Tuesday, October 11, 2011

Screw The Book, I'll Wait For The Movie

I've just finished reading Pontypool Changes Everything, the book on which the movie Pontypool was (ostensibly) based. To say that the makers of the movie took liberties with the book would be like saying that Picasso's cubist work took liberties with proportion and perspective. The protagonist of the movie appears in one or two chapters in the last third of the book, never sits down in a radio station, and ends up pretty thoroughly dead about as quickly and uneventfully as he was introduced. The rest of the book is a nightmarishly squirrelly trip through the minds of assorted doomed people on the peripheries of a new plague that pretty much razes the human population of a chunk of Ontario. Yes, people eat each other and yes, it seems to be spread through language, but otherwise it has as much in common with the movie as Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead did with Hamlet.

I mean, we're talking pissed-off babies cutting their own umbilical cords and going to live with other babies at the bottom of icy lakes, brothers and sisters catching and eating zombies after being abandoned by their parents, sex addicts personifying their Higher Power as a separate being who talks to them, and damn near the first third of the book is the story of the first guy to spot one of the plague victims, and the plague itself doesn't make an appearance until a few chapters in.

It's sort of a challenging read, is what I'm saying.


  1. and yet i loved the book and really liked the movie. i thought the film caught the weird twisted tone of the book and distilled it down for a sensible film that didn't try to overreach.
    Bruce McDonald has said he wants to do two more films to cover the expanse of the book.
    That all being said and done I really did love the book. I described it to a mate as the lyrics to a Pig Destroyer tune (nasty, gory, twisted but beautiful and poetic)made into a novel.

  2. I found the book pretty rough going, probably because I was assuming something much closer to the movie, and the language is really dense. I suspect the movie was as good an adaptation as you could do for a book as hard to adapt as, say, Naked Lunch.

    In my edition, Tony Burgess has added an afterword basically apologizing for the book - in essence, he was young, fresh out of school with a degree in semiotics and wanted to write something that basically wasn't intended to be read. I have to say, my reaction was somewhere between amusement and "yeah, you better apologize for that big-ass brick of language, buddy."

  3. i think i have the same edition (it's the newer soft cover) with the "apology" and i get what he's saying. It was an odd read for me as I'd seen the film, but was familiar with Tony Tony Burgess' writing so wasn't expecting a walk in the park either.
    I dig the elliptical, purposefully oblique story telling. Pontypool frustrated me, but i was still compelled to finish it, and even this chatter about it is making me think i need to reread it again.
    Here's a short story Tony did for Halloween a few years back- http://www.taddlecreekmag.com/youre-fuckin-right-youre-fuckin-right

  4. Yeah, this was my first exposure to his writing, and although I didn't know what I was expecting, it was certainly not what it ended up being. In some ways it was an interesting choice, because here's a virus whose vector is language, and damned if I didn't feel like I was experiencing what the victims of the virus must have as their faculties disintegrated. Sometimes it worked for me, but maybe he could have turned down the volume a little and let the underlying ideas shine a little more.

    I'll check out the short story, now that I know he's aware of how Pontypool Changes Everything came across.