When I was growing up in the 1980s and the 1990s, I was obsessed by movies. And as an old fart almost 40, nothing much has changed. But what has changed is how we engage with the filmmakers and the product they create to entertain us, the masses. We have online and digital magazines, websites devoted to the smallest or broadest element film business, blogs, podcasts, more and more documentaries on the world of movies and DVD and Blu-Ray special features.
When I was a much younger version of myself, 60kgs lighter, I got my movies news, trivia and reviews from two places: 1) the monthly or bi-monthly magazines I use to buy on my way home from school, and 2) the movie tie-in novelisation. And this is the very thing I would like to talk to you, humble reader out there, if you indeed are out there and I am not merely shouting into the storm.
There may be those of you out there, imaginary or not, who might not know what I mean by a novelisation. Well, in the simplest terms, it is the opposite of the book to screen process, where a film in novelised in book form. Why would you want to read those, you may be asking? Wouldn’t you just watch the movie again. Well, yes, but stay with me for a second and I’ll explain.
In the late 1970s and the 1980s when the blockbuster film business was flooding everyone’s fragile little brains with marketing for these massive tentpole films, two such popular marketing produces that filled that blank space in certain retail outlet where the movie soundtrack album and the movie tie-in novelisation. It was indeed a marketing tool to catch then eye and influence you to buy a ticket to there cinematic three ringed circus, but that doesn’t mean they where just a market device. These books had merit
Some of them where badly written, there is not doubt about that, but some where written so well that they surpassed the film on which it was based. For instance, the novelisation of the 1977 film Orca: The Killer Whale, itself a rip-off of Jaws, was not only better than the movie, it was better than the original Jaws novel written by Peter Blenchley.
But the novelisations grabbed my teenage imagination in another way. To make sure the novelisation is out in bookstores as part of the marketing campaign, the writer hired by studios wrote the novel based on the screenplay and not the finished movie before time and budgetary constraints and the edited process excised whole sections of the story. As a result, the novelisations often had story elements that the film version didn’t have. So if a story element confused you, plot holes confounded you or a characters motivations seemed wrong or flimsy, there was a good chance they are may sense in the book version. The story ends up a more complete one, an in some ways better.
I still remember my head exploding when I read the novelisation of Terminator 2: Judgement Day by Randal Franks. It contained inner monologs that the film couldn’t do and had a more of the future war than the quick visual throwaway reference in the finished film. And more T-1000. I thought I had discovered a treasure. I quickly started to buy, borrow and steal every novelisation I could find. Before the digital age took over with DVD, Blu-Ray, VOD and podcasts, this is where I could my do dose of deleted scenes, and they came with fully rounded out characters to boot.
These books where my special features. And it was reading these books, many for films I owned already, that I began to understand how films where made, especially relating to story. And how many pages of story could be told on screen in a 90 second sequence. This understanding was completed when I started buying and reading scripts.
And all these years later, I still buy them. And I read them with great affection. Just this year, I read novelisations for a handful of Doctor Who episodes, classics like The Last Starfighter and Ladyhawk, three Star Trek titles, two Star Wars titles, and a novelisation for the original V tv series. And recent released films are not immune to the novelisation. Films like The Nice Guys, Kong: Skull Island, and Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets all graced my reading list.
I wish, in part, that the movie tie-in novelisation was still highly regarded, even just for a marketing tool, because the richness of the tales being told on screen seem more real to me if I can relive the story and learn more about the story in book form. But maybe that is just me.
Some of the best movie tie-in novelisations:
Star Wars by George Lucas (and Alan Dean Foster)
Return of the Jedi by James Kahn
E.T. The Extra-Terrestrial by William Kotzwinkle
The Omen by David Seltzer
Star Trek 2: The Wrath of Kahn by Vonda McIntyre
Raiders of the Lost Ark by Campbell Black
2001: A Space Odyssey by Arthur C Clarke
V by A.C.Crispin
Orca by Arthur Herzog
Gremlins by George Gipe
Alien by Alan Dead Foster
Star Trek by Alan Dead Foster
Star Wars: The Force Awakens by Alan Dead Foster.
The Last Starfighter by Alan Dean Foster