Friday, 3 August 2012

‘Dawn of the Dead’ – George Romero & Susanna Sparrow (Sphere)

When I’m working (not at the moment), lunchtimes will invariably see me finding my way to a bookshop where I’ll spend a quiet hour having a browse. I can’t help myself; if there’s a bookshop within fifteen minutes walk then I’ll find it, if there isn’t then I’ll just hop on a tube and find another one. If that doesn’t work then I’ll sit at my desk and pore over Amazon. That’s just the way I am, I love bookshops :o)

Browsing doesn’t normally throw up many surprises I have to say. I read a lot of blogs so know what’s out there (or will be out there) but every so often a book will catch me out. A book like the novelisation of ‘Dawn of the Dead’ for instance. I saw this one in Foyles, on the South Bank, a few weeks ago and found myself thinking, ‘really…?’ It’s an old book, first published in 1979, that has clearly been re-released to take advantage of the love for all things zombie that’s going on right now. If any title deserves that kind of love it’s ‘Dawn of the Dead’, a title that any zombie fan will think of straight away when the conversation arises. But that’s the thing though, it’s the film that springs to mind. Is there any room for a book there? Is there any need for a book there? Or is this re-release there just to cash in?
Those were the thoughts going through my head when I saw the book on the shelf. The foremost thought though was… you guessed it. ‘Wow! Another zombie book and it’s a book of one of my favourite zombie films, I’ve got to read it.’

It’s fair to say that I had mixed thoughts about this book then but there was never any doubt that I’d read it. Having read ‘Dawn of the Dead’ I still have mixed thoughts about it. I might just stick with the film to be honest…

The world is being overrun by zombies and no-one has any idea how to stop them; human nature leads to the collapse of civilisation and the zombies are there to eat whatever is left… Four survivors escape the chaos of Philadelphia and take to the air, eventually finding shelter in a deserted shopping mall. The world outside is a dangerous place though and soon these survivors find that they cannot leave. The mall is a prison and in more ways than one. The outside world hasn’t forgotten the mall though, the undead claw at the doors and other, human, eyes are watching greedily…

Yesterday I spoke about how the ‘Batman’ novelisation was a tough nut to crack as I hadn’t seen the film and couldn’t make the comparison (between the two) that the review needed. No such problems here! It’s been a while since I last watched ‘Dawn of the Dead’ but I’ve seen it enough times to know what I’m talking about. The ‘Dawn of the Dead’ novelisation is fairly faithful to the film (although what was the need to include a cute puppy while all the other animals were left in the pet store…?) but I’m not sure that’s such a good thing…

You see… The thing about the film is once the zombie stuff, at the beginning, is out of the way, not a lot actually happens until the climactic end scenes. Our ‘heroes’ just sit there, that’s the whole point of the film. You get to see them slowly buckle under the pressures of what looked like shelter but has turned out to be a trap. This works on the screen but I’m not so sure that it works on the page. Sparrow makes an attempt to freshen things up by giving the cast a little bit of background that you wouldn’t see in the film. This makes for an interesting slant but wasn’t quite enough to keep me going through the long passages of inactivity. Not a lot happens and that does make the book drag.

Having said all that, you could make an argument that this approach is the whole point of the message behind the book. The survivors are in a prison of their own making, powerless to do anything but ‘shop’ while the world crumbles outside. I would totally agree with this but the fact remains that it works a whole lot better on the screen than it does here. There’s more to look at on the screen but words in a book need to do a lot more, than they do here, to hold interest.

That’s not to say that ‘Dawn of the Dead’ doesn’t do a lot of good stuff though, it does. When it really matters, Sparrow takes Romero’s vision of the zombie apocalypse and really runs with it when it matters the most. The nervous energy running through the TV station (and the clash between logic and human response), the clearing out of the tenement block and those moments at the end where everything comes crashing down. Those moments, as well, where the survivors are trying to make their way through a landscape where zombies really could be anywhere. Sparrow really hits the target here, capturing the bleak spirit of the film and even managing to inject a little of her own voice into the proceedings. I wouldn’t minded have seeing more of the redneck zombie hunters but you can’t have it all when you’re trying to squeeze a film into a limited number of pages.

I still have mixed feelings about ‘Dawn of the Dead’ in this format. It’s a perfectly capable zombie novel (in its own right) that does a good job of giving us another viewpoint on the film. On the other hand, should someone really be able to sleep through the zombie apocalypse (even walls aren't enough to keep the undead out sometimes...)? Our heroes did and there were times when I felt like putting the book down and having a little snooze myself.

Eight out of Ten

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