Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Dexter in Decline or Dexter is Divine?

This afternoon I've picked up the newest volume of Jeff Lindsay's Dexter series. As has been the case with the last four, I'm excited to get off work and start reading it. Which is surprising since I hated the third one and can't for the life of me remember the fourth. Come to think of it, the first two weren't all that amazing either but they hadn't gone completely off the rails yet.

So why keep reading them? For one, Lindsay has an amazingly playful use of language that makes reading the book fun despite the plot problems. Secondly, in a Bizzaroworld twist, the television show that was based on the books is excellent and I'm hoping the books will live up to it at some point. The show fixes most of the problems I had with the novels. Instead of the characters with the depth of cardboard cutouts Lindsay uses (cop sister whose dialog is 90% potty mouth, boneheaded tough guy detective whose dialog is 90% potty mouth, dependent girlfriend who never gets a chance to be seen as more than "dependent girlfriend", etc), the show sets these up as jumping off points and then further develops the characters' humanity. Lindsay still hasn't done this over the course of four books. One of the other major fixes is that the show pretty much stopped following Lindsay's plot after half of season #2. (A huge thank you for that. Demon destroyer Dexter is not really working for me.)

Most times when a book gets a screen adaptation, disappointment seems inevitable. Since reading is such an intensely personal and imaginative process, it is not hard to destroy the unique world and atmosphere someone has created for a book in that squishy gray stuff between their ears. Even worse, once you've seen the movie version, it's hard (if not impossible) to unring that bell. Case in point: Everything is Illuminated. Loved the book. The movie however excised half of the book's content making the story far less emotionally effective. On top of that, they cast Elijah Wood as the main character. Frodo Baggins?! Instantly my mental vision of the Odessa setting morphs into Hobbiton. Moreover, the singer from Gogol Bordello plays Alex. He does a surprisingly good job, but I still picture him in neon clothing and a handlebar mustache sweating onto the crowd at the Fillmore.

Sometimes the planets will align and the movie is either as good as or better than the book. Trainspotting is one of the few films that surpassed its source material. The novel is a chaotic shamble written phonetically in a slang-filled Scottish dialect. By the time you get a handle on it, you've already missed a bunch of plot points. The movie gives it a coherent structure and introduces the world to Ewan McGregor (causing a collective swoon among the women of my generation) and Danny Boyle (whose adaptation of the book Q & A you may have seen).

Considering the movie O Brother Where Art Thou is based on Homer's Odyssey, it would be earth shatteringly stupid to say it's better than the book. But the writers were smart about it. They took all the elements of the Odyssey and reconceptualized it as a prison break comedy in the 30's (with an excellent soundtrack). If you know the Odyssey, it's fun to pick out the allusions. If you don't, you aren't deprived of anything.

Ultimately, I'm talking about apples and oranges here though. Books are not movies and movies are not books. Both have a story to be told and both need to go at that story in different ways in order to be successful. So, I'm going to ease up on the Dexter series. Perhaps the show's story is superior (in my opinion), but that doesn't negate the fact that I (generally) enjoy myself when I'm reading demented Dexter's D-heavy descriptive diction.
posted by jw