Read It, Scene It: Warm Bodies

When I saw Warm Bodies by Isaac Marion available on NetGalley in expectation of the movie, I thought, Hm, zombies…and romance. I can totally parlay this into a date night. My boyfriend loves zombie movies. Loves them. I think it’s the “end of the world, fight for survival, fall of the establishment” aspect. Personally, I don’t have zombie fever. To me, the inclusion of zombies is a mark against a book or movie, not in its favor. Why? Because I don’t feel like the zombies do anything for the plot. Whether they’re vicious superzombies or the traditional shambling variety, zombies are a stand-in for any apocalyptic event. The true test of any zombie story has nothing to do with the zombies themselves. The humans in the story have to be interesting. Zombies aren’t characters and can’t carry the plot the way sentient villains can. They might as well be a plague of rabid wildlife. Oh, also, zombies always barf blood everywhere and it makes me queasy. I’m not saying I hate all zombie fare. I love the remake of Night of the Living Dead. I also love Lia Habel’s Dearly series. Zombieland? Two rotting thumbs up. A couple of actual horror-caliber zombie films have also won me over. I’m just not someone who runs to read/watch anything with the z-word in it.

Warm Bodies is one of the few zombie stories to change the tired construct of the genre. Our hero isn’t some rough-and-ready sheriff trying to keep his slutty wife and unbelievably unintelligent child alive (hi, Walking Dead! You got boring so quickly!) Our hero is a shambling, groaning, brain-eating zombie, at least on the outside. On the inside, he’s a sardonic, wistful soul trying to make sense of his afterlife when he meets (not eats) a beautiful and tough human girl and finds himself losing his cold, dead heart to her.

So how does the film measure up to the book?

All Things Equal:

The major strength of book and movie both is the sheer likeability of R, the zombie protagonist/narrator. He’s witty, he’s charming, he’s winsomely aimless, he’s got great taste in vinyl albums, and he loves Julie, the heroine, even if (or because) he ate her boyfriend’s brains. Julie herself is refreshingly non-annoying, and the fact that the main characters work toward fixing the destroyed world rather than destroying it further is a welcome departure from the zombie norm. On the negative side, the ending made me go, “How does that work? Where is your science?!” in both cases.

The Movie is Better:

More streamlined than the book, the movie nevertheless remains true to its source material in all the ways that matter. A huge departure from normal zombie fare, the film has the makings of a cult classic, sort of a through-the-looking-glass version of Shaun of the Dead. (Reminder to self: You still have not purchased Hot Fuzz. When are you going to end the madness of not owning Hot Fuzz?) A lower gore factor than the book and less emphasis on R’s aggressive nature makes his transformation and the romance more believable, and the leads have great chemistry. Also, as with the last Harry Potter movie and The Hunger Games movie, the film version has the flexibility to drop the single point of view tactic and occasionally show what other characters are up to, broadening the scope of events.

The Book is Better:

While the movie keeps the book’s salient points, the streamlining cuts out some of the book’s world-building. The illustration of a zombie society that palely and sadly echoes our own is almost completely wiped away. I felt for R, but I did not feel for the zombies as a whole. Also, the relationship between R and the remnants of Perry’s personality doesn’t come into play. While I did feel that the omission made R and Julie’s relationship sweeter and more self-sustaining, it also took away a convincing catalyst that helped R’s evolution in the book.

R’s friend M gets cutened up and used as comic relief a bit too heavily in the movie, and Rob Corddry plays him in a too-human manner. He’s quicker and more expressive than R, taking the focus away from the main character in every shared scene.

Movie versus Book Verdict: It’s a tie! Both incarnations have their failings, but both stand alone as quirky and surprising entertainment that readers and viewers will love, critics be damned. Oh, and despite my fear that he’d see it as too Twilight, my zom-fan boyfriend said he really enjoyed it. Date night win!