Sunday, January 29, 2012

Book to film: The Dead Zone

I don't like to compare books to the film adaptations made of them. It's not fair. Books and film are different media and should be treated differently. Some of the ways we talk about them can be the same. We can talk about character development, plot, pace, backstory, all those things. Number one, always and forever is: is it a good story?

So when comparing the 1979 novel "The Dead Zone" to the 1983 film, we should be able to agree that the number one question can be answered with a resounding yes. I've never heard anyone who has read the book or seen the movie tell me the story wasn't good. They may not like one or the other for various reasons, but that doesn't mean there isn't a great story behind it.

Let's skip all the differences, can we? I'm sick of talking about how a movie left out someone's favorite character or how the filmmakers rearranged the order of certain scenes, or condensed the timeline. Different media require different approaches. Discussing differences is bullshit.

I want to look at something that's the same and it's purely aesthetic.
I want you to look at the font used for the title of the novel. Yes, I'm a bit of a font nerd (although no where near as much as my wife. These cookies were delicious). We'll talk some more about typeface when King switches from Doubleday to Viking. The beginnings of what I refer to as the Stephen King font are here, and that's important. It's a serif font -- a serif is the little flair at the end of a letter; "sans serif" means the letter doesn't have that little tag at the end.

It's a very bold font. It demands to be all caps. It's easy to recognize and hard to forget. Which makes it a natural choice for further use.

Whomever designed this poster for Paramount's 1983 release of David Cronenberg's "The Dead Zone" knew what they were doing. By 1983, King pretty much ruled the world. Big names in the horror field such as Cronenberg were taking on King's films and doing a damn good job of it. Not all of them were smart enough to use the same font on the book cover for their marketing.

Sometimes, these things are more subtle. This one is completely obvious. It immediately identifies the movie in relation to the novel and rightly so. It's still "Stephen King's The Dead Zone." Not "The Dead Zone by David Cronenberg" or "Christopher Walken in The Dead Zone." Cronenberg and Walken easily could have sold this film to audiences, but would not have reached the same mass audience gained by splashing King's name all over it. It's basic marketing, folks.

(One warning, though. Don't be like the people who made "The Lawnmower Man" and use King's name but not his story. It's all about story. Remember that and you'll do well.)

So, anyway. When comparing a book to an adaptation, it's often healthier to focus on similarities, even if it's just a font choice.

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