Isaac Marion’s Warm Bodies is a little different that what readers have come to expect from a zombie novel. It’s a story tinged with sympathy and romance, written warmly, and filled with humor. Bringing the Young Adult novel to the big screen would mean cutting some beautiful prose and streamlining numerous events to fit time constraints, but screenplay writer and director Jonathan Levine knows how to get into R’s head without making the process tedious and knows how to tweak the story without missing Marion’s big point.
For the sake of creating a believable relationship between Julie and R, there are some fairly big changes made to the latter half of Warm Bodies’ storyline when bringing it to the big screen. Purists may not appreciate all or any of the changes, but to create a movie told entirely from the perspective of a zombie rich in thought but barely able to communicate in the real world is a huge achievement, and in Warm Bodies' case, an enjoyable one.
Following are the ten biggest changes I noticed in my screening of Warm Bodies. Feel free to remark on any changes you feel may have been more noticeable. There are many spoilers in the Warm Bodies book to movie comparison. Do not delve in if you want the film to be a surprise.
With the help of a hoodie, R goes from a former businessman to a former unemployed schlub. This actually has less of an effect on his character than viewer’s might guess, but it does allow Levine to throw in a couple of extra jokes.
Music stands out in the film, helping to build the romance as well as transition through time. With R’s collecting habits, music proves to be a firm bonding event for Julie and R in the novel and increasing the musical presence during montages in the film is a great way to show passing time, as well as highlight some excellent music.
Warm Bodies’ setting is a little broader and more realistic. I always thought the idea of cramming people into unsafe structures in the sports arena made for a great visual, but was a little nonsensical. Walling off part of a city and broadening the scope allows for humanity to still seem like they have a fighting chance at survival. Plus, it means the sports dome can be used as another sweet setting.
We see less of the details of the Boney and the Dead's hierarchy. There’s some tough stuff in Warm Bodies and cutting out R’s wife and children and some of the other moments where the Boneys interfere in the airport streamlines the plot and keeps the focus on the moments that matter.
Per’s father becomes a zombie and doesn’t die in a simple construction accident. One might think such a small detail doesn’t matter, but it’s a more significant moment for the character and it helps to flesh out the apathy and deadness his personality becomes as a result of losing his family.
Julie’s backstory changes, too, and the loss of her mom is downplayed somewhat. Her mother’s leaving is mentioned, but her grave is never visited and the gap between Julie and her General father is harder to surmise.
Thanks to Rob Corddry, M provides the film’s big comic relief. In fact, while Marion’s novel has some great one-liners, the movie as a whole offers way more jokes. In a movie where we get a perfect vision of creepy Boneys and what brains look like after being mashed up in someone’s pocket, the added humor is welcome.
After R kills Per, he is done killing as a member of the Dead. This is actually a big change, as he kills a human in a bar fight outside a speakeasy in the book. This change actually makes R more likeable, since he maintains a grip on his changing self and manages not to hurt Julie with his actions for a second time.
General Grigio gets the short stick in the storyline. John Malkovich takes his role as the firm and methodical General pretty seriously, but as the storyline morphs into something else, the character loses the staunch adherence to ideals his book counterpart has. I’m all for not wasting a human life, but it does seem a little too convenient.
In fact, the entire final act of the film is only loosely structured on the novel. From the aforementioned speakeasy and character changes to more of a focus on the battle against the boneys and a near-drowning in a long jump into a pool, the third act of Warm Bodies is fairly different from the book. It all works out, however, and ends on a similar note.
It’s surprising for a movie to follow the book so closely in some ways and to take a different angle in other ways, but somehow Levine pulls it all together with Warm Bodies to create a movie that’s as compelling and enjoyable as the novel it’s based on, without all the extra prose. I’d still probably take Marion’s book and its inspiring vision over the movie, but with the film’s deft humor and interesting romance, the onscreen version has its charms, as well.