Friday, January 29, 2010

The Talisman Book Review

Stephen King & Peter Straub - The Talisman

Published: 1984      Genre: Fantasy, Horror
Expect: A 6-part mini-series in 2012, A series of Graphic Novels

I picked up this book because it supposedly has tie-ins to the Dark Tower series of King's and what I found was, that is the absolute wrong reason to read this book.

Synopsis and Positives

This is essentially the story of the young boy, Jack Sawyer, that sets out on an adventure of hardships and trials and moments of incredible beauty to save his mother's life and so much more. It is a story of magic and moral allegory. It has a clear undertone of the sort of evil modern lifestyle message that King so often represents but does it primarily through his contrasts between two very different and yet very similar worlds. Some of the events, characters, and concepts are worth reading, especially for a novel from 1984. I can see how this book may have been influential and inspiring in it's time. It is a sometimes painful litany of the trials and horrors survived by a 12-year old boy on a seemingly hopeless, yet predestined, quest.

Negatives and Discussion

Stephen King has the unholy knack to keep you riveted to the pages to find out what happens next and that did not waiver here, even though at times, I didn't particularily find myself liking the book! Some of the things about the book I disliked were 1) some elements of the particular writing style I didn't vibe with and these may have been Peter Straub's contributions or things King was trying out, but I fear I wasn't expecting them 2) I felt at times that the story was too unbelievable, too childlike, too incongruous, or too darn heavy!

In all fariness, a lot of my dislike in 2) was my preconception that this was The Dark Tower Appendix A when at most this book is The Dark Tower's feeble ancestor, or to put it another way: The Talisman is to the Dark Tower (DT) as The Hobbit is to the Silmarillion. The Talisman is in the spirit of the Dark Tower but in miniature and infancy, it is a childs tale of adventure in it's form but with some jarringly unchildlike imagery along the way. In regards to DT this makes perfect sense since only The Gunslinger (DT Book 1) had yet been published when this story hit the shelves but the problem is that so very much of this story feels and sounds like The Dark Tower that you can't help continuing to make the comparisons.

While I'm being fair, some of the frustration and incongruency the story wrought with me was somewhat convieniently explained or justified towards the end of the book, while some other of it is just left as is. I think most of the reason these hanging bits frustrated me was my need to tie them into the Dark Tower, whereas in a standalone tale (which this is) they could be accepted as simply being part of the magic. Although, for the life of me, I never understood why a 12-year old boy in 1981 would describe someone's looks in terms of a 1950's movie actor. Heck, maybe this is accurate as I was 2 years old in the year this story took place and the fact the book was published when I was only 5 should mean I cut it some slack if I found a lot of the metaphors and references were sending me to wikipedia. I guess the lesson there is that if you make too many pop culture references in your timeless classic, you end up needing some publishers Shakespearean footnote armada to explain them 30 years later.


This story is a fine and novel tale for it's time, and if you can avoid comparing it point-to-pont to the Dark Tower - either because you haven't read it, or are not that type of compulsive person - you will probably enjoy it if you can get through the considerable grim parts that comprise it's bulk. And for a mere pittance used or a few bucks more new, it's a pretty safe investment for 700+ pages.

Now, I start the sequel.

Avatar Review and VIP Theatre

I saw this at the Wellington VIP Cinemas in 3D on the weekend and here is my brief overview of both.

First off this was my first 3D movie ever and my first visit to the VIP cinema ever. There were a number of neat 3D moments but none that were more than a novelty which really surprised me since the vast majority of this movie is computer generated which would allow for a lot of stunning 3D moments. I was left with the clear impression that a really good 3D movie would need to be specifically filmed to take advantage of that display medium and very likely be entirely CG with simple colour themes, perhaps a scifi of some sort. I wear glasses and after wearing the tinted 3D glasses over my own for a number of hours my eyes and head started to feel taxed, also a lot more of the movie seemed kind of flickery than maybe it should have.

As for the movie, it followed almost exactly what I thought would happen in the narrative after watching only one trailer. The story is predictable in it's major elements and evokes some amount of both Deus Ex Machina near the end and simultaneously fails to suspend my disbelief in the motives for some of the actions on screen. Maybe this latter is due to a lack of investment in the future world these events take place in - we have only the off-hand word of the "villian" characters to go on that certain pressures are legitimate influences to allow certain contradictory actions.

That said, it was compelling. The story really did have me interested in how they were going to pull off what I thought was coming and the majority of it was pretty cool. This would have made it a watchable and fun movie for me but what the story really does is offers a vehicle for the visuals and concepts. The visuals and concepts in this movie are stand-out the reason to see it in my opinion. This is a really cool place, with really interesting creatures and plants and customs and represented in some of the most stunning computer generated scenes I've seen in a movie. This is not a Pixar movie or a plastic feeling Spirits Within, this is computer generated effects at their best. Acting was great and the translation to the CG characters was flawless... often in video game mocaps and lower quality CG movies actions are overwrought and mime'ish, but here these are living creatures. For these reasons, I'd like to have seen it without 3D to get the full clarity of the visuals. As it was it felt a bit like looking at the Mona Lisa in that funky stereovision.

As for the VIP experience I'd say if you want a big comfortable seat (with a bit of recline) and no hassle seat reservations or are dying to drink while watching a movie or hate watching a movie with kids and teens disrupting things, this place is a well worth the $5 premium. In short, it's ideal for a date. If you want to kick right back, the first-row seats fully recline La-Z-Boy style. VIP Downside? I'm not actually sure how much of the movie I remember...

All in all a good movie and worth experiencing in the theatre even if the main story arc is predictable. The 3D is worth checking out if you've never seen 3D before or are a fan of 3D in movies, otherwise this movie has a lot more to offer than just that. Oh yeah - if you loved this movie, perhaps check out the fantasy version: Ferngully.