Home Is Where The Hate Is



[WARNING: While the book and film discussed below are both intended for children, this article most certainly is NOT.  Reader discretion is advised.]

Here comes the hammer
I, personally am the kind of person who has very little use for general grousing about film adaptations of books.  They're different forms with different strengths.  Prime among those differences is perspective.  A film's view is explicit.  A book is implicit, with us filling in the picture according to our own perspective and imagination.  In short, you know damned well by now that the film is not going to be the same experience as the book before you've even seen it, so if your chief complaint about a film adaptation is that it's not the book, you're pretty much a useless jaggoff going out of your way to be pissy and boring, thus you need to shut your stupid fucking mouth because the rest of use are trying to watch a goddamn movie.  People don't like you and they wish you'd go away.

IF, however, the film is based on a book, but entirely throws away the book's story in favor of a formula, inanity and schmaltz, then you may have a case to make.

Which is why I've called all of you here today...

The True Meaning of Smekday - 2007
Written & Illustrated by Adam Rex

I love this book.  I have written to the author to say so.  It is, indeed, one of my favorite books for young readers, and if you ask me, at any random moment, for a book suggestion for kids, you're going to hear about Smekday and Octavian Nothing before anything else.

Adam Rex is a fantastic illustrator who's gone from painting other people's books to painting his own -- which is nice, because he's his best collaborator -- and moved on to less illustrated books for juveniles and young adults.  His work is almost always hilarious, and Smekday is arguably the pinnacle of that hilarity.

Smekday tells the story of Gratuity "Tip" Tucci, as she makes her way through an alien-invaded America, to find her mother and repel the aliens.  Along the way, she's joined by her cat, Pig, and a ne'er-do-well among the invading Boov who has taken the Earth name of J Lo.  They travel to the ruins of a theme park in Florida where they meet some resistance-minded "lost boys," on to Roswell, NM where they join forces with a Native American who plays up the role of "crazy indian" to draw attention from what he really knows, and finally to Arizona where the rest of humanity has been resettled (read "unceremoniously dumped").  Using Tip's natural cleverness and strength and J Lo's "outside the Boov" thinking, they figure out how to defeat their common, and relentless foe.

If you love your children, give them this book.

Home - 2015
Written by Tom J Astle & Matt Ember
From the book by Adam Rex, but not really
Directed by Tim Johnson
With Rihanna and Jim Parsons and Rihanna

For as long as I've known about this adaptation, I've been concerned.  Square One; it's Dreamworks, and while Dreamworks has come a LONG way in recent years with the likes of How to Train Your Dragon, they still make a lot of shitty animated features.  The film was delayed at one point, which is seldom a good sign, but when a preview came out with Mr Peabody & Sherman last year, a friend vouched for it looking promising (One; he wasn't familiar with the book, and Two; he doesn't get to vouch for films with me anymore).  So with tentative hope, I looked forward to Home, even if the name was completely generic and meaningless and changed twice.

Home tells the story of the alien Boov known as Oh (replacing a very funny joke with a totally not funny one) as he flees from his fellow Boov.  Along the way, he's joined by Gratuity "Tip" Tucci and her cat, Pig.  They run around like headless chickens for a while before deciding that they need to go to Boov Central in Paris (what?) and then run around some more before ending up in Australia (huh?) and making a tidy and contrived peace with the quickly relenting foe that really only had it in for the Boov anyway.

*not included
Here are the things that the book and the movie have in common:

Gratuity "Tip" Tucci
Her cat, Pig
Their new friend, a Boov
Captain Smek, a Boov
A species called the Gorg (name only)
Gratuity has a mom
Their car, Slushious
Bubble-based alien technology
An alien invasion

...end of list

The story has been completely stripped out or irretrievably mangled -- like a lobotomy.  It's just GONE, and what remains is sickening to look at.  They took a story arc filled with character growth, humor and unique high-concept set pieces and threw them all away.  Then they stuffed the hollowed out corpse of Adam Rex's book with leftover pieces of other, equally uninspired movies, the sawdust of utterly generic chases and shocked it into a form of undead life with too many Rihanna songs played much too loud.  The purpose of all of these seems to have been the ultra-schmaltzy, super-saccharine, cancerously cloying and contrived cheap emotional button-pusher of an ending, which replaced the authentic human emotions and the hilarious cleverness of the book's ending.

I know Adam Rex loves Frankenstein, but even he can't be pleased with this monster.  Sure, the checks will be nice, but dude, they fucked your book.

The humor, which had once been suitable for children from 8 to 80 is now fit only for kids from 7 to, say... a dumb 11. It's like the writers only had the book described to them by a child while they were tweaking hard on some discount meth and then wrote down what they could remember later.  Jokes once based on the characters and their relationships are gone.  Koobish-related hilarity is gone.  The menacing legion of aliens with out-of-control allergies are gone.  In their place?  Lame fart jokes and clumsiness.  Now I loves me some fart jokes and clumsiness, so I'm not classifying those things as "lame" in bulk, but acknowledging that these incidents of fart jokes and clumsiness were executed with stinky ineptitude.

So this isn't some mere objection to some choices they made in adapting the book, because this really isn't an adaptation in any meaningful way.  This was like taking a few character names from Star Trek, making them into paper dolls, throwing out everything that had been written, and replacing it with a Chinese menu -- only in a much ruthless and spiteful way than JJ Abrams did.  This, of course, begs the question; why even buy the rights to a great book when you have no interest in keeping any of the things that made it great?  They could make a small handful of changes (5 names and the rough idea of the alien design) to make "Home" legally unrecognizable from Smekday, and it would be LESS different from "Home" than "Home" already is from Smekday.

I haven't seen such reckless and egregious squandering since Jennifer Lawrence got that facial tattoo of Joan Rivers.

Lest ye think that my adaptation objections are the full tale of my loathing for "Home," ye must be mistaken.  While entwined, that's hardly the limit of their failings.  I might be more willing to forgive the violation of the thing I love, if they had replaced it with ANYTHING of value.  The story-like substance with which they replaced Smekday is utterly hollow.  Threads only last long enough to launch a chase in a new direction, then become utterly meaningless in the next scene.  It really is not a story so much as The Amazing Race visits the cocaine plantation.  These are the things that shitty screenwriters do when they have no fresh ideas to put into the formula film they're writing.  These writers were HANDED fresh ideas with a bow on top, AND THEY THREW THEM AWAY to fill it with Generic Tropes for Uninspired Cinema.

But wait, there's less!

The characters are shadows of their former selves.  In Smekday, Tip was a really good character.  She was afraid, but not a panicking nitwit.  She was thoughtful, and that was her superpower.  In the movie, she's able to pull a useful fact when it matters to the chase advancement, but she didn't behave thoughtfully the way a human being would.  Mostly she ran and yelled because all the characters she might have had conversations with were erased from the story.  She has largely been relegated to the role of supporting Oh's story, so let's not strain too hard to pat ourselves on the back for finally having a female lead of color, Dreamjerks.  You still make a kids' movie with a male lead, even if he's an alien.

And ABOUT that alien.  In Smekday, J Lo was an oddball among the Boov, and his earnestness was both his weakness and his strength.  He made unwise decisions based on biased cultural assumptions, and these could cause friction, but it wasn't the constant basis of unrelenting mayhem.  He was able to help more than he failed, and their shared oddity & unrecognized capabilities are what made Tip & J Lo such a great team.  Yeah... Oh isn't like that.  J Lo made mistakes, but Oh is a fuck-up.  Those are not the same things, and fobbing them off to kids as though they were is perverted and irresponsible.  Sure, he saves the day at times, but just as in Tip's case, it's never played like the natural result of learning and skill that exists outside of the immediate moment.  These traits do not belong to their characters.  They're just different sized and shaped keys laying on the table in the same room as the door they unlock.  Plot devices for an absent plot replacing character traits for absent characters. 

Again, these are ways that "Home" fails to live up to Smekday by replacing good things with bad things, but what about the places where they had more license to add something new that wouldn't be in the book?  In other words, what about the cinematic choices?  Well, take the former as symptomatic of the latter, and you should be able to predict where those choices led as well.

The director, Tim Johnson, just plain fucked it up.  I suspect that his terrible instincts were not the only ones at play here.  As mentioned, Dreamworks makes a lot of shitty animated movies, and that goes back a ways.  A lot of people remember Shrek fondly, but I suspect that most of them have not seen it recently.  The heavy reliance on pop culture references has not aged well and the artificial sentiment wears thinner and thinner with every passing better movie.  "Home" uses the same formula, evidently from the same beaker, because it ain't got any fresher in the past 14 years.

Something else that hasn't gotten any fresher is the heavy reliance on musical montages in place of character relationships.  Growth, connections and personal moments are replaced by montages with slamming dance grooves.  NO, Tim Johnson, inappropriately shoehorning a bunch of tone-deaf Rihanna songs into this crapalanche doesn't make it fresh.  It gives it an expiration date roughly comparable to last summer's egg salad. 

What's that you say, my disbelieving reader?  Rihanna songs?  Yeah, I know.  Wanna guess how they got there?  I'll give you one hint; it's not because Tim Johnson is a 19 year old drunk sorority girl who "just wants ta DANCE tonight, you bitches!"  In what is surely a vast coincidence, Roc Nation/Universal recording artist Rihanna not ONLY has a bunch of songs in this Dreamworks/Universal picture, but also provides the voice for Tip.  When I first mentioned this to someone, they were surprised, owing to the deep/harsh quality of her voice.  Confidentially, that isn't the issue.  I was prepared to accept that sound coming out of Tip's mouth.

If only the poor dear could act.

Yeah, they can get her to yell when it's time to yell and whine... well, most of the rest of the time, but it's a stupid person's voice coming out of a smart person's mouth and it's just not right.  As a voice actress, Rihanna makes a good dancer.  There's just no subtlety; no understanding of emotional subtlety there to inform her performance.  This almost doesn't matter since so much of that content was pissed away by the "writers" (are infinite monkeys at infinite typewriters really "writers," strictly speaking?) long before the actors hit the studio, but it's not even up to the mawkish requirements of "Home."

And yet, songs aside, Rihanna is hardly the worst thing about "Home."  She's not even the worst voice.  THAT distinction goes specifically to the central and expanded role of Oh, voiced by (God save us all) Jim (ugh, shudder) fucking Parsons.

Fuck me, what an unholy fucking abortion this is.  Jim Parsons, if you're blissfully unaware, is Sheldon from The Big Bang Theory; a show as ignorant and disdainful for authentic human behavior as this poorly made cartoon about aliens.  Of course, even if you didn't know his name, you'd know him as soon as the movie starts, because he is exactly the same as he's been in every single thing he's ever been in.  The Boov speak an idiosyncratic form of English resulting from them never having really bothered to speak to humans.  For example, they often replace the past tense of a with the present participle, like "I did reading about verbs yesterday."  Parsons speaks in an over-enunciated way, like someone who is very fussy about his speech.  So you get this clipped delivery with the affected alien language, and it just doesn't make sense.  The alien should speak in a funny alien's voice.  There are a variety of ways that could go, but it's not the same thing as a creepy human.  The voice NEVER feels believable in the alien's mouth.  See Lilo & Stitch for an example of this done better.  Stitch sounds the way he should sound.  Oh is just that guy who keeps highlighting how meaningless the Emmys have become.

In my mind, there is a warehouse.  In that warehouse, there are rows and rows of heavy industrial shelves.  Each one of those shelves is laden with stacks and stacks of boxes.  And inside each of those boxes, I have a punch for every single person involved in the making of "Home."

On second thought, I'm going to hand out exactly 3 passes. The first pass is for Jennifer Lopez.  She plays Tip's mom, and does fine in what has been reduced to an all-but-token role, because how would we know that Tip had succeeded in... something ...if she didn't have a wide-hipped goal to aim for.  The reason she gets a pass is for doing the movie after having her name used as a running joke in the book, even if that was completely removed from the movie.  Pass #2 goes to the animators -- JUST the animators.  I mean the pixel-pushers, grinding away on this shitfest, putting in loads of unpaid overtime, choking back their pride at having to work with character disignes they know they could so better, taking it on faith that they were building one tiny, essential piece of something that wouldn't be the cinematic equivalent of eating a child's teddy bear, shitting it out and handing it back to them.  They did what they could, and the film is indeed animated by more-or-less professional animators.  I wasn't going to give Adam Rex the third pass, but I've changed my mind.  My first thought was, "Well shit, Adam, you allowed this to happen" but on further consideration, I have decided that "Home" has got to be a staggering gut-punch for him already.

If it were only about me being angry that they shat upon that book I like, I wouldn't be here.  I know the difference.  While their non-adaptation-adaptation IS a toxic fucking trainwreck, even in discounting my irritation it's also entirely sensible (and correct) to address that failure as symptomatic of systemic problems with both this movie, and the Dreamworks approach in general.  They either tried to cut out a very specific segment of the market, distinguished themselves from Disney/Pixar by being the shitty studio with stale material and the lowest of expectations -- or they continue to employ someone who has made those choices time and again through their own personal limitations.  It takes just as long to make a bad movie as a good one, so why would you put yourself in the position of looking back and finding a trail leading back to you that looks like the dog scooted across the floor?  These were deliberate CHOICES that someone had to make to turn the Golden Egg into Scrambled Excrement.

Oh yes he did.
I hear that the studio has been in trouble.  They fucking deserve to be.  They should have been a long time ago, but then "No one ever went broke underestimating the taste of the American public."  Surely that Mencken quote must be emblazoned over the doorway at Dreamworks Animation.


Burn the motherfucker down.

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