Back from Malaysia


I spent a long weekend there in Kuala Lumpur in Malaysia along with my girlfriend; we were staying at my brother's house, and my mother was there at the same time, having flown in from Scotland for ten days or so. It's as close to the equator as I've ever managed to get, and I recall glancing outside the window at the satellite dish on the house exterior and noting it pointed almost straight up, whereas in Scotland I'm sure they're angled (somewhat unsurprisingly once you think about it) towards the horizon. The people are a mix of Malay and Chinese. I did visit the Twin Towers in the city centre, until recently the tallest buildings in the world. I wonder if it's possible to base a round the world trip on visiting purportedly tallest-buildings-in-the-world?


I'm about a fifth of the way through the rewrite/edit on the first-ish draft (like the concept of 'first draft' really has any meaning any more in an age of word processors), and so far everything seems okay. I only ever say something I'm working on is 'okay' because by the time there's enough there to pass any kind of comment on - usually by about the forty thousand word mark - The Book has simply become that thing I stare at for at least a couple hours a day. I simply can't judge it with any degree of genuine objectivity. It has, by this point, become little more than a Bunch Of Words; a Bunch of Words that a certain publisher so far appears prepared to write out large cheques for, a trend I hope may continue. I remain pleasantly surprised each and every time that cheque appears in my hands.

Actually, that's not quite correct. I can pass some judgement on what I'm writing. I measure the book by whether or not I start skipping paragraphs when I re-read a chapter I wrote several weeks before. If I catch myself skipping paragraphs, it's because what I've written is boring me. If it's boring me, I have the options of - cutting it out altogether, making it more interesting by inserting action or various revelations, or simply shortening it drastically.

I finally got around to watching the Will Smith version of I Am Legend the other night. It's an experience that always reminds me of the Dumb Lieutenant in cliched cop shows. The Dumb Lieutenant is the guy who's always warning the hero - let's call him Brannigan - that if he crosses the line one more time, he loses his badge. Yet episode after episode, Brannigan is proved right in his rule-breaking methods; and yet the Dumb Lieutenant goes right back to shouting threats at Brannigan by the next week, despite the turnover of solved cases. The Dumb Lieutenant never learns.

Sometimes, when I watch Hollywood blockbuster science fiction movies, I feel like that Dumb Lieutenant. I worry I'll hate what I'm going to see. I know based on past experience, hating what I'm about to see is pretty much inevitable. Yet there's some part of me that believes against all sanity and experience that well, maybe, just maybe this'll be quite good because how could they get this wrong?

Like the Dumb Lieutenant, no matter how often the evidence fails to match my expectations, I refuse to learn.

And then they not only get it wrong, they get it so wrong that I remember the other problem with these Hollywood blockbusters - that I come away feeling insulted. So insulted I do things like immediately go to the Amazon UK website and post lengthy reviews starting with the words 'This film is an act of cowardice'. That's how insulted I felt.

Here's the review in full:
"This film is an act of cowardice. It takes everything that was good and original in Richard Mathieson's novel I Am Legend and removes it, along with the author's intended and necessary subtext, resulting in something so generic and ridiculously bland that it plays like a DisneyWorld version of 28 Days Later.

Let's be clear; the first half is reasonably gripping, but then it descends into a welter of cop-outs - most galling is the whole 'God sent me to help you' subplot. Even more galling is the end voice-over in which the film's makers pretty much demonstrate their complete and utter contempt first for Mathieson, and then for their audience. What happened, Mr Smith et al, couldn't handle the original, bleak but telling ending? Are you so scared of your own audience you just had to tag on that happily-ever-after, or chase away any sense of moral ambiguity on the part of the hero? Seriously, how can you or any of the rest of the people responsible for this turgid nonsense truly sleep at night, and was it worth it for the dollars you made off the back of it?

And by the way - although the scenes of a CGI abandoned New York are impressive, that doesn't extend to the CGI vampires who look, unsurprisingly, like stiff-limbed and unconvincing cartoons. And for creatures who have apparently been reduced to snarling, mindless beasts for the better part of three years, they do all seem to still wear neatly belted trousers. I also entirely fail to understand how an airborne virus can also give the infected the ability to climb walls like oversized geckos.

This is Romero for the after-schoolers; soft, bland, edges safely rounded off, with monsters whose decency is preserved and plenty of mentions of God 'having a plan for us all' that nearly had me kicking in the TV screen."

That wasn't the original review; the original review contained phrases like 'should be taken out and shot', and 'as morally justifiable as digging up Richard Mathieson's skeletal corpse in order to perform gross sex acts with his remains', but I wasn't sure Amazon would publish that.

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