The Tie-Ins That Bind: Garfield: The Movie by H.S. Newcomb

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The 2004 Garfield movie is one of the most bafflingly hated movies I’ve seen online. It’s not that it’s good. It’s very mediocre, But it’s hardly bad. It’s a bland, generic, ordinary movie that follows basic tropes. And in that regard it’s a perfect adaptation of the beloved but let’s face it very mediocre, one note strip. I can read a month of Garfield and tap out as an adult while I can read a year of Big Nate and lose sense of time.

But Garfield is beloved and I do understand that part of the reason the movie lost people was it failed to deliver even a lot of the basic notes we expected from Garfield. Odie was a normal dog. Jon wasn’t a real loser. Nermal and Arlene are in it in name only. It’s missing the essence of Garfield, Bill Murray’s superb voice work aside. (Murray did the movie for a paycheck, not because he thought one of the Coens wrote it. That was a joke.)

Today, I’m looking at the fix that we got for this, the wildly overwritten movie novelization by the single book writer H.S. Newcomb. (Likely a pseudonym.) If the actual movie was very by the numbers, this is still that but with tons of references to the strip. I called this overwritten. Let me be clear, this runs 200 pages and is probably word count wise on par with an adult novel. We are in for so much padding.

Since the plot is the same and you’re here for if this is worth a read and how it differs, no plot synopsis.

The book basically takes every scene in the movie and adds at least 2 minutes of material to it. Some of it comes in the form of asides. Some of it is extra action. A lot of it is backstory we don’t need. But this is way more than just the movie in print form. It’s an impressive expansion. More than you’d expect from such a simple work.

The big changes come to side characters. In the movie Nermal and Arlene are just there with no personality. Here they are written into their tropes. Nermal is the world’s cutest kitten. Arlene is the love interest. These scenes are okay but they’re damned mechanical.

The book also includes as many lines from the comic as possible. They’re crammed in in every place possible and not one fits. The movie actually got it right opening with I hate Mondays and that was enough. Here it’s cloying.

And that’s what I think this book gives away. How utterly soulless an enterprise Garfield is. By taking the generic movie and retrofitting it with references to the comic it shows how all Jim Davis and his team at Paws Inc. has ever done is create a meme factory. Garfield was built for greeting cards and catchphrases. Not for depth. Garfield is comfort food but it’s the shallowest comfort possible without an actual comic genius like Mark Evanier running things as he did on the actually great show.

There’s no there there to Garfield and a 200 page book is absurd evidence. This didn’t need to be half this long. It’s a grand epic retelling of a mug’s catchphrase. It’s a fascinating read but good? No. Not at all.

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