Or, An Audiobook Narrator Ponders Recording The Greatest Movie Quotes Of All Time On Audio
First off, for those of you expecting to see DREAMER OF DUNE go on sale today, as previously advertised, we’ve unfortunately run into a few snags on this title. However, rather than take a month off from our promised “New book every month” production schedule, we thought we’d bring you one of the greatest books of all time, and what is considered by many to be not only the first fully-realized gothic horror novel, but one of the earliest examples of science fiction novels as…Keep Reading
First off, for those of you expecting to see DREAMER OF DUNE go on sale today, as previously advertised, we’ve unfortunately run into a few snags on this title. However, rather than take a month off from our promised “New book every month” production schedule, we thought we’d bring you one of the greatest books of all time, and what is considered by many to be not only the first fully-realized gothic horror novel, but one of the earliest examples of science fiction novels as well. FRANKENSTEIN, the original 1818 text by Mary Shelley, was the very first title we had to read in my Science Fiction Literature class at UCLA, and getting to narrate it after all these years was absolutely terrific.
Given that it had been over twenty years since I last read it, however, I found I had forgotten a good deal of the story, or at least its finer points. Like most Americans, my primary memories of FRANKENSTEIN come from James Whale’s classic 1931 film from Universal Studios, starring Boris Karloff. As such, there was a part of me that was greatly anticipating narrating the scene that contained the defining moment of the film for most moviegoers: the moment when Victor Frankenstein’s manic genius bubbles over, when he screams out those immortal words, “It’s alive, it’s ALIVE…!”
It’s funny, but over the years I’ve been given the chance to record quite a few novels that had already or would soon be turned into films. THE FIRM,THE LOST WORLD: JURASSIC PARK II, IN COLD BLOOD and THE ROAD TO PERDITION all come to mind. There’ve been venerable science fiction titles like THE TIME MACHINE, THE INVISIBLE MAN, I, ROBOT,FAHRENHEIT 451, BLADE RUNNER, and even DUNE (twice: once forMacmillan Audio and another time for Books On Tape). Sometimes I’ll record books like MYSTIC RIVER and THE CURIOUS CASE OF BENJAMIN BUTTON only to see them become films just a few years later. Because of this, there’s never been any temptation to lean towards any particular actor while narrating it, or deliver any particular line any particular way, as there’s nothing recognizable in the text at that point. It’s only when you’re recording a book AFTER you’ve seen the movie that you have to decide: Okay, do I read this line like so-and-so did in the movie, or do I try to make it my own…?
I think the first time I ever faced this dilemma was when recording HEART OF DARKNESS by Joseph Conrad several years back. Although I’d never read the novel at that point, I was well aware that it served as the inspiration for APOCALYPSE NOW, and lo and behold, a few of the lines appeared in the film exactly as written in the book. So, when the moment came for Brando’s character in the novel to say the line, “The horror, the horror,” well, I just couldn’t bring myself to do it like he did. I’m not a mimic, and unless I was doing the entire book in his voice or mannerisms, I couldn’t get away with doing that one line in that style. So I just got breathy and delivered it as I thought the scene called for, and I’m sure if you’re in the right mood when listening to it you might hear a few echoes of Brando, but it would probably be partly due to expectation on your part rather than my delivery.
Of course, things were a little different when I was asked to narrate SIDEWAYS by Rex Pickett. The movie had already come out, and in this instance,the book was so very similar to what people saw on the screen that I actually employed a mild bit of mimicry while recording it. As I’ve said before, I won’t ever try to do an impression of a specific actor while doing a book, but I will try and keep a particular actor’s voice in my head so I can duplicate their cadence and tempo. In a book like SIDEWAYS, that seemed more than enough. So, when it came time for that one particular scene, I got to do my best Paul Giamatti impression when wailing, “I’m not drinking any freakin’ merlot!” Only, of course, I didn’t say “freakin’,” I said the Queen Mother of all Curse Words. You know the one I’m talking about.
(Funny story, we were working from various early versions of the manuscript and were marrying them together while recording, so we wound up doing that line, and only that line, as a pickup afterward. Which was really funny, considering I drove over to the studio, sat down in the chair, got myself comfortable, waited for the okay from our producer, then yelled “I’m not drinking any freakin’ merlot!” at the top of my lungs, only to then hear, “Okay, I think we got it, that’s a wrap.” Easiest day of work I’ve ever had.)
There have been other times where lines, immediately recognizable to moviegoing audiences, have come across my microphone, and made me wonder, “How the hell…?” Just a few months ago, in fact, I narrated THE GRADUATE by Charles Webb. Yep, you’re already ahead of me, aren’t you? And c’mon, can you actually imagine hearing anyone say “Mrs. Robinson, you’re trying to seduce me,” without thinking of Dustin Hoffman? Or even, “Elaine, Elaine!” Nope, not a chance. I couldn’t help it, I sounded as much like Hoffman as I possibly could. In that circumstance, it would just be wrong NOT to.
So you can imagine, when approaching a book like FRANKENSTEIN, there would be a certain amount of trepidation about encountering “It’s alive, it’s ALIVE…!” After all, the delivery of it by actor Colin Clive isn’t exactly a paragon of realism, y’know?
But imagine my surprise… that line ain’t in the book.
And I have to say, despite a perverse desire to actually say that line, I loved the way the scene played out – there’s an absolutely perfect reason why it’s not there. This book is absolutely amazing, and trust me, if you’ve never read it, you’ll realize firsthand how good science fiction is supposed to be done. I’m also happy to say that this recording of FRANKENSTEIN is the first of what I hope will be a long line of Brick By Brick books called FIRST EDITIONS. In it, I’ll endeavor to bring to you classics that have stood the test of time, and in such a way that recreates as closely as possible the way they were originally presented. That means there will be no modern translations, no revised texts, no edits whatsoever. What you’ll get will be the author’s original words in their original form.
In the case of FRANKENSTEIN, Mary Shelley’s 1818 text was quite different from the subsequent 1831 edition that ultimately became the standard in print editions today. In the updated version, Victor’s true love Elizabeth became an adopted cousin rather than a distant cousin, so as to avoid any hint of incest. Also, the character of Victor Frankenstein himself was redrawn to be more sleek, more heroic, and less the tragic, deluded man fans of the book first saw upon its debut thirteen years previously. So I’m proud to say this book represents the vision of the author as it originally stood. I hope you enjoy it. And as always, I hope you’ll let me know your thoughts by leaving a comment below.
In the meantime, it’s back to the studio I go, another book calls, and I must answer. And no, one of my favorite movie lines of all time isn’t in this one, but then again, “Bartender, Jobu needs a refill…!” didn’t really spring from a book, y’know?
Thanks for listening,