Wednesday, January 21, 2009

Book Review: The Fountain by Darren Aranofsky and Kent Williams

Darren Aranofsky’s The Fountain (published by Vertigo Comics in 2005) is a visually interesting over-sized graphic novel based on the movie of the same name. Published a year before the film was released, Aranofsky’s intentions were to preserve a part of his project just in case Hollywood “f**ks him over.” A prudent notion, considering his film was met with mixed (and confused) reactions.

Having never watched the film, I borrowed The Fountain from the library thinking I could read this instead and get pretty much the same thing, albeit with ninety percent less Hugh Jackman. The film runs at about an hour and a half; in today’s world of thirty hour Lord of the Ring marathons, this is a fairly quick watch. But at 176 big pages full of cool drawings, the graphic novel wins. I think I read this in under an hour.

As can be imagined, the story is similar to the film. It revolves around the same couple in three different time periods—1535 Spain and Central America, present day, and “the future” wherein we will all be riding around in giant space bubbles in the nude, if Aranofsky gets his way.

The central theme of all three stories is the loss of the great love. Tomas traipses through each time period, bellowing, crying and nearly stamping his feet in effort to save the woman he loves. Inevitably, they all die, though. Sorry, I didn’t give away the ending. It’s pretty much a given.

I wasn’t terribly impressed with the graphic novel, and I can understand why the film was met with mixed reviews. The story is a great idea. It has so much Romeo-and-Juliet potential, it could be Romeo and Juliet. But the execution falls flat on its face. The novel is drawn by Kent Williams, an artist widely respected in the industry. While some images are visually spectacular, there are parts of the graphic novel wherein background characters are little more than drawn lines. Perhaps one could argue that Williams and Aranofsky are trying to emphasize Tomas’s intense focus on his love, and so the rest of the world appears little more than hazy outlines, but it just looks unfinished.

See for yourself:

Each story ends with Tomas’s love dying in some fashion. In 1553, she sacrifices herself for the glory of her queendom. In the present day, she quietly dies in a hospital bed as Tomas receives word that they have found a cure for her cancer. Most bizarrely, in the future (remember, floating through space in a bubble), she is sacrificed to give life to the tree inside the bubble.

That I don’t get. The first two, I’m cool on. Tragic, romantic, ideas I can grasp. The final pair I can’t come to terms with. Why are they in that bubble? What’s the point of her dying if Tomas is just going to float through space alone?

Perhaps it’s just too meta for me.

Three stars

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