Monday, July 27, 2015

Review: Joss Whedon: The Biography

I generally enjoy Joss Whedon's work. I hesitate to call myself a fan, since I don't like all of his work. For instance, I enjoyed Buffy, but I found Dollhouse too silly. I disliked the fakeness of using Mandarin in Firefly, but I enjoyed the series anyway. But I was curious enough to check out a copy of the Joss Whedon biography from the library, despite it being a major pain in the neck to read, because my library provided the ebook on hoopla, a library ebook provider that cannot seem to get session management right.

The book covers Whedon's early life right until Agents of Shield (which I still haven't gotten around to watching). The early part of the book's very well done, with interesting exposition, and a largely unvarnished picture of a bright and talented, yet unmotivated student muddling through school until he found what he loved. Then a great teacher he respects turns him around, and he embarks on the typical career path of the late 80s: moving back with his parents.

Since he's a 3rd generation TV writer, he did get a leg up on everyone else, but he also got screwed, just like many other talented folks. The story of how he rewrote almost every line on Speed but then was dropped from the credits page is poignant and reflective of how the rules can screw you if you don't know them. The detailed story behind his work on the first Toy Story movie was also fascinating, and I enjoyed the account from both sides (with Whedon the script-writer envious of the animators, while the animators were in turn in awe of his ability to tighten up dialog).

From then on, the book, however, stops being interesting, mostly because almost everything is fairly well known (Buffy, Angel, Firefly, Dr. Horrible's Sing-Along Blog, Dollhouse, Serenity, The Avengers aren't exactly stories you would have missed unless you were living under a rock somewhere). The opportunities for Pascale to shed light on the issues Whedon might have had with Gellar are completely dropped, for instance. (It's quite clear that Gellar isn't in Whedon's inner circle, which considering how often he enjoys using the same staff in different productions means there's something there that's not reported)

The tone of the book also shifts clearly into fan-mode at this point. I fully expected there to be a chapter on how Whedon walks on water in the later portions of the book.

Whedon's in his 50s now, and I'm wondering if it's still too early to pass judgement on his work. In any case, however, this book is not the source to go to for that. It's clearly written too much from a fan's point of view, and has too many holes in it. In any case, Whedon's clearly successful, and well worth following in the future.
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