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"The Ruins": Hopeful Fodder for a Fright Film

Here's the thing about Scott Smith's "The Ruins": it's too much book for so little plot. Not surprising, since in an interview he did for Powells.com Smith mentions having abandoned a several-thousand-page novel that had gotten away from him prior to starting in on the much smaller story of tourists in Mexico who get themselves stranded on a hill covered with a sentient, and malicious, vine.

Since nothing much ever gets explained in later parts of the novel anyway, it's easy to wish it had been happy to remain a novella. But of course the novella is a much more difficult animal to publish, not to mention adapt for the big screen. Yes, ladies and gentlemen, the killer vine will be coming to a theater near you sometime in 2008. And here's where I get just a wee bit excited, because "The Ruins" might just make for a better film than a book.

It's not as suspenseful on the page as it should be (unless you consider waiting for characters to die off to be a kind of suspense), especially after the mine shaft is left in the dust, but I won't spoil the fun of that here. My only point is that enough false movie-theater scares might bring to the surface some of the tension that remains buried deep in the novel. That could be a good thing.

The writing in "The Ruins," at the sentence level, is great, sometimes staggering. And anyone who's read Smith's novella (hey, he can keep it short when he wants to!) called "The Egg Man," which as far as I know has only appeared in issue #20 of the fiction journal "Open City," knows that he has a unique ability to render the absurd in palpably realistic prose. (That story is about a man who wakes up one morning and shits an egg; how can you go wrong from there?)

I guess I come down just about the reverse of Stephen King, who liked "The Ruins" a lot, except for the ending, as I seem to recall from one of his Entertainment Weekly columns. I thought the ending bought back some credibility that had been dwindling for the last hundred pages or so. I'm not about to give it away here, but it's the one thing I hope they get right in the film version. My fear is that the people involved in the adaptation (Ben Stiller is one of the producers) will at some point realize they don't have as much substance to hang their movie on as they thought they had and decide to play it for camp. Can you see me shuddering?--Pete Mesling


Posted by Pete on May 9, 2007 11:55 PM
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**MINOR SPOILERS

I think it is interesting to see how much attention "The Ruins" being made into a movie is getting. Filmfodder is not the first to talk about it. Personally I think if the movie sticks true to the book, then it's going to be a seriously depressing movie, considering there are no hero's. The end of the book left me dissapointed. I felt like none of the characters really tried to save themselves and just sat around whining and waiting to die. The killer vine concept could have been cooler had the vines actually done all the killing, but then again it's not everyday that vines instill so much paranoia into a group of college kids. The good thing the book has going for the movie, is that it sets it up for a sequel....or maybe that's not such a good thing

-- Posted by: Stacey at May 10, 2007 2:16 PM

Stacey brings up an interesting point about the characters being whiney and so forth. I also found it difficult to develop any strong sympathies for them, but this is exactly why I felt the ending worked (again, I don't want to give too much away, since much of the novel's power is dependent on the reader's not knowing what to expect).

Also, I definitely agree that the vines could have been given more to do (same with the stoical Mayans). And Matthias! Boy, did I want him to turn out to be something more than he was.

-- Posted by: Pete at May 10, 2007 2:27 PM

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