Tuesday, July 31, 2007

FINAL EXAM (THE NOVELIZATION)






















TYPICAL REVIEW

"If a movie ever suffered from too much plot, it is this one." - Wooden Spoon's Obscure Horror Movie Reviews

THE PLOT

After a couple is butchered at the local lover's lane, students at Lanier College spend the last day of exams talking about it. They also pull some pranks, cheat on tests, question their relationships, consider the future, read some books, try to make a drug deal, eat lunch... Eventually the killer gets bored with hanging out in the bushes and pops out to massacre the majority of the cast in the last 15 minutes.

THE POINT

(Apologies in advance, I just couldn't find any way to keep this one brief.)

Way back in my review of Student Bodies I covered a number of the common cliches in slasher movies. Chief among them, of course, was how "generic young adult stereotypes like the jock, the geek, the slut, the stoner, etc. give into vice and are systematically slaughtered." This lack of character development is one of the longstanding (and valid) criticisms of the genre. So you would think a slasher film which bends over backward to flesh out its characters would be a welcome change of pace. But if you think that, then you've never watched Final Exam.

The movie spends over an hour of its brisk 89 minutes letting you get to know the characters. In fact, for most of its running time, Final Exam is really less of a horror movie and more of a standard teen dramedy. Isn't this what everyone asked for? Don't we want to invest time in these characters so that when the killer finally shows up we care about what happens to them? Absolutely. If we were given real characters. But that isn't what Final Exam gives us. What we get are the same tired stereotypes that have shown up in countless teen movies from She's Out Of Control to She's All That. Yep, we get the jock, the geek, the slut, the stoner, etc. (And if you guessed that the studious good girl makes it to the final scene, give yourself extra credit.) You would hope with all that time to kill (so to speak) we might have gotten to know the characters a little better.

Which is where the novelization comes in. Before the days of DVD extras and the internet, book adaptations of movies were like gold if you wanted a little bit more from a low budget horror movie than what you got in the theater. And, if nothing else, Final Exam: The Novelization does give you more characterization. Take the young couple who are murdered at the beginning of the story. The movie gives them a few stilted lines of dialog and then quickly dispenses with them. In the novel, however, Dana and John (see, I know there names now) get the first 15 pages and plenty of back story, even as they're dying.
"The black stream of blood began to torrent fitfully, each rush splashing as it landed; and Dana, liberated from her game plan, thought of the cheesecake she had passed up at dinner."
See, now the movie didn't even mention cheesecake! I think that kind of detail is important if we're going to get to know these characters as people. And everyone in the book gets paragraphs full of THAT KIND of internal monologue. Even the killer, who in the film is never identified or even given a reason for being at the school in the first place, is fleshed out just a little.
"He remembered the roar; the crowds in the stands; the jeers; the colors; the humiliation; the pain. He remembered the bit between his teeth; the shocks; the jackets; the knives. He remembered the spit and the feces. He remembered money (he had twenty dollars). He forgot his name. He forgot language. He forgot his mother (just as well). He remembered how to drive."
Okay, so not every writer can be Shakespeare (although, for some unexplainable reason, I kind of like the snappy way he uses parentheses), but who cares? If you're going to read the novelization of a third rate rip off of Halloween, then your expectations probably aren't that high to begin with. Final Exam is the kind of "junk food" book you take to the beach on a day when you just don't feel like thinking. If you finish it, fine; if you doze off and the tide carries it away, that's fine too. And if it happens to add something new to the movie, then that's a bonus, but nothing of real concern.

It's not that way for all novelizations though. A few properties are just too high profile to let some dashed off dime store pulp novel slip out to the public. In response to the proliferation of Star Wars spin-off products, Lucas Licensing has actually created a continuity tracking database known as The Holocron in order to establish control of what they refer to as The Star Wars Canon. The Holocron consists of four tiers (G, C, S, & N) with varying levels of authority based on their relationship to and distance from the films. Besides the movies themselves, G-Canon includes novelizations and radio plays based on their scripts, as well as any statement George Lucas personally makes. The second level, C-Canon, includes books, comics, and video games which expand the universe beyond the movies, but don't have any blatant contradictions. On a lower level, S-Canon includes stories and games which are out of continuity, but may still include non-contradicting elements from the higher levels. Imaginary stories and fanfiction populate N-Canon and are given no credence whatsoever. (Which means, mercifully, that video of Star Wars: The Empire Brokeback you found on YouTube DOES NOT COUNT as canon.) Sue Rostoni of Lucas Licensing is quoted as saying, "Our goal is to present a continuous and unified history of the Star Wars galaxy, insofar as that history does not conflict with, or undermine the meaning of Mr. Lucas's Star Wars saga of films and screenplays." (Of course it would be helpful if Mr. Lucas didn't re-edit his blasted movies every time ILM invents a new CG program, but for the most part The Holocron system seems to do what they want it to.)

Most of us religious types understand the importance of establishing rules for what gets into canon, especially in religions like Judaism and Christianity where scripture is considered divinely inspired. But as the Catechism reminds us, The Church "does not derive her certainty about all revealed truths from the holy Scriptures alone. Both Scripture and Tradition must be accepted and honored with equal sentiments of devotion and reverence." That's why, in addition to extensively quoting scripture, the Catechism is full of quotes taken from other sources like Ecumenical Councils, Papal Encyclicals, and especially writings from the Early Church Fathers. (Augustine alone gets over 100 mentions.) The question naturally arises as to just where these extra-biblical writers fit in with canon and how much authority do they have?

As Pope Leo XIII pointed out, "all the opinions which the individual Fathers or the recent interpreters have set forth in explaining [scripture] need not be maintained equally. For they, in interpreting passages where physical matters are concerned have made judgments according to the opinions of the age, and thus not always according to truth." Simply put, sometimes they got it wrong. So, much like Lucas Licensing, the Church views these particular writings on a different level than the Apostolic writings included in canonical scripture. In Holocron terms, the early Church Fathers would fall somewhere in the C & S Canons. Their authority lies not in themselves, but only where they affirm, or reaffirm, those doctrines already central to the religion. That's why the Catechism has no problem quoting someone like Tertullian even though he eventually got excommunicated for joining the heretical sect called the Monanists around 210 AD.

But since we know some of their individual teachings were wrong, why bother quoting the Church Fathers in the first place? Well, because with the inclusion of the Church Fathers, the Catechism (much like the stated goal of the Holocron) presents us with the beginnings of a continuous and unified history of the Church and its teachings stretching from its Apostolic origins all the way through today. (Bluntly put, the writings of the early Church Fathers prove Catholics didn't just make up a bunch of new crap in the middle ages.) Also like the Star Wars C & S canons, the writings of the Fathers have earned their place of honor in the Catechism by "expanding" the Christian universe through clarification and solidification of doctrines like the Holy Trinity and Mariology. And finally, I think, the Fathers are in the Catechism as a memorandum to new and emerging theological trends that the "old" teachings of the Church are not to be undermined. Because if we have anything, anything at all, to learn from Final Exam: The Novelization, it's that no matter what wild and crazy things pop up over the course of the story, bad things can happen in the last few pages if you forget about what happened at the beginning of the book.

THE STINGER

The Fanfiction Glossary defines "Canon Rape" as twisting the canon characters, setting, etc. so far out of alignment that it burns to read. The Urban Dictionary definition of Canon Rape goes a little further (like it always does) by stating that "This term is used when a fan fiction author tries to reconstruct an original work to their liking. This often times makes the author look like a complete nut who has no appreciation for the original creator or storyline." In Christianity we call this the Jesus Seminar.

11 comments:

Histor the Wise said...

I'm sorry for whoever had to write that scene you scanned in.

Histor

EegahInc said...

Hey, how about a little sympathy for the guy who had to read it!

Histor the Wise said...

"Hey, how about a little sympathy for the guy who had to read it!"

For the proofreader, yes. For the sort of personage who would deliberately continue reading it to review it, *looks you in the eye and exaggerates pronunciation* NO.

Histor

EegahInc said...

Wow. Tough room.

Histor the Wise said...

Sorry. I should have been more charitable.

After all, you do provide a great service by clarifying how bad a bad movie (in this case book) is, and whether it would harm us to watch/read the work in question.

All the same, it is hard to pity a man who deliberately puts himself in harm's way. Admire and praise him, perhaps, but not sympathize.

Getting to the real point of the post, the main difference between the Star Wars canon and Sacred Tradition is that the former is imaginative interpretation of Star Wars, while the latter concentrates on reason to explain certain Christian beliefs and practices, as well as problematic Bible passages.

Just sayin'.

Histor

Susan said...

"In Christianity we call this the Jesus Seminar."

I just sprayed coffee all over my keyboard.

Love your blog, btw.

EegahInc said...

Hi Susan,

Thanks for stopping by and for the kind words. Always nice to hear from a new voice.

Histor,

Speaking of kind words, now you're probably being too charitable. "Great service"?

You're right, of course, on the difference between the SW Canon and Tradition, although I could probably dredge up a few rabid SW fans who would argue the point. (You know, there was that whole British census snafu a few years back in which Jedi came in as the 5th largest religion in the country.)

D. G. D. Davidson said...

I'm going to defend our B-Movie Catechist. I thought that was a great scene you scanned, Eegahinc. I was genuinely harrowed and uncomfortable and fearful for the characters. It's not great lit by itself, but encapsulated in a larger novel of some quality, it could be all right. Of course, this isn't a novel of some quality, but never mind that.

Susan said...

Great scene, I agree, but the tie-in to the whole idea of staying true to an original story was what really caught my fancy. I teach high school catechism classes and I am always looking for new ways to explain things to my students. I bet most of the kids would relate to the idea of a favorite book, movie, etc. that was taken off into some strange direction by a new director or author.

While it is irritating when that happens, it is only make-believe, as Histor pointed out. The Church, however, has been entrusted with handing on the Truth until the end of time and so they really need to be vigilant and have safeguards in place to ensure that all following generations get the same message.

Lucky for us, since Christ is the head of our Church, it IS the same message all through time.

*Looks at her Han Shot First t-shirt and sighs*

EegahInc said...

The "funny" thing is, all that graphic detail describes his murder of THE CAR. The human deaths in the book actually aren't as explicit in terms of gore.

Speaking of that Han Shot First shirt, by sheer coincidence it gets a mention in this week's newsreel.

Rocket Scientist said...

I think that's Montanist.