Top 10 Novelizations That Are Actually Worth Reading
If someone turns a book into a movie, no one bats an eye. It's such an accepted part of the artistic world that of the nine films nominated for best Picture at the last Academy Awards, six of them were based on previously written works. However, turning a movie into a book is usually frowned upon quite deeply. Partly it's because the cheap paperbacks are rushed out by hacks so the studio can make a few extra merchandising dollars, and part of it is because it usually feels as if the movie is trying to fake some kind of greater artistic legitimacy with the weight of the printed page.
We're addicted to these novelizations, and have dozens of them. They get their own section at Half-Price Books and it's rare for us not to walk out with at least on per trip. Today we salute these maligned creatures of literature.
Buffy, like Star Wars, suffers from a glut of bad books trying to keep alive something great that inarguably went to its final rest long ago. Really, between some of the novels they've put out and Joss Whedon's ridiculous excuse to live out sexual fantasies with his female stars in comic book form, we're almost to the point where we deny ever watching the show.
One bright spot for the books, though, was the entire last season condensed into a single, Atlas Shrugged-sized novel. The last season was nowhere near as good as the third or fifth ones, but it's a fair read that lays out much of the Buffyverse in clear, concise bits.
This is on here merely for having the balls to exist. The film where our childhood self fell head over heels hopelessly in love with Anna Chlumsky was actually based on a novel called Taste of Blackberries by Doris Buchanan Smith. Rather than just slapping the movie poster on the cover of the original book and saying, "The novel that inspired the hit movie," they actually had someone rewrite the damn thing to better match the film adaptation. Also, a look at the Amazon comments reveals that apparently no one knows this was a movie.
On a similar note, brilliant sci-fi author Piers Anthony was given the job to adapt Total Recall to novel form. He does a really bang-up job, it's a perfectly wonderful adventure that bears the quality of his original work... but again, it was a movie already based on a book, the short story "We Can Remember it for You Wholesale" by Philip K. Dick. Our theory is that stuff like this happens because of some weird desire of Hollywood to deny that Philip K. Dick ever existed, but still make millions of dollars off his work.
Orca was panned as a film when it came out because people called it a rip-off of Jaws, which is a fair argument that doesn't bring up that Orca is still a pretty good nature-gone-mad scarefest. The weird thing is... not only is the novelization good, we think it's better than the book Jaws was based on. A lot of the stupid crap that they cut out of the film version of Jaws like the mafia connection and Ellen Brody boinking Hooper kind of bogs down the book. By contrast, Orca is a lightening fast pulp tale that has nothing but adventure and loads of blood.
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When you think about the movie Gremlins for a second, it doesn't make any sense in the slightest. Nothing even remotely resembling an explanation for Mogwai or their evil mutated forms ever shows up in either film. If water was the main reproductive element for a species on a planet that is covered in the stuff, why aren't we neck deep in Gizmos?
Well, Gipe laid out the fact that the species was actually alien in origin, and even gave the reader insight into the Gremlin mindset with conversations between Gizmo and Stripe. We won't say it gives a lot of depth to the story, it's still just a little Christmas horror tale, but it does go to some lengths to rationalize something that is a solid ten on the Huh? scale.
Novelizations aren't just limited to movies of course, but adapting a comic book where you can just show people guys in tights punching other guys in tights seems weird. Most of the time it is, but Roger Stern put together an absolutely enthralling account of the death of Superman, the war between his successors, and his ultimate return.
Though almost none of the stories in the book are considered canon anymore, it's still chocked full of all kinds of back stories and mythology. Whereas in a comic space limits you to reference another issue when a point that a reader might be lost comes up, Stern goes full-on exposition in a way that resembles nothing so much as Tolkien's Silmarillion.
Back in 1974, José Ramón Larraz made a softcore lesbian vampire flick about two immortal women who lured men to their castle in order to kill them in blood orgies. The only reason we'd ever heard of it was because it was filmed at the Oakley Court, the location where they shot Rocky Horror.
Well, it made an impression on Tim Greaves because he set out of his own volition to write a novelization almost 30 years later. If possible, the book is positively x-rated, short, and one of the best vampire novels we've ever read.
You might not expect much out of a novelization of a video game, but we've mentioned time and time again how Jeff Rovin took one of video game history's most famous mythologies and actually made it ten times better. Rather than having to win a certain number of tournaments, the Mortal Kombat contest is actually a ruse to use the souls of great warriors to open a portal to Outworld. Baraka gets to live up to his name and serves as a high priest to Shao Kahn.
Sure, there are some changes that might be hard to deal with. Scorpion is actually his son sharing his body with his father's soul in order to reap revenge on Sub-Zero. The roles of Liu Kang as a monk and Kung Lao as a member of the White Lotus are reversed, but otherwise we really wish that Ed Boon and John Tobias had taken their cues from Rovin as far as the direction they should head storywise. At the very east, he might've made a good consultant for the game series.
Brief story, we didn't see Star Wars until we were a teenager, but we'd seen Empire and Jedi a hundred times. Our dad had managed to record the second and third movies on VHS, but had missed the first one. That's OK, we had the book.
So, when people were watching Jabba confront Han at Mos Eisley and learning of the awesome mustache that was Biggs Darklighter, we'd already seen it in our heads because the novel laid it out with all the brilliance of one of the finest minds in sci fi (Though it was George Lucas's name on the cover Foster was the man behind it). Even better, Foster took unused ideas and crafted the non-canon, but really freakin' good Star Wars sequel Splinter of the Mind's Eye that is even more fully his. Both are highly recommended.
It may seem biased to give Foster the top two slots in the list, but he totally deserves it. His novelization of Alien is the only entry on this list that actually tops the movie that birthed it. Considering that Alien remains one of the most powerful and influential sci fi and horror films ever made, that is saying something.
Like with Star Wars, Foster included a wealth of deleted scenes seamlessly into the novel, and also explored the nature of the stasis tubes and dozens of other minor bits of incidental wonder. We've read this book to tatters, and only watched the movie four or five times. That should give you an indication of just how talented Alan Dean Foster is.
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