Coraline Q&A with Neil Gaiman

February 15, 2009 at 11:50 pm (Film) (, , , , , , )

I went to see Coraline at the Dublin Film Festival this evening. It wasn’t advertised but following the film there was a Q&A with Neil Gaiman which was delightful. Mr Gaiman give every impression that he is generally the lovely soul you’d hope from reading his books.

The highlights for me were his telling of the nightmare that was attempting to get Good Omens made back in the very early 90’s. It would seem that some of the executives involved thought that Tom Cruise would be a good pick for Newt. So it not getting made is not all bad. He said that getting burned with that set him up for some of the better collaborations he’s now managed to make happen. 

Also he told us of the Gilliam nightmare that went down when it came to a different (I think) version of the same. Gilliam nearly had the money together went to the US looking for a paltry $15 million and a distribution deal from one of the studios was resoundingly ignored and then the English company putting up the rest went bankrupt. All he needs is $75 million or so and he could do it, so if you’ve got it spare send it to Gilliam because I would love to see his Good Omens. I am almost certain that it would be utter genius. 

Gamian spoke of the origins of Henry Selick’s involvement in Coraline and it would seem that he sent Selick the first draft (minus one chapter) and within a couple of weeks Selick was back to him and shortly there after on board. Gaiman it seems was taken with Nightmare Before Christmas and James and the Giant Peach so persued Selick from the start. It has taken 8 years to get the project to screen and I assure you it was worth the wait, the 3D is used in a really interesting and different fashion but I’m still not 100% sold on it as a storytelling device. 

Neil Jordan was present in the audience as he is undertaking the adaptation of the Graveyard Book. News which had managed to pass me by but which I am pretty glad about. This after all is the man who managed to adapt The Butcher Boy. He spoke briefly about his impression of the 3D and his excitement about the project. 

Finally he discussed some of the intricies of the technology and a bit about Stardust (I have my doubts about how happy he is with the final product). It was interesting and a highlight of my year so far. 

Disclaimer: These are my general ramblings about the discussion if I mis-heard or got the wrong impression apologies contact me and I’ll change it. Thanks.

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Book 10: Good Omens by Terry Pratchett and Neil Gaiman

January 9, 2009 at 1:34 am (Review) (, , , , )

Good Omens is a book about the coming apocalypse written by two people. It could very easily be a total disaster. The tone could be so easily be uneven or awkward to read but it never is. It flows clearly and is very easy to read. The best compliment I can pay it is that you are never concious of it being written by two writers.

It concerns the battle between good and evil on a cosmic and local level. Moving between the machinations of Heaven and Hell and the machinations of those on earth deftly. We are drawn in to the story with an angel (Azirphale) and a demon (Crowley). They are just the tip of quite a sprawling cast of characters that includes the descendant of Agnes Nutter Prophetess, Apocalyptic Horsepersons, a few witchfinders and the Antichrist. As anyone familiar with one or both of the authors’ works would expect the characters are drawn with intellegence and wit. No character ever seems rote or one note. The good are not quite as good as they seem and the bad are not necessarily all that bad. Sometimes the underlining of how people tend to be more grey than black and white can be overdone. I would have liked them to give us all a bit more credit in terms of understanding the motivation of some of the characters.

Good Omens could so easily be a cliche. It manages though to avoid most of the pitfalls of the apocalypse tale, the worst being falling in to a by numbers telling of good battles evil, apocalypse does or does not go ahead, some hero saves the day  and we all live happily ever after. In the case of  Good Omens I’m not sure that there is a hero really or that the day was necessarily saved which for me is part of it’s brilliance. The ambiguity I was hoping for in terms of character is better realised in terms of the story.

The story is frequently laugh out loud funny. I would not recommend reading in a public place because apparently snorting coffee all over yourself is a difficult look to pull off with out looking monumentally stupid or deranged. Deadpan observations about the absurdity of people and life abound and Good Omens would be worth the read for these alone but it’s also worth the read to see a writing experiment go well. It’s not quite a as good as the best Gaiman or Pratchett but it’s still pretty good.

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Book 4: Neil Gaiman: American Gods

November 18, 2008 at 9:43 pm (Review) (, , , )

Lordy, this has been a pain in the arse. I loved this book and as a result it is nearly impossible for me to say anything constructive about it. It seems that intelligently told stories of gods and people reduce me to moron. I love it, I love it. Seriously I love it. I apologise now for the slightly disjointed nature of this review. I’m just going to talk about some of the things I loved. 

First off this is a smart book. Do not let anyone tell you that fantasy or the oft associated science fiction are stupid. They’re not. Or at least not any more frequently than crime fiction and by my estimation significantly less than romantic fiction. This is particularly intelligent because it manages to mix many mythologies and theologies without ever being too heavy on the ‘Odin was a Norse god people believed x,y,x about him’ exposition. If you are interested in and know a bit about different mythologies then there are lots of lovely touches and jokes for you to enjoy, if you are not it will not matter a jot, it will still be an entertaining read.

Gaiman also manages to make many of the gods in to remarkably fully formed characters. Sure they’re gods but they have fully formed personalities, their behaviour in the context of the story always makes sense and Gaiman never resorts to having them behave a particular way to advance plot, and so he doesn’t have explain it away with ‘they’re a god so the can do that’. Each god possesses entirely their own personalities, gifts and curses. 

In the mythology of the novel gods arise from belief. I love the idea that gods and their power arise from our belief in them because it rings so true for me. You might not believe in Jesus or Mohammad but you can’t possibly deny their power and influence in the world, which stems from people’s belief in them. What compounds the excellence of the idea is the execution. Gaiman makes it work and work well within the context of this story. 

The story centres round Shadow a recently released ex-con whose wife was killed in a car accident. Who finds himself drawn in to a war between the ancient gods and the god’s of modernity. For some of the book he seems to float around the landscape following instructions and rolling with the increasingly odd punches. He has the disconnect that his common to people who have recently suffered trauma or bereavement. It is testament to Gaiman’s skill as a writer that this works without him ever hammering you over the head with this is a person traumatised and without it ever feeling like he’s merely a cypher and not a fully formed character. His grief and distress becomes apparent through how he behaves and interacts with the world. It’s also there in how he begins to reconnect with the world. It is one of the better illustrations of a  bereaved individual never resorting to histrionics or showy emotion, in any work of fiction I have read.  

I suppose the bottom line for me and why I loved this so, was the ideas. Ideas about divinity, humanity and how to be in the world. It’s a fantastical novel set in our world and ‘backstage’ in the world of the gods but it manages to ring true. It’s the truth of it that gets me. It tends to be what gets me about any work of fiction or art. It doesn’t have to be real but it has to be true and this is true. Read it.

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