Sunday, September 4, 2011

Movie vs. Book: ALTERED STATES


Director: Ken Russell
Cast: William Hurt, Blair Brown, Bob Balaban, Charles Haid, Thaao Penghlis and Drew Barrymore

I don’t want to like Altered States. Paddy Chayefsky disowned the movie because he felt like it went over the top. I haven’t read the book (although after reading Bill’s write-up, I want to) but I’m pretty sure he’s correct because the movie is way over the top. Out of loyalty to the author, I want to hate the movie. But I can’t; in fact, I love this movie.

Altered States was directed by Ken Russell (who also directed the Lair of the White Worm previously reviewed in this column) and introduced William Hurt to movie audiences. He is perfect as Eddie Jessup, a scientist using both sensory deprivation and hallucinogens in an attempt to reach deep into the subconscious and reach the genetic memory of early, pre-historic man. In the process he alters his DNA and physical makeup and starts becoming that pre-historic man in physical form. That part of the movie is very interesting, but really, not enough to make me love the movie as much as I do.



ALTERED STATES by Paddy Chayefsky (1978)

This book was a pleasant reminder of everything I liked about some of the literary fiction of the 1970s. The author challenged himself and the reader by incorporating his theories and viewpoints into the science of the day, and then trying to present that science within the story in a way that supplements the reader's appreciation of the novel rather than undermines it.

This story is science-heavy, and it is necessary to follow the science for an understanding of the action. It is not, however, necessary to truly comprehend the science. The reader merely needs to get a feel for what is happening and Chayefsky recognizes this fact and plays to it perfectly.

The story is written almost like a play, which makes sense considering the author's credentials as a successful playwright. We see the development of the character in stages through specific incidents in their adult life, with no growth established or even hinted at outside of those incidents.

That criticism aside, this is a brilliant piece of science fiction by someone who doesn't write science fiction, and a very good piece of horror fiction by someone who doesn't belong to the horror community.

Four stars out of five