Thursday, April 28, 2011

Read The Book First

For all the visceral horror films I subject myself to, sometimes something quieter is in order, and often all the more disturbing. See The (original) Haunting or The Last Wave.

Months and months ago, I read Kazuo Ishiguro's dystopian fable Never Let Me Go. It was an incredibly good read. In the writing of this blog entry I'm going to be really vague, because the growing horror of the premise is a key part of the book. Ishiguro writes stories of longing and loss, sedate and melancholic. Never Let Me Go doesn't break with tradition. BUT. There are additional threads of mystery (at first) and then genuine horror (later) that I found gripping even long after I'd turned the last page.

A very English setting (and how the English love their messed-up-government-run-future-society stories) seen through a Japanese lens of melacholy pretty much sums up the aesthetic of the novel and British/Japanese Ishiguro himself.

The movie does a pretty good, though inferior, job of presenting the story. The settings look correct, the actors are all great, and the soundtrack, atmosphere and act cards all 'feel' like the book. But the film makes the INCREDIBLE misstep of revealing the mystery from the get-go. Having seen the film all the way through and digested it, I can understand why it was done this way... the first act is much shorter and less detailed in the film because the filmmakers want to spend more of the film's standard running time in the other acts. That was THEIR emphasis and I get it. I just think it was a huge mistake. And more than one reviewer agreed with me.

So, here's the deal. READ THE BOOK FIRST. Do not look up any summaries on the internet. Do not read any reviews of book or movie. Do not read the blurb on the back of the novel. Do not allow yourself the chance to have anything given away. The mystery is NOT the only aspect with teeth in the story, but it adds GREATLY to the atmosphere (and the book and movie are big on the atmosphere) if you go in ignorant. Here's all you need to know:

Alternate late-20th century history, so don't find seemingly glaring differences from our reality all that strange. English boarding school/drawing room type drama (like Ishiguro's Remains of the Day). Slow, melancholic pace, but atmosphere of foreboding and menace builds like a J-horror film. Coming of age story in some ways, though nominally science fiction.

If any of that sounds interesting at all do yourself a huge favor and read the novel first. I CAN recommend the movie... but the film loses little of its mystery if you've read the book because it is just going to tip its hand in the first quarter hour anyway.

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