Otto's Coffee Shop
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Friday, August 27, 2004
Thoughts on games other than The Game

Yesterday's post got me thinking about games a little bit. The fact is, while I love poker, I can have great fun playing just about any game at which I can be at least somewhat competitive (which rules out most games involving physical coordination, since I'm just a little more coordinated than a drunken moose). To me, the competition is half the fun, though, and if I'm playing a game where no one really cares about winning, it gets either boring or irritating really fast.

I completely understand where my friend Clifford was coming from when he decided not to be as competitive, because he could be ruthless with the trash talk (as can I), but if you're not at least trying to win what's the point? The last time I played Risk with Clifford, he ceded the game to me while he stillheld all of Asia (I had the rest of the board). It actually made me mad that he was willing to give up so easily, so I yelled at him to sit back down and finish. When he wouldn't finish the game, I got so mad that I threw the board across the room (yes, I used to have quite a temper), and that was pretty much the last time we played Risk.

Mrs. Coffee Shop and I used to play games a lot in the evenings and on the weekends. We tended to play either word games like Scrabble or Quiddler (a card game which sort of crosses Scrabble with Rummy) or "strategy" games like Carcasonne or Catan. Unfortunately, our game play has sort of tapered off because she kicks my ass at word games (and I'm not one to get my ass handed to me at Scrabble very easily) and I couldn't be as competitive as I wanted to be at the strategy games. Like me, my wife can be pretty competitive, though she hides it better than I do, so whenever I'm pretty clearly leading in a game, she just gives up (I presume so it looks like she never really cared). If I win a game because I played a little competitively, ensuring that I'd rack up a lot of points at the end (which you can do pretty easily with Carcasonne) while we stayed pretty equal throughout game play, well, if you're married to a competitive person, I suspect you can figure out where that leads.

The type of game I play is completely dependent upon who I am playing with. With Be the Boy or Burger, I'm all about the poker. That said, I've played Risk and Trivial Pursuit with Be the Boy and had a pretty good time (though he kicks my ass at Trivial Pursuit every time; they need a comic book category instead of sports), while Burger has been in on some pretty fun party games (I don't remember which ones I specifically played with him, but by "party games," I'm thinking of games like Outburst, Pictionary, Scattergories). Put the three of us together, though, and poker's the only way to go, unless we're in Vegas when it's blackjack.

Indy and I are all about the strategy games: Catan, Carcasonne, Axis & Allies. There've been more all night A&A games than I care to remember, and we've spent entire evenings playing game after game of Catan or Carcasonne. While A&A is far and away the most competitive game we play, and you should see Indy's blood boil if we're playing with friends who aren't as serious about it as he is, it's important not to be the one who lost the most games over the course of a visit or you'll hear about it for the next several months.

It's always fun playing party and trivia games with J., but I think our real talent comes when we can team up against unsuspecting opponents. Unlike many of my other friends, whom I like to compete against, I prefer to compete with J., and I think we could take pretty much anyone on in any party game. I especially pity the fool who challenges the two of us to something like Planet Hollywood, because our knowledge of useless movie trivia is pretty unsurpassed among folks we've played games with. We've got so much history and so many inside jokes that games where one of us has to make the other one guess a word or phrase are pitifully easy to dominate. Anyone remember Will & Grace from the first season or two (when I actually bothered watching it), and how much folks hated playing games with them? Sadly, I suspect that was J. and I (though without any bizarre sexual undertones in the relationship) for a few years there.

When I'm playing games with Bruce or my brother, we tend to go for the classics; Chess, Pente, that kind of thing. Those are the kind of games, though, where you almost have to be pretty equal with the person you're playing with in order for it to be any fun. When Bruce started reading up on Chess and Chess strategies and he could kick my ass every stinking game, it became less fun, probably for both of us, and we stopped playing quite so much (it helped that we lived half a country away, so we didn't play that often).

It's interesting the kind of games I get into, and the kind of games I have no interest in. Even though comics and gaming tend to go hand in hand, I've never had one iota of interest in RPGs like Dungeons and Dragons, nor whatever you call games like Warhammer that I occasionally see people playing in comic shops. Not interested in Heroclix, not interested in card games like Magic or Yu-Gi-Oh!, and I don't know that I could even say why.

I've only ever been interested in one video game: The Legend of Zelda, and whenever my brother got a new Zelda game, I'd play it through till I beat it (perhaps ironically, my brother was a video game kid, and I don't think he ever beat the first 2-3 Zelda games). Later, when I was living with J., who had an N64, I bought the two Zelda games for that system (Ocarina of Time and Majora's Mask?) and I played them through incessantly until I had almost beaten them. Strangely, I think I quit playing both games just before I beat them, and I never went back to finish them. I guess I just didn't want them to end. Other than that, I never had any interest in, nor was I particularly good at, video games, not even Zelda-like games.

Thursday, August 26, 2004
You've got to think about the game

As longtime frequenters of this here establishment probably know by know, I love playing poker. There's something almost electric about sitting down, buying in, getting your chips and breaking out a fresh deck. Even if you're only playing $0.25, $0.50, $1 chips, it still has that feel.

Thinking back, I've probably always had an affinity for the cards, even without the gambling. I remember whiling away entire summers playing Slap Jack, Spit, and Gin Rummy with my brother and my cousin when I was about 8-12 years old. In between summers, I probably learned twenty different types of Solitaire, many of which I never even knew the name.

In high school, someone taught me how to play Spades and I was immediately hooked. Throughout my junior and senior year, there were several of us who simply carried a deeck of cards around like other kids carried hacky sacks or switchblades. Any chance we got, we'd whip out the cards and try to get a Game in. By the time we started the regular Game on Friday nights, I had found the perfect Spades partner. If you've ever played team card games like Spades, you'll know what I'm talking about. One of those people who can tell every card you have by the way you lead, and who you can do likewise. My friend Clifford and I played together enough that we could pretty near read one another's minds when it came to Game play. Without ever having discussed it, we somehow always knew how to play so that we took the exact number of tricks we need to make our bid and to bust the other team, without going over more than one or two. My guess is that we synched up so well because we were the only two guys who played every week, since we were the only two who weren't dating. For about a year and half, we were darn near unbeatable at the Friday night Game.

Sadly, the summer after our senior year, someone accused Clifford of letting his competitive nature go to his head, causing him to become something of a jerk to whomever we were playing against. Clifford searched deep into his soul and realized that he didn't like how competitive he got when he played Spades, so he decided that, while he didn't necessarily want to stop playing, he'd no longer take the Game seriously. Of course, he didn't warn me beforehand, so the first time we played together after his change of heart, I was somewhat taken aback when he pulled the King of Spades out of his hand and placed it face out on his forehead for all to see. I roared at him for being such an ass and for disrespecting the Game, but he laughed it off, telling me that it was just a game and no one really cared. Although we finished that particular Game, as I'm not one to abandon a game part way through, his continued hijinx like showing his cards to an opponent under the pretense of asking what to play, or accidentally dropping his cards face up on the table got old really quickly, and I don't think I ever played with him again; in fact I rarely played Spades after that, sticking mainly to the occasional game of Hearts or Eucker. I tried a few times in college and immediately after to get a Spades Game going, but no one was really as into it, or wanted to be as into it, as I was. When I'd go back over a hand after play, trying to explain strategy and whatnot, they'd just roll their eyes at me. Eventually, I gave up.

About a year after I moved to LA, a co-worker invited me to his house to try out a poker night with some other folks from the office. I'd played poker (five card draw) before: those of us without girlfriends in high school had tried a penny-ante poker night for a short while on nights we weren't playing spades, but tempers ran high and it didn't last long. I agreed to go and it was a fun little friendly game (save for two particularly embarassing attempts by certain players at cheating). It certainly went well enough that most of us wanted to play again. The next game was about a month later, at my house. Mostly the same six or so folks, with the addition of Be the Boy, who helped make it that much more competitive (what can I say, I thrive on the competition).

From that point on, the Game got more frequent, first bi-weekly, then weekly. It also expanded. A lot. We invited anyone and everyone who we thought might like to play. Finally, the Game reached it's breaking point: we had two tables going, of about eight players each, everyone drinking, yelling and generally doing everything except playing cards. It was more of a party than a game, at least that's what my neighbor who broke his own window trying to get us to shut up must've thought, and it was pretty obviously frustrating to those of us who were addicted to the thrill of playing the Game.

After that night, the Game got smaller. Be the Boy, J., Burger and I talked about it and decided that we never again wanted to play with more than six, with four or five being just about the perfect number. We set up The Game, first on Saturdays, then on Fridays because, frankly, none of us wanted to wait till Saturday for the rush. When we all lost our jobs because the company went under, The Game was what kept us sane. Some weeks, we even played three or four nights, admittedly as much for the camraderie as the cards, but somehow The Game became special; sort of our time away from the world. Just you, the cards, your buddies, and their money. Though it was nice to leave the game up (and to get to call one another with taunts of what you were buying with the money we won, be it blinds, porn or comics), we played fairly low stakes, so no one really lost much and it all evened out over the course of a year.

[The real losing came when Be the Boy and I discovered Vegas. Man o man, those were some times. I've never had more fun losing money than in Vegas. Since what happens in Vegas stays in Vegas, though, I'll suffice it to say that The Game in Vegas (Blackjack, not poker) was even more fun than The Game at home, because you were winning the house's money, and we generally went every chance we got.]

As time wore on, lives started changing, and some of the group started having less and less time for The Game. Some nights, it was just me, Burger and Be the Boy playing. A few times, it was just two of us. First I, and then J., moved away, and somehow The Game sort of ended.

We still play together any chance we get, but with J. in Missouri, me in Texas and the others in LA, we only get to play a couple times a year. Don't get me wrong, when we play, it's a real Event, moreso than just a Game, it's just not the same as the regular weekly Game (and we've added brief No Limit Hold 'Em tourneys in the middle of it).

Sometimes on Thursday nights or Friday mornings, when I'm really looking forward to the weekend, I realize there will be no Game this weekend, and it makes me sad. I miss The Game.

Wednesday, August 25, 2004
I'm such a geek

I can't believe Scott Tipton has been talking about one of my giddy fanboy faves for five installments of his excellent Comics 101 column (that I clearly don't check often enough), and I'm just now finding out about it? In case I've never made it explicitly clear who my favorite superhero team is, I'm talking about the world's first superhero team - the Justice Society of America! Scott spends five long essays discussing the good and the bad of the JSA's adventures in comics, from the 40s through today. It's all good reading (even if the comics themselves aren't always so good), so make with the clicky already!

One of these days, when I haven't just spent two hours trying to figure out why I couldn't log into blogger from home, I'll have to talk about why I love the JSA, even though I don't I have any real affection for any particular member of the JSA.

On a related note, to the blog problems at least, I'm now blogging and web browsing using Mozilla from home, so we'll see how that works out for me. Wish me luck!

Tuesday, August 24, 2004
Comics: Oni Press and the New Mainstream

Tim O'Neil has a piece up today about Oni Press and the New Mainstream that they, along with AiT/PlanetLar, represent for comics. That is, they don't do superheroes, but they don't quite do those intensely personal, out there, artsy or self-consciously literary stories that companies like Fantagraphics or Drawn & Quarterly do. Oni has its stable of talented creators who do what they do, and clearly poor a lot of passion into their projects, but they tend to be more story-driven than the art comix crowd likes. As a result, Oni is often the bastard stepchild of comics publishers, one who publishes books that appeal to a diverse audience, but seems to be constantly overlooked by online and print comics pundits who prefer to argue the relative merits (or lack thereof) of superheroes or to push for greater comics activism for art comix (not that those arguments are without merit in and of themselves).

Like Tim, I first came to Oni for Kevin Smith's Clerks comics, stuck around for Greg Rucka and Steve Lieber's Whiteout, and by the time Brian Michael Bendis' Fortune and Glory and Judd Winick's Barry Ween came along, Oni was pretty firmly cemented in my mind as a publisher of quality comics. In fact, while not every Oni project appeals to me, I'd guess that I probably buy more Oni books as a percentage of their entire line than almost any other publisher (save AiT/PlanetLar, who produce about one GN and one 32-page comic a month, almost all of which I pick up). To me, the Oni "brand identity" is quality creator-driven comics, and I'll give almost anything they put out at least one issue to see if it's to my liking. For what it's worth, very few of them aren't to my taste.

I'd also venture to say that Oni is poised to become the great white hope of American publishers picking up manga fans. They've slowly built a line of collected comics series' (many even in the digest format that the kids like so much these days) which appeal to young (Sheriff Ida Red, Alison Dare) and old (Queen & Country), men (Q&C, Whiteout) and women (Blue Monday, Love Fights), goth (Courtney Crumrin) and "mainstream" (F&G) and everything in between (BW, Hopeless Savages, Anthony Johnston's line of digest books). It may or may not be worth noting that Oni was one of the first (if not the first) American publisher who started collecting everything they put out so you could choose your format (collection or singles), and generally keep all their books in print.

The closest parallel I can make between Oni Press and anything else is that they're like the best indy record label you followed in college, be it Sub Pop, Dischord, Red River, or (my favorite) SST. You know they're going to sign bands whose style is similar enough to warrant a listen, but diverse enough to appeal to a wide range of listeners. This parallel is particularly a pros pos for Oni, as they often have "soundtracks" listed for their comics, and it's clear (at least under former editor Jamie S. Rich) that they welcome the parallel to quality indy music.

Rose and Steven at Peiratikos and Christopher Butcher of Comics 212/Previews Review fame have recently given highly favorable reviews to Bryan Lee O'Malley's new Oni book Scott Pilgrim, and I'd certainly echo those reviews (read it last weekend and thought it was great fun - reminded me a bit of Tokyopop's GTO in it's energy and the labeling of characters). Other than that, I know Augie and the Fourth Rail guys review an Oni book here and there, and Chris Butcher tends to pimp Oni quite a bit on Previews Review (when it's updated), but I'm hard pressed to think of much online discussion of Oni's books (though it seems like lots of folks read Queen and Country or have read Whiteout).

Just because I like to make lists, here's a few of my favorite Oni books, and a brief description. If you haven't read these and want to know more, ask me. I bet I could find an Oni book that will appeal to pretty much anyone, comics fan or not:

-Blue Monday (Chyna Clugston Major) - teen soap opera infused with anglophilia and all things hip (without being self-consciously so)

-Queen & Country (Greg Rucka/various artists) - spy/espionage drama in the vein of James Bond, but with a more real world bent.

-Whiteout (Greg Rucka/Steve Leiber) - this is quite simply one of the best mystery comics I've ever read, with textured artwork that blows me away

-One Plus One (Neal Shaffer/Daniel Krall) - Supernatural poker drama. That was enough to convince me to pick it up.

-The Adventures of Barry Ween, Boy Genius (Judd Winick) - the most offensive boy genius book you'll ever read. It's also laugh out loud funny, and has a heart if you can believe that

-Anything by Scott Morse - Volcanic Revolver (old school mob story), Soulwind (better sci-fi/fantasy than Star Wars), Spaghetti Western (pretty much what you expect), Magic Pickle (for the kids, but still great fun)

-Fortune & Glory (Brian Bendis) - Marvel's poster boy at his funniest (and most personal) in a literal True Hollywood Story

-Courtney Crumrin (Ted Naifeh)- what if Harry Potter were a sarcastic goth girl? Seriously, I hate hate hate all things goth, but I love Courtney Crumrin

-Anything by Andi Watson - my favorite is probably Geisha, about a robot artist, but the relationship dramas in Dumped and Breakfast Afternoon are both very good.

And those are literally just off the top of my head! Check out their site, or tell me what kind of stories you like in the comments below, and I'm more than happy to make suggestions.

At any rate, I hope that Tim's forthcoming series of Oni reviews at least sparks some discussion for this worthwhile publisher's line. I'll chime in here when I have something to say, too.

[Oni Press neither paid me for, nor do they even know about, this endorsement. It's just the honest opinion of a fan of their books.]

Monday, August 23, 2004
Have you heard the story about the Beach?

Right, then, where was I? Oh yes, The Beach: novel by Alex Garland, movie directed by Danny Boyle from a screenplay by Garland.

The film version of The Beach hit a few years ago like a 10 ton chocolate Easter Bunny - that is to say that it was much anticipated as Leonardo DiCaprio's return to the big screen after achieving heartthrob status in Titanic, by the director of Trainspotting and Shallow Grave (apparently critics, audiences and blurb writers were willing to forgive Boyle A Life Less Ordinary, which I also liked), and based on the "best-selling novel," but ultimately it sank straight to the bottom of both critics' lists and the box office. In fact, I skipped out on seeing it at the theatre because it was receiving such poor reviews and word of mouth.

I should mention that I was predisposed to liking both the movie and the book because the concept, a story about the traveler subculture in foreign lands is of particular interest to me. In my college days, I was lucky enough to spend some time backpacking around Europe and I had always thought that the subculture among travelers would make a great book: young folks of all nationalities, though predominantly American, Canadian (who always had a Canadian flag sewn on their backpack, lest they be mistaken for Americans), Australian, New Zealanders, with a few South Africans and Japanese around as well, literally traveling around Europe, trying to experience life to the fullest and to expand their world at the same time. To a lot of these folks, particularly the Aussies and the Kiwis, traveling was a legitimate lifestyle choice. They would travel around until they ran out of money, then get a job at a traveler-friendly establishment (usually an Irish pub or a hostel), where they got paid under the table until they were ready to move on. It was also strange how often I'd run into the same people throughout my travels, weeks or months apart. We'd catch up on what we'd done since the last time we'd met, maybe grab lunch or dinner, exchange info on good/bad hostels and then head our separate ways.

When the movie finally aired on HBO (or maybe Cinemax), J. and I checked it out, based on an interesting concept and our liking of director Boyle's previous movies. And you know what? I really liked it. In fact, I'd even venture that it was a good movie (with the exception of the goofy bit with Leo running through the jungle like he was in a video game). Despite the more than passing resemblance to other movies/books like The Blue Lagoon, Heart of Darkness, and Lord of the Flies, the lens of the traveler subculture through which the story is filtered results in something fairly unique. The Beach itself is beautiful, the relationships are for the most part believable, Boyle's direction, especially the score/soundtrack, is mostly hip, and I walked away feeling like I had seen a pretty decent movie. Of course, there were some questions left unanswered like why Daffy gave Richard the map and how everyone else got to the beach, if not through use of a map, but I felt like the movie was certainly better and more entertaining than at least 50% of the movies I see. I can also say that, since it was in fairly regular rotation at the time, The Beach stands up to repeat viewings without getting boring or silly (I probably watched it 15-20 times, and I'd bet J. watched it even more).

Fast forward to a few weeks ago when Indy posted about books that he'd like to see made into movies, he mentioned that he really liked the novel of The Beach, but that he thought the movie was crap. I was a little taken aback, because I had liked the movie well enough, and I had been under the impression that the novel was little more than an airport book (the term we use around the coffee shop for those mass market paperbacks written at about a ninth grade reading level a la John Grisham, Lillian Jackson Braun, and most romance books; you know, the kind of book you can buy at Wal-Mart or an airport newsstand). J. piped up that he, too, had liked The Beach, though he liked the book and the novel for different reasons. That night, I randomly saw a copy in the clearance section at Half Price Books, so I picked it up. I sat on it for a few weeks, till I needed something to read on the airplane for my business trip last week.

And, I honestly couldn't put it down. I read something like 250 of the book's 435 pages on the flight out, and kept looking for time in between meetings when I could sneak in a chapter. Don't get me wrong, I'm pretty sure The Beach will never be considered great literature along the lines of William Faulkner or James Joyce, but it's a step above most airport books and I'd fit in neatly with "coming of age" literature like On the Road or maybe Catcher in the Rye (though I must confess to never particularly liking the latter) and maybe even put it in with The Sun Also Rises in terms of the internal issues that it struggles with, provided of course that it stays in print (unfortunately some language and frank sexuality will probably keep it out of schools, thus ensuring it's longevity).

I finished the book about a half hour into the plane ride home, so I spent the rest of the journey thinking about the differences between the book and (my memory of) the movie; understanding why they'd made certain changes and wondering why they'd made others. I'm going to talk about plot points of both the movie and the book here is some detail, so if you haven't seen/read it, now's the time to stop reading this post. Don't worry, you can come back later and the post will still be here.

To begin with, I guess I thought that the movie would be a little more similar to the book, given that it was fairly low-budget without Hollywood stamped all over it (though to be fair, in hindsight I suspect that Hollywood had it's hands on it more than I at first suspected) and it was written by the novelist. The most important cosmetic change (and the one which screams Hollywood) is Richard's nationality: in the book, he's British; in the movie, American. How much that affects your enjoyment or perception of one over the other is probably determined by what pre-determinations you bring to the table. The novel has the feel of being very British, as it's told in first person narration by a Brit, while the movie seems very American. Contrast also that Sal, the unofficial leader of the Beach, is changed from American to British, as if to tell American audiences (who are used to villains with a British accent) to watch out for her.

That said, DiCaprio brings a lot to the table in his portrayal of Richard as a brash and clueless American. He feels very young American, full of American idealism and the American sense of entitlement to a life of leisure, along with the stereotypical superior American attitudes towards those from other countries. I may be mistaken, but I also believe that he's the only American on the Beach in the movie, whereas in the book, he's one of several Brits, while Sal may be the sole American.

With one exception, then, they both hit the same basic plot points: Richard gets the map from Daffy, meets the French couple (Etienne and Francoise), decides to try to find the Beach, leaves a map with the American surfer dudes (just in case), finds the Beach, integrates into Beach society, someone finds out about the map he drew, Richard is forced to watch and wait for the surfers to come in order to turn them back, the Swedes have an accident with a shark, leaving one dead, one injured and one mad, which creates trouble and division in paradise, surfers come, get slaughtered by the marijuana farmers, who in turn go to the Beach, present the map which everyone figures out Richard drew and basically tell the travelers that they must leave. It's the same basic story, but it's the telling that is different, sometimes in ways I understand, and other times in ways that are puzzling.

The exception I referred to above is the fact that in the novel, Richard's feelings for Francoise remain largely unrequited (though it's obvious that the feelings weren't entirely unreciprocated towards the end), whereas in the movie Francoise leaves Etienne for Richard about halfway through the movie. While I suppose that a part of me understands Hollywood's feelings about the necessity of a love interest for the lead, this seemingly surface change actually changes some of the fundamental set-up of the novel:

1) It grounds Richard. In the novel, it becomes clear fairly early on that Richard has the propensity to go off his rocker. He talks about the fact that he never grew up and stopped pretending, a classic sign of a potential delusional person, almost in the first chapter (it may not have been until the train ride when he brought this up, but I think it was at the hostel). By the time the reader realizes that Richard has completely lost it, it's easy to go back and pick out the groundwork which Garland had laid from the beginning. By giving Richard a girlfriend in the movie, we see not Richard the potential psychopath, but Richard the boyfriend, who may lie to Francoise about his relations with Sal (another detrimental addition to the movie) but who only "loses it" for a short time while forced to be stacked out on the cliffs waiting for Sammy and Zeph alone. It changes Richard from a pretty clear mental case to someone who just can't handle being alone. Maybe that makes him more relatable to a movie audience, and less Jack Nicholson from The Shining.

2) You lose the parallelism that the novel sets up. In the beginning, there was Bugs, Daffy and Sal at the beach. Bugs and Sal were a couple, and Daffy was their friend who had an unrequited love from Sal (which may have been reciprocated to an extent, but never acted upon). Daffy was Sal's right hand, the one who did the dirty work for her on the Beach, and he's the one who ended up going, literally, Daffy when he realized that a) he could never be with Sal and b) they'd never be able to control the Beach as much as they (Sal?) wanted. Throughout the novel, we see Richard almost literally become Daffy: he's the Daffy to Etienne and Francoise's Bugs and Sal, from his feelings for Francoise to his later rift with Etienne; he's also the new Daffy to Sal (and maybe Bugs, it's never made entirely clear how the Bugs/Daffy relationship ended), who uses Richard to do the dirty work that she used to use Daffy for. In a sense, he takes over Daffy's role and identity on the Beach, even noting (or making up) the parallels between them in his dreams and their later "conversations." But, whereas Daffy ended up killing himself, alone and insane in the Bankok hostel, Richard was able to pull himself out of the Daffy role and redeem himself to his friends at least. By coupling Richard off with Francoise (and later having him couple with Sal), the movie loses the parallels which are so important to the book, and indeed to understanding the story.

More than anything else, coupling Richard and Francoise jerks the movie in a different direction than the novel, making Richard a more "acceptable" (and in a sense, more quotidian) protagonist than the complex character that he is in the book. Likewise, it forces Francoise into the "Richard's girlfriend" role, which keeps her from developing on her own.

There are other changes, too. Keaty goes from being sort of a whiny, introverted GameBoy addict to the life of the party, who celebrates the two pillars of civilization: Christianity and Cricket. He's no longer shown to be any particularly close friend to Richard, and shares little in common with his character from the book save for a GameBoy seen once on his bag (and he may have asked Richard for batteries, too) and the color of his skin. In order to keep the film reigned it, I also understand the loss of characters like Jesse and Cassie, though they were necessary in the book to show that Richard wasn't alone in his hatred for Bugs.

I'm more bothered by the loss of Jed, by far my favorite character in the book, possibly because he provides the moral center (and serves as something of an anchor for Richard's somewhat tenuous grasp on reality). In the book, Jed is pretty central to a lot of the politics on the Beach, despite having an "outsider" status himself, and the movie misses out on his character. Instead, we see a bunch of Bacchanalians on the Beach (which reminds me, the movie spoke nothing of the work crews, and I just got the sense that everyone did what they wanted, though I know Richard fished a couple of times).

I said in my previous post that sometimes reading the book can make me enjoy a movie less because it reminds me of plotholes that hadn't occurred to me, or I had willfully overlooked. The Beach is no exception; here's just a couple of the questions I hadn't realized I needed answers to:

-If they were so mad at Richard and group for coming, and wanted reassurance that no one had followed them, how did everyone else get there?
-Why did Daffy draw the map and give it to Richard in the first place (did he see something of himself in Richard, or was it because he wanted to "ruin" the Beach?
-How did anything ever get done on the Beach?
-How did Sal know that Sammy and Zeph were on the island (the movie never said that there was a lookout)?
-What was up with that goofy sequence with Leo running in a video game? (as the book makes clear, Richard is a video game addict who is always pretending to be somewhere else)?

Two other things I feel warrant mentioning: the movie lacks the subtlety of the book when it comes to developing Sal's character. Maybe it's just my interpretation of movie shorthand (she's British, she's the leader, she must be a baddie), but in the book, she was more of a behind the scenes manipulator, and you didn't realize just how much until Richard joined her inner circle. In the movie, it's clear early on that she's fairly Kurtz-like in manipulating people and events to her benefit. The one other major piece that the movie missed out on was the brutal scene in which the denizens of the Beach, Richard's former friends, savagely attacked the bodies of the surfers which had been left by the farmers and then turned on Richard. It may have lasted less than a page, but the mental picture of these allegedly normal people becoming savages so quickly will haunt me for a while to come.

I know it seems like I'm being terribly harsh on the movie, and maybe I am, but I think I still like it. The fact is, though, that it's a different work than the book, possibly due to the necessities (and possibilities) inherent to the medium, and possibly due to the Hollywoodization of the story. I think that the movie is saved by Boyle's stylish direction, and DiCaprio's very American portrayal of Richard, which fits the story that they're telling in the movie better than if he were British.

I'd definitely like to see it again, through the lens of having read the book, and I think I'll keep the book on my bookshelf to revisit a few years down the road.

I think I'll wait for the movie

In case you haven't picked up on it yet, I really like movies: good movies, bad movies, huge studio blockbusters, little art-house flicks, documentaries, straight-to-video stinkers, you name it. It probably also seems like I don't have very discriminating taste in movies (I mean, I saw Taking Lives in the theater, right?), but the fact is that I can be fairly discriminating when I need to be, it's just rare that I have any need to see only those movies that I think look good.

I also really like books (mainly novels, but I dip into non-fiction occasionally). And even though I don't blog about books very often, I've always got at least one book that I'm reading, and occasionally I'm reading two at once. Right now, I'm working my way through Brian Hibbs' collection of essays on intelligent and ethical comics retailing (though he also goes after publisher, distributors and speculators) at the rate of 2-3 essays per day, but I also just started Erik Larson's (no, not THAT Erik Larsen) The Devil in the White City, and I'll probably read another 50-100 pages a day in that one, too.

One thing I always struggle with, though, is the relationship between books and movies. I wish I could say that I had some hard and fast rules that I live by relating to books and movies, but the sad fact is that I don't. In general, if I've really liked a book, or felt that I got a lot out of it, I tend to shy away from seeing the movie, for fear that someone else's vision of the book will change my own feelings about it. Though I've seen some really good film adaptations of books I've liked (Catch-22 and Fear and Loathing Las Vegas come immediately to mind), most books really lose something in the translation to film, and it just doesn't seem worth it.

It's easy to blame Hollywood for the changes. I often see a love interest added to spice things up, action sequences added (or amped up) at the sacrifice of genuine character development, and a overall dumbing down of the plot. I can see the studio meeting now, where the "suit" tells the author of a book that X or Y needs to be dropped because an audience just won't get it, yet movies with labyrinthine plots and complex characters (a la Magnolia) still get made, so it's not an inherent limitation of the medium. If anything, it's a limitation in the imaginations of the studio heads, and a limitation of a modern audience who craves being spoon-fed every piece of the narrative so they don't have to think for themselves.

I remember watching the movie Holes (itself adapted from a children's book) last year, and walking out of the theatre thinking how much I had enjoyed it because the plot and the characters were more complex than I was used to seeing at from Hollywood (and from a children's movie, no less!), yet I overheard several adults complaining on the way out that the plot made their head hurt thinking about it. At last I understood who Hollywood has been pandering to!

I suspect that the "best" adaptations of novels to film are actually those where the filmmakers take the faintest outline of the novel's story and characters and concoct a piece that works better in film than a more internal novel might. Luckily, or perhaps unluckily, this happens more often than not in alleged "adaptations."

Of course, the relationship between books and movies is further complicated by the fact that the movie studios are turning to novels, comic books, biographies, etc. more than ever before for their source material. I was shocked (shocked, I say!) at the number of movies in Entertainment Weekly's recent Fall Movie Preview issue which were based on works from other mediums. Surely Hollywood isn't so creatively bankrupt that filmmakers can't even come up with their own stories anymore!

Getting back to my original point (I had one, I assure you), when I see that a movie is coming out that is "based on" a book, I will generally decide from the preview whether I'd rather see the movie or read the book. For instance, last fall upon hearing that a movie adaptation was coming out, I decided I'd rather read Philip Roth's "The Human Stain" than see the movie. A few years back, I decided I'd rather see Trainspotting than read the book (the thick Scotch dialect of Welsh's novel helped me make that decision). Sometimes, admittedly rarely, I will rush to read the book before the movie comes out, as I did last summer with Stephen King's Dreamcatcher, so that I can compare the two (while I'm usually something of a book snob, I have a particular weakness for Stephen King, though I still haven't learned to avoid his movies).

The one rule which I try to stick to, though, is that I rarely read a book after I've seen a movie, and I never (well, since The Goonies, anyway) read a novelization of a movie. My reasoning is pretty simple: if I liked a movie, I don't want to read the book and risk liking it better than the movie; if I didn't like a movie, I don't see much point in reading a book which I also probably won't like. In addition, when reading a book, I rarely think about what actor would be good playing which part, but when I've seen the movie, it's hard for me NOT to picture the actors from the movie portraying the roles in the book, which can likewise ruin a book, especially if an actor was particularly miscast. As a result, I have zero interest in reading The Lord of the Rings, Harry Potter or Robert Ludlum's Bourne books.

Wow, that was a lot of preamble to the real point of this post, which was to say that I recently made an exception to that last rule last week when, at the encouraging of friends Indy and 808, I read Alex Garland's novel "The Beach" on which the unfairly criticized movie of the same name (starring Indy's favorite heartthrob Leonardo DiCaprio) was based. I want to talk about the relationship between these two works a bit, but I'm afraid that will have to wait for later today or tomorrow (and I do promise to update at least four times this week, so keep checking back).

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