Thursday, March 09, 2006

RETRO TOY FLASHBACK # 33: Movie Novelizations

"Once, under the wise rule of the Senate and the protection of the Jedi Knights, the Republic throve and grew. But as often happens when wealth and power pass beyond the admirable and attain the awesome, then appear those evil ones who have greed to match.

So it was the Republic at its height. Like the greatest of trees, able to withstand any external attack, the Republic rotted from within though the danger was not visible from outside.

Aided and abetted by restless, power-hungry individuals within the government, and the massive organs of commerce, the ambitious Senator Palpatine caused himself to be elected President of the Republic. He promised to reunite the disaffected among the people and to restore the remembered glory of the Republic."

-From the novelization of Star Wars, a "novel by George Lucas." First printing, December 1976; 15th printing August 1977.

I realize it is probably impolitic to say it today, especially because there are certain people (let's call 'em snobs), who will disagree vociferously, but I've always really enjoyed movie novelizations. Some of them aren't merely good, but actually achieve greatness on their own. I would certainly put the Star Wars novel (ghost-written by Alan Dean Foster, allegedly...) in that category.

I remember reading this novelization back in the third grade -- and my mind opening up to a whole new universe. Yes, it was a movie universe, but it helped me fall in love with books and reading, and so also served as a gateway to great literary science fiction.

After reading the novelization of Star Wars, I was onto The Hobbit and Lord of the Rings in sixth grade; Dune in seventh grade; The Martian Chronicles in eighth. And on and on. So I know some people (bitter writers, I think, who didn't get the assignment themselves...) complain that "novelizations" are an example of a semi-literate bankrupt culture, but I totally and completely disagree. If you look across the history of novelizations, many are written with great care by first rate authors.

Another novelization I loved arrived in 1982. Vonda N. McIntyre's glorious interpretation of Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan. Again - in an era before DVD bonus features - the novelization offered fans one of the few opportunities to learn about deleted scenes and background character and story details. This book is a prime example of that. For instance, McIntyre goes into detail about Peter Preston, Scotty's nephew (a fact actually omitted from the film's theatrical cut...) and especially about Lt. Saavik's half-Vulcan/half-Romulan heritage.

Although I believe that McIntyre's approach eventually failed with The Voyage Home...a lackluster read that bore only a passing resemblance to the movie and was loaded with irrelevant subplots, her adaptations of The Wrath of Khan and The Search for Spock were the stuff of magic.

Over the years, I've continued to read novelizations with enthusiasm. The summer before I attended college, I had a great day at the beach devouring Paul Monette's novelization of Predator...a riveting read that included a "new" scene set aboard the Predator's spaceship, which Dutch found in the jungle.

I enjoy other horror movie novelizations too. Dennis Etchison did some amazing work in the early 1980s with the Halloween license, as well as with the John Carpenter movie, The Fog. Again, these books stand on their own as good, satisfying reads even without an accompanying film; ditto for Nicholas Grabowsky's difficult-to-find but eminently worthwhile Halloween IV adaptation. I also read a novelization of the movie Moonraker by Christopher Wood that inspired me to read all the original Ian Fleming novels, and now I'm a huge fan of Fleming's work.

Over the years, I've amassed quite a collection of movie novelizations as well as other published works, and I treasure them for a number of reasons. One, they bring back memories of movies I love; and two - they stoked my love of science fiction and horror, which continues to this day. If you ask me, the best novelizations can compete any day with original fiction.

Any novelizaton fans out there? What's your favorite?


  1. Anonymous9:32 AM

    I used to always read movie novelizations when I was younger. I remember back in 1989, I read all of the novelizations before I saw the movies. I remember reading the Warlock novelization like a year before the movie ever came out! I met Nicholas Grabowsky a couple of years ago and he said he was working on a new novelization of Halloween 5 that would have Rachel be the main girl throughout the story. I don't know whatever became of that. Maybe he couldn't get the license.

    I don't read novelizations so much anymore for a weird reason. As I have gotten older I find reading fiction to be like pulling teeth. I can tear through a non-fiction book like a biography, a history, or a John Kenneth Muir book. I guess to me books are more for learning and movies and TV are for stories. Reading takes a lot of time and if I am going to devote all that time to something, I want to learn something. I know, just another example of how odd I am. Hahahaha


  2. Anonymous11:45 AM

    BACK TO THE FUTURE (1st film) is an incredible novel!!

  3. Anonymous12:43 PM

    I used to have the novelizations of SPACE:1999 (both seasons) - since I was in an area that didn't broadcast the shows, it was the next best thing.

    The Blish adaptations of STAR TREK.

    Earl MacRauch's BUCKAROO BANZAI

    "Jack Martin" (Dennis Etchison) adaptations of VIDEODROME (which helped to clarify things not in the final cut).

    Richard Woodley was an author who practiacally made a living doing movie novelizations. He did a lot of them, but I remember his novelizations of Larry Cohen's GOD TOLD ME TO and IT'S ALIVE.

    Robert H.

  4. Some good memories from novelizations there. I notice that - much like mine (save for Phantom Menace) - a lot of our memories come from the older ones.

    Anyone reading new novelizations?

  5. Lee Hansen3:01 AM

    I have the novelizations two of the Friday the 13th movies and Halloween 2 as well as Mad Max Beyond Thunderdome. Jason Lives: Friday the 13th Part VI is interesting as zombie Jason does in fact get his head shredded by the outboard motor blades. We then are introduced to Martin Voorhees, Jason's father who visits his son's grave and senses he is not in there.

  6. I haven't read the Jason Lives novelization (I didn't know there was one!), Lee, but I'm fascinated that one scene included Jason's father. Recently, I interviewed the director of the film, Tom McLoughlin (who also directed the great Meg Tilly flick from 1983, One Dark Night), but I didn't know to ask him about that. Darn it!

    I also have the Halloween II novelization. I wonder, was Halloween III: Season of the Witch ever novelized?

  7. I know I've got the Star Wars novelisation around here someplace, but the ones I have a fondness for are the Space: 1999 first season ones, as they were the only contact I had with the series for a long time after CBC in Canada finally stopped airing reruns sometime in the late '80s. They were sufficiently popular that the authors who wrote most of them, John Rankine and EC Tubb, were commissioned to write novels with original stories. Tubb wrote the original stories Rogue Planet, Alien Seed, and Earthfall, while Rankine wrote Android Planet and Phoenix of Megaron. Interestingly Earthfall, a "reimagining"/retelling by Tubb of the series premiere "Breakaway" and susequent events, was never published in North America, while Phoenix of Megaron was never published in the UK.

  8. Hi John!

    The heyday of my enjoying novelizations was right before Star Wars came out and pretty much through the end of my college years. I loved the Vonda McIntyre Star Trek books, especially her take of ST2 TWOK and ST3 TSFS. I also enjoyed the Entropy Effect in which Captain Sulu is in the Magellan (I hope I'm not misremembering this) Also of note are the Alan Dean Foster Star Trek Log series which certainly elevated that whole....enterprise.

    The least satisfying are those novelizations in which the author has to pound something out quickly so it's on the shelf when the movie is out. They do it because it's a paycheck but the reading experiance usually leaves me flat.

    Which is why I never cared for the Blish Star Trek books that much or even the 1999 novelizations that I tried to read. On the other hand they are a great collectable if you think of them as trading cards or some other non-literary item! ; - )

    I had great fun and satisfaction as a collector getting the 1999 novelizations from the UK, Italy and Germany (Including the US versions) High points were getting the elusive Earthfall in it's first printing. Low points were reading Earthfall! I even psyched myself up by trying to read Tubbs Dumerest series thinking I had to like his regular SF. Nope, I just don't like Tubb.

    My friend Howard Margolin and I agree the original Battlestar Galactica novel, The Lords of Kobol was one of the best of all novelizations because of Apollos personal log on the death of Serena. It really took an ordinary book and made it something special, better than they did in the actual episode. Walt Simonson brought the old BSG comics up a bit after the show was cancelled and he could do what he wanted with the comic book. I think the novelization writer when he has the time and freedom can really do something special with the material.

    Today I don't too many novelizations, I either read media tie in originals or just plan old SF. Although there is a set of novelizations that's coming soon that I plan on reading as soon as it arrives! : - )

    Thanks for linking my site John! Your the best.

  9. John, I agree with you and Phil that Vonda McIntyre's novelizations of Star Treks II and III were outstanding (especially III, which had 3 chapters of original material bridging the gap between the two movies). Phil is also right about the novelization of the Battlestar Galactica episode "Lost Planet of the Gods" called "The Tombs of Kobol." In fact, I recommended that book to Richard Hatch because of the emotional scenes of Apollo reacting to Serina's death. He was actually surprised to hear those scenes were in there, because he said he would have loved to have played something like that on screen.
    But, some of my favorite novelizations were actually of spectacularly bad movies. Peter David turned the otherwise-embarrassing "The Return of Swamp Thing" into a tremendously entertaining book by adding characters and situations that would be familiar to comics fans.
    Also, Keith DeCandido's take on the first "Resident Evil" movie added backstory and characterization to a script that sadly lacked both, at least as realized on screen. This was an unusual book as well, since it wasn't released until almost 2 years after the film, tying in more with the release of the sequel movie.

  10. Brian Himes2:30 PM

    Oh yes indeady-doo. I read tons of movie novelizations back in the 70s and early 80s. I think I read Star Wars about 10 times before the 70s were over. It was the only way to relive some of the magic of the movie. In the days before the VCR and DVDs, this was the only way I had to relive Star Wars.

    I read all of the Battlestar Galactica novels, the Black Hole novel, Alien, Aliens, etc. You name it. I probably read it. And being the big geek that I am, got picked on because of it. The school bullies destoryed at least 2 copies of Star Wars. After high school I found a mint edition (complete with the pictures inside) at a local used book store. I was overjoyed.

    Then came the VCR and out went the novelizations.