You've seen the movie—now write the book! | Bleader

Friday, November 18, 2011

You've seen the movie—now write the book!

Posted By on 11.18.11 at 04:15 PM

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Who needs Henry James?
  • Who needs Henry James?
The November-December issue of Film Comment has a wonderful article by Grady Hendrix about that most disreputable of genres, the movie or TV novelization. As Hendrix points out in his piece, the heyday of the novelization was the 1970s, before the advent of home video. Back then, if you wanted to hang onto a favorite movie or TV show, your only option was to pick up one of those cheesy mass-market paperbacks cranked out by miserable hacks and sold at the local drugstore. Much as I love to sneer at people who spent their childhoods devouring books by Ursula Le Guin or Orson Scott Card, I wasn't exactly sitting around reading D.H. Lawrence—the crap literature of my youth tended to be novelizations of stuff like Rocky, Get Smart, Star Trek, or the Planet of the Apes movies. My parents would shake their heads and undoubtedly think, "Well, at least he's reading."

Hendrix's article—which you'll have to track down in print, for the time being—is particularly worthwhile for his cogent analysis of how the novelization has affected movie culture. "[W]hile novelizations are lumpy, ungainly, often unread, and definitely unloved, they were also a necessary step in the evolution of movies from a top-down, one-way communication from the studio to the audience, into a two-way street in which the audience feels a sense of ownership over a fictional property." Without the novelization, we probably wouldn't have the galaxy of Star Trek or Star Wars fan fiction that have wrested the movies' characters and landscape away from their creators.

Novelizations are also fascinating because, as Hendrix shows, they often diverge from the movie. Because the books were always published simultaneously with the film's release, they were often based on earlier versions of the screenplay and included scenes that never made it into the film. "Imagine an alternative universe in which the killings in Halloween are the result of a druidic curse cast by the god Muck Olla," writes Hendrix. "Or in which E.T. the Extraterrestrial develops a sexual fixation on Elliott's mother." For that matter, writers would invent all sorts of stuff to fill up the average 50,000-word novelization. "To duplicate the moment in Gremlins 2 when the eponymous beasties attack the projection booth and seemingly destroy the film, the novelization has its author 'kidnapped' by gremlins who interrupt the story for a two-page political monologue."

I can't honestly say that Hendrix makes me want to track down any of the several dozen books he discusses—there are too many D.H. Lawrence novels I haven't read. But his article does shine a light on books that I'd forgotten were there. Possibly because, like cockroaches, shining a light impels them to scurry away.

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