BY JULIE FREEMAN
John Dies at the End is one of my very favourite books. It’s difficult to manage your expectations when you see a film based on beloved source material. You want it to be great; you want it to convey its greatness properly to the uninitiated. You know, however, that it’s impossibly difficult to cram an entire novel’s worth of character development and plot into a single feature film. Even then, it’s hard not to hope for the best.
John Dies isn’t the best.
It had so much going for it, too. If you haven’t read the book (remedy that immediately, by the way), it’s a story about a hopelessly average fuck-up, his effortlessly charmed best friend and their accidental quest to save the world from some very messed up things. It’s strange and clever and feels spot-on for all the geeks, gamers and weirdoes of my generation. And if you could have your pick of anyone on earth to adapt and direct it, you’d choose Don Coscarelli (Phantasm, Bubba Ho-Tep).
I recognize that it must be difficult to adapt novels to film, especially novels as intricate and bizarre as this one, but I really believe he omitted some of the best elements from the story. I got the sense that, if I hadn’t read the book, I would have had a lot of trouble following what was going on.
The casting was, for the most part, excellent. The actors playing the two main characters were able to, at least intermittently, bring the tone of the book to life on screen. The love-interest seemed to have barely shown up, but, in her defence, she wasn’t given much to work with. Of course, Paul Giamatti tends to make most things a good deal better, and this is no exception.
Visually, you get the kind of hand-made special effects that you’d expect from Coscarelli, and in this case they feel pretty appropriate. There’s a moment in the film when a police officer’s moustache tears itself from his face and tries to kill someone in all its stop-motiony majesty. I felt a genuine moment of smug superiority that “kids these days” with their 3D Avatar effects simply wouldn’t appreciate something that looked quite that old-school.
I’m going to pacify my mild frustration with this film by seeing it as an extended trailer for a twistedly-excellent book. If you watch this film and enjoy some of it’s strangeness, then you’ll definitely appreciate the book.
Julie is a travelling ER nurse who communicates in pop-culture references and wants to live in a universe written by Aaron Sorkin. It’s important to her that you know she can’t possibly be a hipster because she loves basically everything, unabashedly. She tweets incoherently @Julieismagic.