Friday, November 30, 2012

Why aren't all great books movies?

As you know, I've been "reading" (i.e. listening to) audio books on my commute since I started having this 25-mile commute back in June. I told you previously that I'd read around a dozen books since then, but I guess I was exaggerating -- Dean Koontz' False Memory, the last of whose 17 discs I finished on Tuesday (just in time for it to be due back to the library on Thursday), was my tenth.

Naturally, since I watch a lot more movies than I read books, my instinct is to imagine everything I read being adapted into a movie.

My next instinct is to wonder why more of them are not.

I know that it takes a substantial financial commitment by a studio to adapt a book into a movie, and it's not a venture to be taken lightly. But with all the crap scripts that get made into movies, you'd think that more of the work of someone like Koontz would have found its way to the big screen by now.

Until False Memory, I was completely unfamiliar with Koontz' work, though I've been aware of the man for at least 20 years. Back when I was reading Stephen King all the time, I think I got the impression that Koontz was in a similar category of fiction. But as I started to grow weary of King, the prospect of a lesser King seemed pretty hacky to me. Turns out that's not really what Koontz is, but the impression stuck with me for a couple decades.

But during my current audio book era, I decided it was time to give Koontz a shot. When the experience of reading is more passive, as it is with audio books, it's a lot easier to take a gamble on something that you might not like (especially when you are borrowing them from the library rather than buying them). Instead of forcing yourself to move forward page by page, you just listen until the point where you either get into it, or it's not worth continuing. (However, since I'm a completist by nature, I do try to finish what I start.)

I knew I better like False Memory, because I was going to have to listen to it at an aggressive pace if I was going to get through 17 hour-long discs before it was due back three weeks after the day of rental.

And it turned out that I loved it. (I'll also give some credit here to the reader, Stephen Lang, who played the villainous colonel in Avatar. The guy's got some serious chops.)

This post is not about recommending False Memory to you per se, so I won't bother with a synopsis. Just know that not only was Koontz' language exquisite (this was the biggest surprise), but his plotting was masterful. I loved how and when he chose to reveal certain information, and I genuinely could not predict where the story would go.

So ... why isn't False Memory a movie?

It came out in 1999, so it's had plenty of time to get there.

In order for you to better judge whether it should be, I'll give you a couple of the elements it deals with: agoraphobia, mind control, a mystery to resolve, violence and threats of violence, a twisted villain, psychological torture, family dysfunction and creepy dreams that would make darn good trippy asides in a film. There's even an adorable dog.

And then there's the fact that it already exists out there, lying around as an untapped property. No one even needs to think it up.

My guess? You have to pay Koontz a pretty penny to get the rights to his work. It's not as simple as saying "This is a really good read. Let's make a movie out of it." It's going to cost you, probably a lot more than it would cost you to commission some green writer to come up with a Koontz ripoff.

Or maybe Koontz' writing just isn't as superior as I'm making it out to be. Maybe there are a hundred Dean Koontzes out there writing stuff like this, all of which is good enough to be made into movies. The experience of listening to these ten audio books has taught me that I'm not as discriminating a reader as maybe I thought I was. I've liked each of the ten books to varying degrees -- none of them were merely passable. Granted, you're talking about some literary classics in there, such as The Age of Innocence and Brave New World. But even one of Michael Connelly's Harry Bosch detective novels, Echo Park, left me completely satisfied and wondering about a possible film adaptation.

At least I was glad to see that some Koontz work has made it to either television or the big screen. Wikipeda shows 19 of his books adapted into movies, though almost none of them are movies I've heard of. The Ben Affleck bomb Phantoms was a Koontz adaptation, I see. Ha. (A bomb in more ways than one. In Jay and Silent Bob Strike Back, Jason Mewes yells to Affleck, "You da bomb in Phantoms, yo!") Stephen Sommers is directing an adaptation of his book Odd Thomas, starring Anton Yelchin, that's due out next year.

Maybe it's just that Koontz' astounding output makes it difficult to figure out which of his books to actually adapt. Wikipedia also tells me that the guy has written 106 full-length novels since 1968, not to mention another fifty-some essays and short fiction.


Maybe False Memory is just an average Dean Koontz novel. Which means that even if I don't have a False Memory movie coming out any time soon, I've got plenty of potential listening goodness, in the form of other Koontz novels, still ahead of me.


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