I do think that in order for “based on” to mean anything legitimate in this context, it has to be modified by the least constricting version of “loosely” you can imagine. In spite of that caveat emptor, I did notice a few things that directly refer to the 16th century play:
1. Character names. Of course, we get R and Julie, but there is also Marcus as the stand in for Mercutio.
2. The Divergent Families. Not Montagues and Capulets, this time we get Humans and Corpses.
3. There is also the idea that young people, unbiased by the ways of the world they have not yet been infected by, have the ability to see situations more clearly than their older counterparts. This is probably the biggest debt Warm Bodies owes to Romeo and Juliet.
Of course, there are also these more obvious debts too. From page 34:
…The absurdity of what I am
overwhelms me. There’s so much I
want to say. I want to open my mouth
and have a sonnet come out. But
Not exactly Shakespeare.
And this from page 77:
A posh street. Townhouses and cobblestones. Some of the
windows here glow warmly in the fresh night. R sniffs the air.
His eyes lock on a building on the corner: the turn-of-the century
structure with the Juliet balcony.
So, I take it as proved that one of the intentions of Warm Bodies is to refer back to The Bard. I will say that I both applaud and respect the idea. Hell, Bill himself got canonized by making stories other people came up with much better. Let’s see if the allusions toward grandeur Warm Bodies holds… pay off or fall flat.
[Before we leave the introduction, I do want to point out the other alllusion the script makes. It comes on page 39:
…It lay thickly drifted on the
crooked crosses and headstones, on
the spears of the little gate, on
the barren thorns…
She looks to R, who stares ahead, contented. She continues:
…His soul swooned slowly as he
heard the snow falling faintly
through the universe and faintly
falling, like the descent of their
last end, upon all the living and
It’s almost just possible that this passage, from Dubliners, outBards The Bard.]
1. Is the dialogue (a) free of exposition and (b) rich in subtext? This will include (c) unique voices for each character?
Part A) This script opens with eight full pages of voiceover. Every single scrap of it is exposition. The only reason ANY of it is tolerable is because the voice behind the voiceover is interesting and occasionally funny. As a reader, I was allowing the world building to pass MOSTLY unnoticed. The voiceover technique continues throughout. It is always exposition. My instinct is that it works slightly more than it doesn’t. ONLY BECAUSE R is unique.
Part B) Okay, so one of the rules of this story is that Corpses can’t talk, unless they try REALLY hard, and even then, it’s bound to be a few words sputtered out between much lengthier bursts of groaning. That seems like a set-up for very little subtext at all. If your main character can’t really talk, you’re going to have a hard time making him mean things other than what he said.
So, naturally, our main character Corpse comes with an impressive Internal Monologue which gets represented as an extremely long running voiceover.
He thinks like he’s still a human being. He comments on the situations he’s confronted with as though he were a human being. If not for his pesky corpseness, he would be a human being—one appropriately rife with subtext. In a nutshell, R wishes that he were not what he is. His internal monologue demonstrates this clearly.
I’m not as sure that out other main character, Julie, gives us anything substantial to hang our subtextual hat on. I feel like this is because the relationships which she has with other people in her life are all one dimensional.
She and her boyfriend Perry have grown apart. The main reason for this is that Perry has become obsessed with being a good soldier.
Her father loves her dearly, but can’t figure out how to show it. It’s sort of suggested that this is owed to the death of Julie’s mother at the hands of the Corpses.
Nora is her best friend because they both enjoy watching The Love Boat?
Obviously, the reasons for why Julie has the relationships she have not been worked out by the author. He doesn’t really know why Julie grew apart from Perry, can’t challenge her Dad to show her affection, chose Nora as a best friend. I am suggesting that failing to do this work is the reason the script lacks subtext. Julie says exactly what she means because the author doesn’t know her well enough to know what else she MIGHT mean.
Part C) R and Julie are well done (especially R). Grigio is an easily recognizable archetype (with little subtlety which I won’t hold against him but probably should). But, what is the difference between Kevin and Perry? No way you recognize these two without their cues. Considering how important Perry is to the story, this is probably a bigger deal than I will hold it accountable for.
2. Do the first 10 pages make me want to read to Fade Out? (20 points)
I already talked about this a bit when I pointed out that the opening 8 pages are one really long voiceover of exposition from our hero R. Because I liked R, I also liked this MORE THAN I didn’t like it. But, honestly, the only thing new or different in these opening 10 pages is this idea of a Zombie having a rich Internal Monologue. Beyond that, we also know that sometimes he gets hungry—for human brains.
That’s cool, but it only gets you so far.
3. Is there (a) anything unique in the story being told or (b) in the writing itself? (each part worth 5 points)
Part A) Well, the idea of our hero being beset with a highly literate rich inner world and an inability to express it publicly is wholeheartedly unique. The geographically contained nature of the story’s “field” was also pulled off well. In other words, I felt like the script spent its dollars well. I also liked the reachbacks to Bill Shakespeare and Jamie Joyce (man am I pretentious, or what?).
Opposed to this, I did not like the haphazard nature of the structure. (More on this in the next question.)
Part B) Like our main character, the author seems to have a flair for words. It comes through in the writing and I did appreciate it. In order to spend this review’s dollars wisely, I’ll just give my favorite example. From page 97:
A series of halogens fire on in rapid succession, like
supernovas in the night. Revealing,
Isn’t halogen a great word? So much more evocative than the typical spotlight. Of course, the supernovas in the night are nice too:
4. Does the structure of the story have (a) a suitable number of reveals (b) an engine that fits its protagonist and (c) a thematic underpinning which, by Fade Out, explains why THIS engine and THIS protagonist were the subject of THIS story?
Part A) Uh, no. Basically, Julie heals R through love, and then R and Julie save the human city from an attack of the Boney’s. You would not be being unfair if you summarized this as:
1. R and Julie meet.
2. R saves Julie and then holds her hostage in his 747 to keep her “safe”.
3. They decide Julie has to go back to the humans.
4. She does.
5. R misses her and goes to the human city to find her.
6. R , Julie, and R’s Corpse friends save the day against a Boney attack.
That is THIN, for sure, but why?
I think our Old Friend Blake Snyder can shed some light on why the structure of Warm Bodies, ultimately, collapses under the weight of all the thin air it supports. His term for what I take to be this script’s shortcoming is:
Double Mumbo Jumbo.
According to Mr. Snyder whenever there is too much magic in a story, a reader (or viewer) revolts by unsuspending his/her disbelief. Of course, as every critic from Coleridge forward has noted, unsuspending disbelief is the kiss of death to the momentum of your story.
Let’s look at all the magic bits of Warm Bodies in a list to better judge if they overwhelm our suspension:
1. We must occupy a world with: humans, living dead corpses, and skeletonish things that are even worse than the living dead corpses.
2. One of these living dead corpses has a serious penchant for words which only shows up in his mind.
3. We are granted [almost] unconditional access to this serious penchant.
4. Meeting Julie changes R. He starts to become more human.
5. The other corpses see R becoming more human and they want to become more human too.
6. The Boneys also see R becoming more human and they want to stop this process.
Without even trying, I’ve managed to list as many bits of magic as there are actual plot points. My belief is that the story is thin because [instead of working the structure out with the classical set-ups and reveals] the author introduces a new bit of magic each time the story slows.
Part B) The engine of this script is:
Can R get Julie to see him for what he really is?
This is the same old story we’ve seen… since Romeo and Juliet? Not quite, more like since Say Anything, Some Kind of Wonderful, or any other Boy meets Girl who doesn’t appreciate him at first. Making the boy a Zombie is, without a doubt, the second most original part of this story.
Part C) For me, the application of the script’s theme is its most original aspect. We are working with some variation of the idea that:
You can’t judge a book by its cover.
Again, having the subject a movie with this theme be a Zombie with a heart of gold was a brilliant idea.
5. Are we inspired, for however brief a time, to live in harmony with the theme of the script?
I’m going to argue that the theme DOES NOT resonate. I’m also going to argue that [in this case] I answered the question of why way back in 4A.
In other words, if you substitute more and more magic for the hard work of set-ups and pay-offs, you are inevitable going to end up with a script that can’t resonate with your audience. It is the journey a character takes that sparks this feeling in your readers. You are trying to remind them of exactly how your character is like them.
Success on this question involves the reader (or viewer) putting himself/herself snugly into your protagonists shoes.
Warm Bodies is good for a few laughs, and has a couple fits of poetry and odes to poetry, but it does not let you substitute yourself for R.
Rating: Worth Reading [barely]