Summit Entertainment releases All the Boys Love Mandy Lane and 50/50 director Jonathan Levine’s latest film, Warm Bodies (check out Part One and Part Two of my set visit here), on February 1st. I’m a big fan of Levine’s work but this project didn’t start with him, it started with author Isaac Marion, who wrote the novel Levine wound up adapting for the screen.
You might expect the novel “Warm Bodies” to fit easily into the YA fiction mold. It doesn’t. It’s a lyrical, funny, disgusting and humane first person account of a Zombie falling in love with a member of the living. It’s a conceit that could have easily proven disastrous, but Marion pulls it off with a remarkably deft touch and the book is very much something I would recommend. I’m also excited to see the “Warm Bodies” universe expand. Yesterday Marion released a prequel novella called “The New Hunger” (which you can get at his website) and he’s planning on penning a sequel before moving on to other literary pastures.
I recently sat down with Marion to discuss his novel, his feelings towards Jonathan Levine’s adaptation and which facets of the Zombie allegory mean the most to him.
I really like this book. It feels like a great allegory for an inability to communicate.
Yeah, there’s a lot of different allegories in it. There are some central themes, but the subject is pretty ripe for things to explore. But communicating in general, and being engaged with being alive. Being a zombie with no identity or purpose is sort of an expression of what it would be like to be the most apathetic, disconnected person in real life. A lack of understanding people, an inability to communicate, he’s got all of that to deal with.
The book has a lyrical quality to it, there’s a lot of beauty in it but there’s also a lot of brain eating. Did you start on a different path and have to keep recalibrating?
It’s based on a short story that had a similar tone. Just a guy describing what it’s like to be undead. And that sort of had this balance of comedy and philosophical commentary. But as far as the balance between romance and brain eating, it was a tricky path to walk. But I don’t think horror and romance are mutually exclusive. I think there’s something horrible about romance and vice versa. But it was tricky to maintain the emotions I wanted to be felt at any given moment.
How trepidatious were you about a movie being made out of it?
There were a lot of feelings. Moreso at the very beginning when I had no idea what it was going to be. It could have been a disaster or it could have been completely unrecognizable from the book. It could have fizzled out. There were a lot of anxieties.
But as it got further along, those anxieties started to get knocked off one by one. I was a fan of The Wackness before I even knew they were approaching him for the job. And he wrote the script for that as well, so I knew it was in good hands. Bad dialogue can destroy it for me, so when he came onboard it allayed a lot of those fears. After that I just watched it all come together.
It was his script and it was his movie. I read two drafts of the script and kind of gave some notes on it, but it wasn’t really my place to have a sweeping influence on where it went. I just had little observations here and there.
There’s quite a bit of “Romeo and Juliet” in the material. Even the initials match.
I didn’t have that in mind when I first started planning it, but after I figured out the story and started to write it I noticed that arc was there. The archetypal star-crossed romance was going on. So I went back in and tweaked some things to flesh out that reference a little more. But it’s more of a winking inside joke to the reader, it’s not 100% “Romeo and Juliet” with Zombies. It’s a subtle joke that runs through it.
In regard to the Zombie genre in general, were there any films that influenced your approach at all?
I wouldn’t say that there was any particular one. It’s more about how much the mythology has made its way into the popular culture and where some of these tropes come from. The eating brains thing only started with Return Of The Living Dead but people think it’s been there all along. I didn’t want to pinpoint or reference any one specific thing so I just culled it all together. It’s kind of like how R talks about all of the possible ways the apocalypse might have happened. But I didn’t want it to be one of those stories, I wanted to use the genre as a springboard for its own story.
What else do you have coming up?
I’m just finishing up a prequel novella to “Warm Bodies”, which will come between that book and the sequel I’m working on. It’s not really going to be a series, there’s just one more book that will conclude everything. It’s going to be the end that was in my mind from the beginning, I’m going to conclude that arc.
Does Summit have the option on that?
Contractually? I don’t know if they do. I haven’t gotten that far, I’m just in the planning stages for the book. But that’s a good question! I’ll ask my lawyer.