Saturday, April 28, 2007

Why Audio Books Need Hollywood Casts

I’m listening to Eldest, Christopher Paolini’s sequel to Eragon on audio CD in my car. The same fellow that did the Eragon audio book narrates it. He’s got a British accent, which is usually a pleasure for me to hear. It would be now, if it weren’t for his inane affectations.

I am all for doing voices when narrating books. I do them for my daughters when I read bedtime stories. It’s fun and adds an extra element to the experience. Not so for Gerald Doyle, the narrator of Paolini’s books. This guy ends up sounding like a bad actor experimenting with different voices. His voice for Saphira, the protaginist’s dragon companion sounds like Ludo from Labyrinth. Keep in mind that Saphira is a female dragon voiced by Rachel Weisz in the movie adaptation. He gravels his voice for every dwarf in the story in such a contrived manner that it manages to shatter what little illusion the normal narration manages to create. I don’t even want to start on how annoying it is when he speaks the ridiculous dwarven that Paolini wrote. It’s gotten to the point that I will fast forward rather than hear him slurring out the words like he has a throat full of rocks.

I bring this up as an example of what seems to be a general trend in audio books. A complete disregard for the spirit of the books seems to be the norm in the industry. I have listened to many narrated novelizations during my daily commutes. Some are good, such as every Terry Pratchett novel narrated by Tony Robinson or the Series of Unfortunate Events read by Tim Curry.

That is one that frustrates me to no end. The first few of Lemony Snickett’s books were narrated by one of my favorite actors and voice over artists, the legendary Tim Curry. For some insane reason that totally eludes me and I’m too lazy to research, the Powers That Be decided to let the author of the books narrate the next few. He is horrible. His lispy voice rattles a monotone narrative through his own work as if he could care less if people enjoy the experience. What’s wrong with these people?

The best-case solution would be to hire a real cast of voice talent for every character in the book. I’m not talking about audio book narrators either, they generally suck. I guess you can’t expect much from a group of people that can’t hack it in the world of television and movie voice acting. I mean real voice-over talent, preferably with some star power. The talents and skills that make a good actor easily extend into voice-over work. Granted, hiring big-name talent, especially a whole cast, is not a very practical solution. Even a single actor worth the title narrating a book would be better than most of the narrators I have heard. At the very least, audio book companies could dip into the huge talent pool of standard voice actors that do cartoons and other popular media work. Even the standard Saturday morning voices are miles above most of the audio book narrators in the scale of talent and skill.

So there. You heard me, audio book industry! Now go forth and do my bidding! Fire the worthless hacks and get some real talent to read the books! Now, for my next trick, I will force comic book editors to maintain continuity across the board.

Insert Lame Pun Featuring the Word "Next" Here

Stacy and I decided to catch a movie last night after work. I am so used to seeing matinees and movies on weekdays that I often forget who goes to movies on Friday nights. Chiefly, a bunch of kids. I watched as date after date purchased tickets for Disturbia. Each boy hoping that the scary movie will land him some first or second base action. Man am I glad I don’t have to do that anymore. Speaking of Disturbia, the current viewing sold out as I sat waiting for Stacy. Good thing we were going to see Next instead. I was surprised at the lack of patrons when we entered the theater. I’m thinking that Disturbia will beat Next in this weekend’s box office fight. Ah well, no biggie.

Next stars Nick Cage as a Las Vegas magician, Cris Johnson (stage name Frank Cadillac,) that just happens to have the ability to see two minutes into the future as long as it involves him. Julianne Moore plays the hard-ass FBI agent, Callie Ferris, who somehow knows about this ability (even though Cris keeps it private,) and wants to recruit him to track down a rogue Russian nuclear bomb. Jessica Biel plays Cris’ love interest, Liz, who is the first to break the basic premise of the movie because Cris saw her in his mind days in advance of meeting her. No real reason to mention anyone else except for Peter Falk, who I thought was dead and coincidentally looks like he’s on his last legs. His part as friend/father/roommate/fence/gay lover, (the movie wasn’t too clear on their relationship,) Irv, was short, but it was good seeing Columbo back on the big screen even for a few moments.

I liked the movie. It was entertaining. It did, however, have plot holes you could drive a truck through. For example, how did the FBI agent know about Cris’s talents and that they were genuine? How did the Russians smuggle a nuclear weapon into the country? Oh, that’s right, they had a friggin’ army on the docks. How did they create a well-armed militia in a Los Angeles dock without anyone noticing? Why did the Russians smuggle a nuclear weapon into the country? Why do they want to detonate it in downtown LA? Isn’t the cold war over? Were they part of a terrorist group of some sort? What was their agenda? How do they know the FBI is after Cris in an effort to foil their plot? Why do they pursue him with a single-mindedness bordering on obsessive when they presumably don’t even know what he can do? Why is Callie such a cold-hearted bitch? (Okay, that’s not a plot hole so much as a complaint about the stereotype the director shoe-horned Moore into.) Lastly, why set up a premise involving a strict time limit on Cris’ prescient ability and then blow it out of the water in the last five minutes of the movie?

The plot holes are really the only complaint I have about the movie. It had some great scenes that kept me engaged the entire time. It wasn’t until I looked back that I thought of the gaps in the story. Cris’ prescience set up some great chase scenes, such as the high-speed drive through the streets of Las Vegas. We get to see Cris demolished by a train in an unsuccessful attempt to cross the tracks, only to pan back to the road where Cris is gunning towards the tracks in reality. This time, he punches the gas harder and makes it by the paint on his bumper. Another thrilling chase scene takes place during a man-made landslide as he evades the FBI. Good stuff right until the end. My favorite scene (besides Jessica Biel dripping wet in a towel,) involved Cris using his power in a way that reminded me much of Jamie Madrox, the Multiple Man of X-Men comics and X-Men: The Last Stand. We get to see him using his ability to choose diverging paths during his two-minute window. The result is 20-30 Nick Cages on screen poking around a deathtrap to find his love. Good stuff.

While not Nick Cage’s (or the supporting cast’s,) best work, this was a solid entry in the otherwise lackluster movie releases of the past couple of weeks. It is also notable that the original story, The Golden Man, was written by Philip K. Dick, author of Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? (Blade Runner) among other Hollywood-adapted stories.

I give Next two and a half fortune cookies on a scale that I just made up that doesn’t mean anything.

May I Point Out That the Sex Appeared To Be Consensual; Both Animals Were Smiling

Another fine episode of The Office aired this week. So many great lines, so little desire to turn this blog into a mirror of Still, I must share some. For example, this episode featured perhaps the most entertaining prank Jim has played on Dwight yet. First, the setup: Jim walks in to the Office carrying wearing a yellow shirt and a bad tie with his hair combed just like Dwight’s. Then, after sitting down stiffly, he squints at his screen and pulls out a large pair of glasses, just like Dwight’s.

Jim: Question: What kind of bear is best?
Dwight: That’s a ridiculous question …
Jim: False. Black bear.
Dwight: That’s debatable. There are basically two schools of thought …
Jim: Fact: Bears eat beets. Bears. Beets. Battlestar Galactica.

The hilarity of the episode could have ended there and I would have still reached my quota of laughs, but no, things went further.

It seems that our favorite amoral skeeve, Creed, failed to fulfill his duties as quality control and let slip a large batch of paper with an unseemly watermark.

Michael: We have a crisis. Apparently a disgruntled employee at the paper mill decided that it would be funny to put an obscene watermark on our 24-pound cream letter stock. 500 boxes has gone out with the image of a beloved cartoon duck performing unspeakable acts upon a certain cartoon mouse that a lot of people like. I’ve never been a fan.

There were some great Creed moments, including his horrifying detective work to locate an “escape goat” to his subsequent collection of goodbye money for the hapless employee, which he promptly pocketed, naturally. Ah Creed, you rascal!

Besides Creed’s machinations, we got to see two other stories play out. First, we find that Andy is an unknowing pedophile. Best I don’t spoil that one for those of you that haven’t seen it. Suffice it to say that it involves a two-page ad in the yearbook that says, “Good luck!” and a stirring rendition of “The Lion Sleeps Tonight.”

The other plot focuses on Michael Scott’s rapid devolution from a responsible apologist to a ranting quasi-psycho delivering a videotaped ultimatum.

Michael: If I could leave you with one thought, remember, it wasn’t me. They are trying to make me an escape goat. If I am fired, I swear to god, that every single piece of copier paper in this town is going to have the F-word on it. The F-word. You have one day.
Pam: One day for what?
Michael: That’s — they always give an ultimatum.

Kelly also had her brief time in the sunshine as Michael assigned the accounting staff to her department, customer service. If you know Kelly from this season, then you know how the training session with Kevin, Oscar, and Angela went.

Kelly: Look, I know the reason that you guys became accountants is ’cause you’re not good at interacting with people. But guess what? From now on, you guys are no longer losers. So gives yourselves a round of applause.
Oscar: I wonder how many phone calls you’re missing while you’re teaching us to answer calls.
Kelly: I know, right? Probably a lot.
Angela: Can you just tell us what we need to do so we can go?
Kelly: Okay, Angela. I love your enthusiasm! All you need to know how to do is pick up the phone and say, “Customer Service, this is Kelly,” except don’t say Kelly. Say your own name. Or if you’re bored, you can just make up a name. Like one time, I said I was Bridget Jones, (British accent) and I talked like this for the whole conversation.
Kevin: Oooh, can I be … (awkward accent) Australian, mate?
Kelly: Absolutely!
Kevin: ‘ello … mate.
Kelly: I like ice cream. I need a boyfriend.
Kevin: I like ice cream, too, mate. Alli-ga-tors, and dingo babies.

There is a great deleted scene featuring Kelly and Angela up at NBC’s The Office Web site.

No action on the Karen/Jim/Pam front, and that is find by me. The show isn’t about them, after all, not wholly at least. It was nice to see all the interactions between the other characters in the place of more romantic plot development. I’m sure we’ll see things come to a head (that’s what she said. No time! But she did. NO TIME!) before the end of the season, which is three short weeks away. New episodes right up to the end!

As always, a big thanks to the fine folks at for the excellent work on quotes from the latest episodes!