Friday, January 02, 2004

NEVERWHERE

This is an uncommon review. I'm reviewing the DVD and, to be more specific, a certain feature of the DVD. Neil Gaiman has generous commentary throughout the DVD set. It's a great feature because you can watch the series without it and then watch it again with it and possibly have a better experience the second time.
Neverwhere is a television mini-series that Gaiman wrote for the BBC near the end of the time he was writing the Sandman comic series. It's about a guy who stumbles unto a London Below, that is to say a fantasy world that takes place in the London Underground complete with great beasts, immortals, floating markets, animal talkers, angels, and many other fine fantasy ideas. It's dark, it's well told and it's much better in the novel version that Gaiman actually wrote during the filming of the series.
I'm an example of one of the people Gaiman mentions in the commentary who bought 4th or 5th generation videos of the series years ago on eBay when they weren't available in America. He's right that the grainy quality actually makes for a much more attractive picture than the glossy film quality of the series as broadcast. But my video tape copies have such terrible sound that I have to turn the television all the way up to get the sound on the tape just shy of where you'd like to be listening.
It's another immersion experience, but a much more accessable one than Lord of the Rings. Much easier to get your head around and so much shorter. But you should read the book, watch the series and then listen to Gaiman's commentary. If you can't do all of those, you should just get the DVD and listen to the commentary.
Gaiman tells great stories. Listening to him is like being on a guided tour through Neverwhere with the guy who created it. So, it's kind of like getting a tour of the universe from God.
He points out things I never would have noticed on my own, like Mr. Vandemaar's bird skull rings. He tells you stories about the filming that were delightful, like how he got to explore a church steeple that you see in the background in a shot and found it full of hundreds of year's worth of dead pidgeons. And he's pleasant as a bubble bath to listen to.
Gaiman is my example of a good modern writer. He's my personal favorite. He's really good at what he does. He's a great craftsman in his art.
But part of what I really like about Gaiman is that in interviews he is who he is and there isn't a great push to highlight his persona. He is who is he and he lets his writing take the stage. Too often I see the oposite in writing. I see a lot of hypemonster writers who push their personae but lack the skill or talent (or both) to qualify an interest.
I remember an interview with Philip K Dick where he said that you shouldn't be able to tell anything about fiction writers from their writing. They should tell stories that stand on their own and the writer shouldn't feel the need to impose over their own work. PKD admitted that even he didn't do that. He said that the only author he could think of who did that was Ray Bradbury. One has no idea where Bradbury stands politically, religiously, or anything from his writing. And yet there are great lessons in them. I think Gaiman a good example from a newer generation.
I can't say my generation. He's in his forties. But I can probably say the modern generation because writers usually hit their popularity stride around midlife. My generation has about fifteen years to hone our skills before we rise up to fame and then people like Gaiman become grand old institutions of literature.
Boy, this sure got derailed from a film review, didn't it? Derailed like a subway train.
There. Tied it together.

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