Monday, March 4, 2013

Warm Bodies Movie & Book Review

If I know I’m going to see a movie based on a book I usually read the book first, knowing full well that the movie will probably not live up to my expectations. However, I saw Warm Bodies in the theater before reading the book, so I had no preconceived notions about casting or characterization. In fact all I knew about Warm Bodies was that it was a take on Romeo and Juliet, but with zombies. I went to see this film with a group of friends who also happen to be co-workers. Of the six of us who went, only two of us really enjoyed it. So, she (Allison) and I decided to review the movie and book, which we read later.

The Movie
"Warm Bodies" Directed by Jonathan Levine. Starring  Nicholas Hoult, Teresa Palmer, Rob Corddry &  John Malkovich

Amy: I don’t care what anyone else said, I loved Warm Bodies. It was funny, sappy, and a little bit gross. Exactly what one might expect from a zombie romcom.

Allison: Thank you! I loved it! It was exactly what I wanted it to be - funny, cheesy, with only a few bits of horror! I also really liked how short it was - I’m sick of three hour long epics!

Amy: I'm totally with you there. The thought of sitting in a theater for three-plus hours makes me dread going to the movies. Another thing I loved about Warm Bodies was R’s inner monologue. It was just funny and kind of sad. Yes there were parts that were kind of stupid, but again, it is a ZOMBIE romantic comedy.

Allison: Yes! A similar movie, Shaun of the Dead, was marketed as a romantic comedy with zombies, although that one was more about the living people than the dead. But the idea is the same - this isn't a gore-filled Romero movie. Yes, there are horror elements, but that’s not the crux of the story.

While we’re on the subject, one difference between the movie and the book is the outfit R wears. In the movie, he wears jeans and hoodie (setting up a great joke) but in the book, R wears black dress pants, a white shirt and a red tie. I like to think this is a hat-tip to Shaun of the Dead, since that’s the same outfit Shaun (Simon Pegg) wears.

Amy: Also, it was leaps and bounds better than Twilight. People need to stop comparing it to Twilight.

Allison: I admit that I haven’t read Twilight, but I was forced to see the movie version and I agree 100%. It’s unfortunate that every movie with supernatural elements that centers on a romance is now, apparently, doomed to be lumped together with Twilight. I think many people who would really enjoy the movie haven’t or won’t see it because of that false association.

Amy: Another thing I loved about this movie was the relationships between the main characters and their BFF’s. M stood by R when the rest of the zombies wanted to eat Julie and Nora stood by Julie when the rest of the humans wanted to kill R.

Allison: Rob Corddry really stole the show as M; some of the best lines were his, whether they were funny or frightening. Both he and Nicholas Hoult expressed more in a grunt or a gesture than most other actros could. M’s character in the book is a bit different (at least physically) than how Corddry portrayed him, but the loyalty, humor and hope are there in each version.

M (Rob Corddry) and R (Nicholas Hoult) in deep conversation at an airport bar.
Amy: I think Rob Corddry had about five spoken lines in the movie and I absolutely agree that he stole the show. I read somewhere that the cast studied with Cirque de Soliel to get the zombie movements down. I think they did an excellent job.

Amy: Speaking of best friends, Julie's best friend Nora says during a dream sequence that if she could be anything in the world she wanted to be a nurse. As we were leaving the theater several members of our group were commenting that it was sad that she said nurse instead of doctor. I realize that being a nurse is considered to be a "typical" female profession but I think being a nurse is a truly noble profession. I have several friends that are nurses and they worked incredibly hard to get their degree. So, lets not disparage a woman for wanting to be a nurse instead of doctor in a film, especially a film about zombies. And now I will get off my soapbox.

Allison: Yeah, I know some viewers really objected to that! In the book, Nora goes on to explain that she doesn't think that civilization will around long enough for her to finish medical school. Nora’s character is a bit different in the book - she’s older than Julie and a bit wiser - so her reasoning sits well with me, at least.

Amy: I’m choosing to ignore the really terrible CGI from the movie because I don’t think it took anything away from the story.

One of the many "bonies" that
menace the Living and the Dead.
Allison: I was pleasantly surprised that the CGI wasn't as bad as it could have been given the film’s budget. It reminded me of the mummies from the 1999 movie The Mummy - good enough for the purposes of the movie. And honestly, I thought they were pretty damn menacing!

Allison: One last thing about the movie - Richard Roeper (of Ebert and Roeper) gave the movie 3 ½ stars. In his review, he says that he preferred Warm Bodies over other zombie movies and TV shows (The Walking Dead, etc.) because those zombies are predictable. A mutual friend who saw the movie with us took exception to that, and thought that Warm Bodies was no less predictable than other zombie fare.

While I can see why someone might say that, I think Roeper meant that the movie didn't follow the usual formula of zombies being your standard unfeeling monsters, devoid of any humanity. Having zombies that retain or regain their humanity (as well as a human falling in love with one) deviates from the standard horror formula, where the story isn't at all about the zombies, but only about the human survivors, and the zombies can easily be replaced with aliens, giant robots or whatever. You're not going to find any multi-dimensional zombies staggering around in The Walking Dead.

The Book
"Warm Bodies" by Isaac Marion (Fiction Marion)

Amy: My first thought about the book is that while the movie could be considered YA, I wouldn't classify the book in that way. We have it shelved in adult fiction and I believe that is where it belongs.

Allison: Agreed. The writing style is more complex than what you might find in some YA - the use of terms like "Escheresque" and "vertiginous" might throw younger readers off. A good portion of the book is spent with R describing what life as a zombie is like and R’s thoughts on what caused the dead to rise. In these passages the author, I think, is using zombie life as a metaphor for depression - the alienation, the lack of interest or ambition, even the dulled senses of the Dead. Of course, this isn't a theme restricted to “adult” literature, but some younger readers might become bored with R’s continuous ruminations.

Amy: At the end of the movie you get a sense that everyone will live happily ever after. At the end of the book you get the sense that although things are getting better, it will take years and years before life returns to pre-plague conditions.

Allison: One of the key plot points that happens very differently in the movie and books - and which we can’t really talk about since it’d be huge spoiler - definitely contributes to that. Without giving too much away, what ultimately happens with General Grigio (Julie’s father) in the book as opposed to the movie sort of sums up the ultimate message of each.

Amy: Allison mentioned that in the book the character of Nora is different, older and wiser.  I liked both characterizations of Nora.  I liked her sense of fun and humor in the movie and how she was wise beyond her years in the book.  Maybe it is because I saw the movie first, but I think I liked the movie better.

Allison: I’m having a hard time deciding which one I liked best, since they’re both so different in tone. The movie is much lighter and the focus is on the romance between R and Julie. The book delves deeper into the inner lives (such as they are) of the zombies. We hear a great deal more from R on subject other than Julie and learn that there is even a zombie society. The zombies hold worship services, have sex, marry and raise children. At the beginning of the novel, R meets and marries his wife and later they are given two zombie children to feed and teach. There’s much more world-building in the book than in the movie, which works really well. If the movie had too much of that - aside from R’s introduction at the beginning - it would have been bogged down and much too dark.

One section I really enjoyed and illustrates the side of zombie society we don't see as well in the movie was R's (internal) explanation of why he dislikes being called a "corpse" or a "zombie." When Julie first calls R a "corpse" R thinks, "...I realize she can’t possibly know the sensitive cultural connotations of the word 'corpse' …" R also dislikes it when Julie refers to herself as "human," as opposed to a corpse or a zombie. R thinks of himself as human; a Dead human, but human nonetheless.

Amy: Marion did an excellent job giving his characters depth and making the reader feel that the "Dead" were also human. He also did a great job relaying that both the Zombie and Human populations were dead in the sense that there was very little hope that either population would survive.  That being said, I would tell people to read the book and see the movie in any order they choose.

Allison: Absolutely! After I read the book, I found the short story that inspired it, I Am a Zombie Filled With Love online. I'm also planning to read the prequel Marion is writing, The New Hunger which right now is only available as an eBook from Zola Books, but you can read an excerpt on Entertainment Weekly's website here.

And if you can't get enough of romance and/or zombies, click here for a list of similar books and movies!

~ Amy and Allison, Adult Services

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