly. So do more modern screenwriters have a better handle on the subject?

Well … according to the movie “Masterminds,” this is what hacking looks like:

Ancient douchebags

Posted: November 8, 2011 in Random stuff

I just finished Jared Diamond’s “Guns, Germs and Steel: The Fates of Human Societies,” which I would highly recommend. In a chapter on the development of writing, he made reference to “Nestor’s cup,” which was a clay drinking cup found at the ancient Greek site of Pithekoussai on the island of Ischia in Italy and dates to about 700 B.C. It’s got three lines of Greek verse scratched into it, reading: “I am Nestor’s delicious drinking cup. Whoever drinks from this cup swiftly will the desire of fair-haired Aphrodite seize him.”

It cracks me up that here’s this object of major archaeological significance, which is basically an ancient version of one of those novelty beer mugs that say “DRINK ‘TIL SHE’S HOT!”