Sorry to be a pain, but the Heinlein column will continue next week. I seem to be amazingly (ha!) busy this week with photography/movie making for my wife, the Beautiful and Talented Lynne’s upcoming gallery show in Port Moody. (Local people will know where Port Moody is; the rest of you probably won’t be that interested.) Her last gallery show was in Edmonton, so this is about time, although the subject this time is her bots (These are sculptures of various non-working robots made from upcycled metal parts). Shameless promotion (self- and wife-) time: I’ve done several stop-motion animated shorts featuring Lynne’s bots; if you’d like to see one, it’s on YouTube.
Anyway, so I have to finish a bunch of stuff this week, which includes this column, which means I have to work quickly. I can’t do my Heinlein column quickly, but I can do movie reviews much more quickly—it doesn’t mean I think less deeply about the movies. I’m not really sure why, but I can. Maybe it’s because I have watched a lot of movies—mostly in the SF/Fantasy/Horror/Action-Adventure genres—over the last what, fifty-plus years? When I was in high school I was able to collect some extremely cut-down 8mm pictures (when I say cut down I mean from an hour and a half to about 5 minutes), partially from the “Captain Company” ads in the back pages of Famous Monsters of Filmland and Spacemen and Screen Thrills from Warren Publishing. Those short versions only whetted my appetite, and I vowed that someday I would own every SF/Fantasy/Horror movie I ever liked and watch them whenever I wanted!
They said I was a dreamer, but I showed them. I started collecting full movies, when I joined the Columbia Movie Club and could get them on beta! (Betamax was the loser in the tape wars, for some reason, though the taped movies were better quality than their VHS equivalents, like HD was to Blu-Ray.) Videotape has now gone the way of the dodo, as Blu-Ray will soon—to make way for 4K, I’m sure—but the majority of my film collection is on mixed DVD and Blu-Ray with a dozen or so HD thrown in for good measure. I don’t buy movies when they’re first released, because of the cost; I wait until I can get ‘em for $10 or less. What I do is rent them first, if I haven’t seen them in the theatre, and then wait for them to go on sale somewhere. I now have most of the available SF/Fantasy movies I’ve always wanted, and I got ’em on the cheap. But sometimes I have to rent, still. So Champlain Video is where I rented this movie—until I walked in yesterday, I didn’t even know this movie had been made!
I am referring to Odd Thomas, from the novel of the same name by Dean R Koontz. Many people think of Dean Koontz as a horror writer in the vein of Stephen King, but it’s not true. He began his career as a science fiction writer (his first book was half of an Ace Double in 1968 — funny how things tie in from column to column, isn’t it?—see Figure 1. His next few books were also SF, and his first successful movie tie-in came with the Julie Christie movie Demon Seed, about an intelligent computer that decides to procreate the human way. That was 1977, and since then, around 18 movies—both big-screen and TV—have been made from Dean’s writing. (He also has 5 producer credits on IMDB.) The Frankenstein novels he’s been writing lately are, in a reverse twist, inspired by a TV idea he had that was taken over, not to his taste, by another writer and producer. A very large part of what people think of as his horror books are just disguised SF. The most successful, in my opinion have been such movies as Phantoms, Whispers, Intensity, Hideaway and Watchers. I haven’t seen all of Dean’s movies, however.
The newest one is Odd Thomas, based on the 2003 Bantam/Dell book of the same name. It concerns a young man (somewhere in his 20s, according to the book) who lives in the (fictional) California town of Pico Mundo. He works as a short-order cook at the Pico Mundo Grill and has a girlfriend named Stormy Llewellyn (played by TV’s Addison Timlin). His name really is Odd; his parents differed on why he’s named that. This is one of those self-conscious books (and movies) where the protagonist, played by the new Star Trek’s Ensign Chekov—Anton Yelchin—is also the narrator. It’s not quite as front-and-centre in the book as it is in the movie; somehow voiceovers are a lot more noticeable in film. The one really special thing about Odd is that he sees dead people. Gee, wonder where we’ve heard that before? He also sees these horrible creatures—fluid shadows in the books, special effects in the movie—called “bodachs” (see figure 3). The bodachs are immaterial, and can neither be seen nor touched by ordinary people, but Odd can see them. They are drawn to imminent murder, mayhem, suffering or slaughter, sometimes clustering around the victim, sometimes around the murderer. It doesn’t have to be a human agency, either—in the book they were clustered around a nursing home that suffered more than a few deaths during an earthquake. Odd doesn’t let on (except to a chosen few, like Stormy and the police chief, Wyatt Porter) that he can see them; if the bodachs find out you can see them, they are somehow capable of getting you killed.
There are a number of differences between the book and the movie; in the movie Odd says he’s learned to “take care of himself” (hinting that he’s taken self-defense courses) and appears to be more aggressive in hunting down evil. In the book you get the feeling he’s a bit of a weenie, physically. In the book, Elvis (Presley) is both a cardboard cutout and a spirit friend of Odd’s, but in the movie he’s just a cardboard cutout in Odd’s apartment. (Too bad; I was kinda looking forward to seeing what kind of Elvis impersonator they’d get.) In the book, Odd and Stormy share identical birthmarks as well as a carnival fortuneteller arcade machine fortune that says they’re destined to be together forever; in the movie only the fortune remains. Also, Odd’s friend Ozzie Boone, the “400 pound six-fingered (on his left hand) writer” is a significant presence in the book; in the movie, Patton Oswalt—the standup comedian—gets a pretty brief screen moment as Ozzie. And so on. Now, I don’t expect every movie to be like the book it’s made from; these are just noticeable differences.
The movie manages to convey the book’s tone pretty well. One of the problems with first-person narration is that it often (as in Blade Runner or any one of a hundred 1940s movies) makes the movie appear to be film noir or one of those 1940s movies; this one doesn’t. Odd (and thank goodness Yelchin got rid of that phony-baloney “Russian” accent he uses in Star Trek movies!) gives a kind of light-hearted narration to the film, even with the number of “information dumps” he’s forced to throw at you. In fact, without the narration, it might be nearly impossible to convey some of this information to the audience. So what the audience gathers, after the initial thing Odd does—which is to run down and capture a killer who is revealed to Odd by the victim—is that something bad is coming to Pico Mundo. Something truly terrible is going to happen to this little town, judging by the number of bodachs appearing around—and following—a large, kinda greasy fellow with a bad hairdo that Odd and Stormy take to calling “Fungus Man” (Shuler Hensley) because the patch of furry blond hair looks like he’s pasted a fungus to the top of his head. (Figure 4.)
Fortunately, Odd is in touch with the town’s police chief, played very well—and very much as described in the book—by Willem Dafoe, who is conversant with Odd’s unusual talent, as it appears Odd has solved several crimes in town in the past. So the chief promises to set a man to follow Fungus Man and watch his house. For obvious reasons, Odd doesn’t let just anyone know what he knows, or that he has a talent of this kind. Besides the bodach infestation, Odd is haunted by visions of what appears to be a number of people wearing red and black bowling shirts who—in his vision—cry out to him to save them. He knows they can’t be from the local bowling alley, because he’s checked out the people there and nobody wears red-and-black outfits (tan and green in the book).
Then one of his and Stormy’s friends, a youngish African-American woman, tells Odd (some people believe he’s a psychic, which he isn’t, really) that she is having dreams where she’s dead, having been shot twice, maybe in a stadium, because she can see—in her vision—a large number of people cheering, and hear “kiddie music” and the sound of water, splashing. Odd promises to help her if he can; he’s also having dreams himself of a bullet heading towards him. We won’t find out what all that means until later in the movie.
I won’t go much farther into the actual plot, as you know I don’t like to give out spoilers. I don’t so much mind them myself, but my wife—for one—really hates them; so for your sake and hers I will draw a curtain over the rest of the events in the movie. Much of the action is word-for-word out of the book; however, the climactic event was embellished for the movie. I can’t say any more about this, but if you read the book after having seen the movie you might be surprised by some of the ending. And the very end of the movie is quite Hollywood—the book doesn’t have that exact ending. I kind of liked the book’s ending better myself.
Was it a good movie and a good adaptation? Hmm. I’d have to answer “Partially.” As movies go, it was pretty faithful with a few glaring exceptions, but nothing that would really drive you crazy. For some reason, the defunct Church of the Whispering Comet Topless Bar, Adult Bookstore, and Burger Heaven was moved from a set of Quonset huts to a defunct prison outside town. That was a very curious choice. But maybe for this movie, “faithful adaptation” wasn’t quite the way they should have gone, because for some reason—and through no fault of the actors, I feel—the movie lacked a certain vitality. The combined efforts of Yelchin, Timlin, Dafoe, Hensley and the other actors, added to a certain light and fast-moving directorial effort by Stephen Sommers, gave the movie a good pace, but it never really seemed to gel. My wife lost interest about halfway through; things were happening, but nothing really drew the audience in. I know Koontz’s movies can be absorbing; I can cite two at least that I thought kept the audience’s interest, if not more: Intensity (a TV movie) for one, had more (forgive me) intensity than this somewhat lackluster effort.
It was worth watching if you’re a Koontz or Odd Thomas fan, but for the general movie-going public I would doubt it. There was nothing to draw the average movie-goer in or to keep his or her interest. Which is a pity. Koontz is up to five or so Odd Thomas books, and I’m afraid this might be the only Odd Thomas movie. And I kind of enjoy them and would like to see more. If I were to give it stars, out of 10 I’d give it a 6 or so.
Please comment on this week’s entry, if you have anything you’d like to agree or disagree with. You can either register here—it’s free, and only takes a moment—or comment on my Facebook page, or in the several groups where I publish a link. All your comments—positive or not—are welcome! I welcome all comments pro or con; and don’t forget—my opinion is, as always, my own, and doesn’t necessarily reflect the views of Amazing Stories or its owners. Next week, back to Heinlein!