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FROM PAGE TO SCREEN: THE GRAVEYARD BOOK (2011)
 



 

Is Neil Gaiman the new Stephen King? Now that Hollywood has run out of Stephen King material to bring to the big screen, they have turned to Neil Gaiman it seems . . .

Neil Gaiman is of course the forty-something British fantasy author probably best known for the ‘Nineties groundbreaking Sandman comic book series. Gaiman however hasn’t exactly been idle since ending that influential and highly acclaimed title back in 1996, writing quite a number of books, short stories, graphic novels, poems and, yes, screenplays since then.

In fact, since co-writing Beowulf and getting Stardust made into a movie in 2007, it would seem that Gaiman has “gone Hollywood” really big time. There doesn’t seem to be a movie project out there that Gaiman isn’t involved in somehow – right from being kicked off from David Fincher’s upcoming adaptation of Charles Burns’ 1995 Black Hole graphic novel about teenagers suffering hallucinations of a sexual nature in 1970s Seattle to Marvel’s “sorcerer supreme” hero Doctor Strange.

Throughout the years several Hollywood has toyed with several Gaiman properties, which are in various phases of development hell, including: Sandman, Death: The High Cost of Living, Neverwhere, Good Omens (a novel he co-wrote with Terry Pratchett) and Interzone.

Gaiman is also working on several screenplays based on other authors’ material, including an adaptation of Nicholson Baker’s The Fermata and of course Doctor Strange for director Guillermo del Toro. Don’t expect to see all of these movies on the big screen one day though. Sandman ran 75 issues and is impossibly complex to condense into a single movie . . . or even a few movies. (This project has been floating around for years now, so don’t hold your breath. Hollywood also doesn’t know what to do with the material. Producer Jon Peters for example allegedly wanted to turn Sandman into an ass-kicking supernatural superhero like Ghost Rider for instance . . .) The Fermata also seems unlikely. Dubbed “literary pornography” by some, the movie deals with a man who can stop time for everyone except himself. What does he do with this power? Fondle women and, er, masturbates. Let us see Hollywood make a movie out of that one . . .

Your odds of seeing the other Gaiman books mentioned here on the big screen one day (especially Death: The High Cost of Living) are a bit better though. A stop-motion movie version of Gaiman’s 2003 novella Coraline is practically in the can as well and if a recent interview with Gaiman is anything to go by his latest novel The Graveyard Book (2008) is a dead cert as well.

Gaiman had the following to say:

"They [U.K.-based special effects firm, Framestore] want to start making films, and start producing their own films. And they read it [Graveyard Book], and they loved it, and I spoke to them, and they said all the right things, and they seem to listen. So I don't think it's going to be transported to a graveyard in Los Angeles where they've been burying bathing beauties or anything. I think we're actual going to stick with where the book is written and film that. And I think part of the idea is that they know they can also do the special effects cheaply."

Gaiman will also serve as producer on the film.

"Animated characters don’t need to take a dump . . ."

If Coraline could be described as a Grand Guignol version of Alice in Wonderland, then The Graveyard Book can be summed up as Grand Guignol rewrite of Rudyard Kipling’s The Jungle Book. A mysterious figure simply known as “the man Jack” one evening murders an entire family in their home. The family‘s baby boy somehow however manages to elude him and the boy (later christened Nobody Owens) finds refuge in a nearby cemetery where he is adopted by some benevolent ghosts. The novel follows Nobody’s life as he grows up in the graveyard, protected by its otherworldly denizens. Sound familiar? Nobody is safe and provided for within the graveyard’s perimeters, but one day he will have take his rightful place in the living world . . . but in the outside world the dangerous man Jack and the shadowy evil organization he works for lurks . . .

Reading the book, I couldn’t imagine The Graveyard Book as anything else except as . . . an animated movie. Perhaps one using stop-motion clay models (like Nightmare Before Christmas) or a CGI process to duplicate the look (like in Tim Burton’s Corpse Bride). However considering the lovely illustrations by regular Gaiman collaborator artist Dave McKean for The Graveyard Book perhaps a movie version will work best as an old-fashioned 2D traditional cell animated movie . . . in Black & White. With dashes of occasional color, of course. But how cool it would be I thought if they could make The Graveyard Book in a style similar to the recent Persepolis movie based on the graphic novel detailing author Marjane Satrapi‘s life as a child in revolutionary Iran. (Or 2006's Renaissance for that matter.) Now that would be perfect.

In fact the more I read The Graveyard Book, the more convinced I became convinced that going the live action route with “normal” actors would be doing the material a disservice. Live action will simply distract from the story’s fairy tale vibe. Placing the action in a real world setting will pose too many questions. Like what exactly does Nobody Owens use for a toilet? Graveyards don’t usually have toilets. Where does he bath? And so on. Making it into an animated movie will distract from such issues. Animated characters after all don’t need to take a dump . . .

Yet judging from Gaiman’s interview it would seem that they are in fact intent on making The Graveyard Book into a live action movie. Framestore seems to deal with physical effects and isn’t an animation studio. It is the special effects company that did the grisly Harvey Dent / Two Face makeup for The Dark Knight. To be honest we are yet to be sold on the idea. This material just screams for it to be made into an animated film . . .

Don’t believe us? Then read The Graveyard Book. It may be aimed at 9-12 year olds who has nothing to read now that Rowling wrapped up the Harry Potter series, but it is a brisk and enjoyable read with the sort of eccentric (very British) touches and bitter sweet lyricism that distinguishes Gaiman’s work. It may not reach the dizzying heights of the work he did on Sandman, but at 312 pages with a widely spaced font, it doesn’t have the same epic canvas to work on. And it’d make for a cool (animated) movie . . .


 



 

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