Wednesday, July 14, 2010

A Brief Introduction to Book of the Movie

I don't like movies.

Let me rephrase: I like some movies, but in general I've just never been able to get into the movie as a storytelling form. I read novels incessantly as a child, at one point averaging over 250 books a year. (No, that is not a typo, and yes, I counted. Don't judge me.) As a teenager I started getting into TV shows more and more. But if I watch a movie, it's almost always to socialize with other people, not because I actually want to see a movie.

It's not that there's anything wrong with movies, if that's what you like. They've just always seemed so short to me. A book has a lot more flexibility in length and pacing, and can reveal a lot more about the story and characters in the narration, while in a movie you pretty much just have what you can see and what the characters say onscreen. (Plus you can't distract people with shiny CGI effects and explosions in a book.) In a TV show, you don't always have one continuous story, but you have a whole lot more time to develop the characters and the universe, just like in a book.

Last month, I got the crazy idea of reviewing Star Wars novelizations, the Original Trilogy radio dramas, and other Star Wars movie adaptations as part of my work for After I wrote a few reviews, I realized how much the subject interested me.

You see, here's the thing about movie novelizations: they're not usually based on the movie. They're based on the screenplay. In fact, it's probably fair to say that, rather than the book being an adaptation of the movie, both the movie and the novelization are adaptations of the screenplay -- and very often aren't working from the same version thereof.

Why is this the case? In a word: money. Movie novelizations are written to capitalize on the movie's premiere and be promptly forgotten. They usually come out a few weeks to several months before the movie, just for people who are too impatient to wait for the premiere to find out what happens. Accuracy is not of the highest importance; getting the movie out quickly is.

Does this make novelizations necessarily bad? Absolutely not. But it does lead to a few trends:
  1. If the screenplay was edited or the actors ad libbed a lot, the novelization can be barely recognizable as the same story and characters from the movie.
  2. If the author is too timid to guess at details that aren't spelled out in the screenplay, they may gloss over scenes (especially action scenes with an attitude I like to call RTFM, or "Remember that from the movie?... good, then I don't have to describe it." Try RTFMing a scene that got cut from the movie and watch hilarity ensue.
  3. The book is almost word-for-word exactly like the movie, but includes some deleted scenes (or scenes invented specifically for the book) and background information that helps expand the universe and characters. This type of novelization is most enjoyable for fans, but often also works as a novel on its own.
  4. The novelization is actually better than the movie. Maybe the movie made some poor changes to the script or used annoying actors, or the extra information in the novel helped clear up plot holes or inconsistencies in characterization. Whatever the reason, it's a novel you'd actually recommend people read instead of watching the movie.
I've never done video reviews before, but I thought it would be a good medium for comparing a movie novelization to the actual movie. My aim with Book of the Movie is not only to explore my bizarre love for movie novelizations, but to help my viewers decide which novelizations are worth reading and which aren't.

Anyway, my first video review, Willow, should be up in a couple of days. Please stay tuned!

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