Literary Cinemaby Jamey McDermott · November 24, 2014
The Dissolve’s latest Movie of the Week is Richard Linklater’s often-underrated Philip K. Dick adaptation A Scanner Darkly. Scott Tobias writes about the film’s use of rotoscoping animation to render Dick’s hallucinatory vision, while Keith Phipps and Tasha Robinson discuss the film in the context of PKD and Linklater’s respective bodies of work. Despite his work’s pulp sci-fi trappings—and occasionally clunky, amphetamine-addled potboiler style—I would consider Dick one of the great visionary artists of the late 20th century, and A Scanner Darkly might be his single best novel. There have been better films based on his novels (Blade Runner, obviously) but arguably none with the same fidelity to his original work. Especially since Linklater has been undergoing a kind of post-Boyhood, post-Before Midnight resurgence of late, now’s a good time to revisit a film that feels like a nearly even balance between his directorial style and the original source material. It’s not perfect, but it is interesting and worthwhile.
At Sight and Sound, Brad Stevens writes about film novelizations, that weird bastard child of literature and cinema. By now we take for granted that great movies can be based on novels, but there’s never been a great novel based on a movie, as far as I know. Still, the question of authorship is pretty interesting in some cases: what about a novel that is based on an original screenplay (co-written by the novelist) and released concurrently with the film version, like Arthur C. Clarke’s 2001: A Space Odyssey? I prefer Kubrick’s film to Clarke’s novel, but the latter is hardly hackwork. At the very least, each version presents a different artist’s unique rendition of similar ideas. It’s like viewing multiple painters’ portraits of the same subject: who can tell which version is the definitive one?
One of the first novels I remember reading as a kid—after the initial tide of Roald Dahl classics that had compelled me to read seriously in the first place—was Gail Herman’s junior novelization of Jurassic Park. I was six, and it didn’t occur to me at the time that the junior novelization was the product of two or three steps of diluting the original source material. I just remember feeling incredibly clever and mature for being able to read a book based on a movie that my parents (having read Michael Crichton’s book when it came out) had deemed too violent to let me see in the theater. Now I prefer the film to Crichton’s novel, and, though I haven’t read either novel in decades, I’m pretty sure I would prefer Crichton’s original to the version written for six-year-olds—but still, it all started with the junior novelization. Occasionally when I re-watch the movie, even now, I’m still caught off-guard at the parts that don’t match up with the novelization I read twenty-odd years ago. It’s funny how that works.
At Ploughshares, Nancy McCabe writes about the impact The Wizard of Oz (both L. Frank Baum’s novel and the MGM film) has had on the way people perceive her home state. As she puts it, “a book I never read by a guy who never lived in my home state and a movie about Kansas that wasn’t filmed in Kansas affected me more profoundly than I ever realized.” I’ve never been to Kansas, but to this day I usually envision it in black and white, entirely because of that movie. I know that’s not what it’s actually like, but that movie permanently imprinted itself on my brain when I was three or four. How can reality possibly hope to compete?
(Incidentally: if, like McCabe, I had an pen pal from Ohio making inaccurate media-driven assumptions about my home state, I might have to confess that most of my impressions of Ohio come from listening to the dystopian post-punk of Devo, Brainiac, and Pere Ubu. Maybe I’ve been misled.)
Finally, the ESA landed on a comet. You know this by now, I’m sure, but it’s still amazing. I like this Rachel Riederer piece because it demonstrates that the sciences and the arts really aren’t that far apart from one another, and that it would be awfully silly to view the two fields as incompatible. They’re both, at least in part, about exploring mystery, and about trying to deepen our understanding of the human condition. There’s certainly a kind of poetry to spending your career chasing comets, isn’t there? I’ve been reading the recent translation of Calvino’s Cosmicomics lately, which is about as effective a rendering of the connections between art and science as anything I can think of. It’s astrophysics turned fabulist, a purer distillation of what “science fiction” could mean than the more limited, genre-bound “hard sci-fi” spectacle of Interstellar. That is a pretty good movie, for what it’s worth, but is it mind-expanding in the way the best art or the most exciting scientific discoveries can be?