Thursday, April 21, 2011

Goon Show

I'd no sooner finished A Visit From the Goon Squad and was spending a few milliseconds trying to decide if it could be adapted for the screen when I learned that HBO was way ahead of me.  Except obviously they've decided to adapt it for a far smaller screen than the one I was thinking of.

Boy, I really have mixed feelings about this!

So says Woody Allen, with a certain neurotic glee, in Play It Again, Sam when he learns he's been set up on a date with a gorgeous woman. That's my view on turning Goon Squad into an HBO movie. Egan's book may be, to quote T.S. Eliot on The Waste Land, "only the relief of a personal and wholly insignificant grouse against life" -- in this case life in a digital era that leaves us living in a perpetual near future. (It's seldom a leap to imagine tomorrow's cooler version of the gadget you buy today.) Hence the novel's concluding chapters take place in a world where global warming has left Arizona's golf courses scorched ruins to be reclaimed by the desert, the sun sets before 4:30 in the afternoon in January, lower Manhattan seems to have a sea wall, texting starts at toddlerhood, ethics has become a quaint relic taught only in university courses, and -- perhaps wackiest of all -- young people no longer use profanity.

It isn't that these visions of the future are unfilmable. Most don't demand the kind of digital effects that erase impossibilities in even the most mundane action film. It's just that a novelist's grouses against life, when they pile up eliptically in a story that bounces around in time among characters whose relationships to each other unfold unexpectedly, wouldn't, I imagine, translate well to the screen ... at least not for a mass entertainment. Hollywood-style movies avoid subtlety and indirection -- they're bad box office. Not to mention the anger, despair, and intimations of mortality that rumble beneath Goon Squad.

I don't envy the screenwriter on this one.

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