In the days before home video, fans who wanted to relive their favorite films were able to do so through the wonder of movie novelizations. Or they would have done so, if those books weren't hastily written cash-ins based on early versions of the screenplay that, on top of everything, often added totally insane subplots seemingly designed to make you hate the original movie.
These authors were being asked to produce a full novel based on someone else's screenplay, featuring characters they didn't create and probably didn't give a shit about, knowing that nobody at the studio was likely to ever read it. Why wouldn't they completely tank the job in the most hilarious ways possible?
Steven Spielberg's beloved E.T. has remained a wholesome pop culture icon despite appearing in exactly one movie 30 years ago (the Amblin logo doesn't count). The character truly encapsulates the feeling of childlike wonder. Who wouldn't want E.T. to be their best friend as a kid? Answer: You wouldn't. Not after reading the novelization.
E.T. the Extra Terrestrial in His Adventures on Earth by William Kotzwinkle adds details not seen in the movie, starting with the fact that E.T. is 10 million years old. And, as a fully developed adult, he of course gets sexually frustrated.
Hey, ever notice that E.T. has no junk down there? Wonder where -- oh dear God.
We're confident that this is a prime example of the author saying, "Eh, they're not going to read this shit anyway," and just seeing what he could get away with. Thus, Kotzwinkle's E.T. is a book rife with references to sexuality -- everything from Elliott's mother fearing her children's burgeoning sexual maturity to the totally unnecessary and disturbing detail that Elliott's former principal had been "a sexual offender, retired early after several private incidents in the supply closet became public." We are not kidding about any of this.
But the worst part is that E.T. himself is not above being corrupted by this novel -- Kotzwinkle conveys the alien's inner monologue, and guess what -- he has the hots for Elliott's mom. E.T. refers to her as a "goddess, the most beautiful thing he'd ever seen." To be fair, this plotline was filmed for the movie and ultimately cut, but the novel goes into disturbing amounts of detail regarding E.T.'s obsession over Mary, whom he affectionately calls "the willow-creature":
"How ironic it was that the willow-creature, the lovely Mary, pined for her vanished husband while in a closet, close at hand, dwelt one of the finest minds in the cosmos."
He then uses the Speak & Spell to invent sexting.
E.T. watches Mary while she sleeps and kisses a framed photo of her, and when Elliott puts an ailing E.T. in the shower, we get the most horrifying revelation of all:
"The water came on, soaking Elliott and E.T. The aged voyager shook his head as the water hit. Ah, yes, the shower, where the willow-creature dances."
Yeah, so it starts to border on serial killer shit at that point.
"To love her, I must become her."
Strangely, not only was it not necessary to devote an entire landfill to storing the unsold copies of this book, but Kotzwinkle even penned a sequel with the assistance of Spielberg, who declared himself a huge fan of his work. This is yet more evidence that it's a good thing E.T. only appeared in one movie 30 years ago.
The main thing that prevents the original Total Recall from being just another shitty generic action movie is the ambiguity -- you're never really sure if Douglas Quaid's (Arnold Schwarzenegger's) adventure is actually happening or if it's all the result of a memory implant gone haywire. The film includes subtle hints that the entire thing is a dream, but it never makes it obvious, leaving the audience puzzling over whether Quaid is a true hero or some bored guy sleeping in a futuristic beauty salon chair. It's that ambiguity that keeps us coming back to this movie over and over again. OK, that and "the triplets."
Sorry, we meant "the twins."
That's Total Recall the movie; Total Recall the novel is another story. Actually, it's the same story, just a whole lot dumber. Either the novelization's author intentionally decided to crush the thing that made the movie special or he was just tragically bad at being vague about the crucial "Is it a dream or reality?" dilemma. For starters, after "Quail" (Quaid's original name in the script before Dan Quayle ruined it for everyone) has a fight with his "dream girl," Melina, we get this passage:
"... no prepackaged dream would have included that scene with Melina, where instead of fulfillment he had received a painful setback. Only reality did that kind of thing to a man!"
That's not an inner monologue, by the way -- that's the book's narrator clumsily doing away with any mystery the story might have had, basically just to say "Women, am I right?" Then, if that wasn't clear enough, we get this line after Quaid spits out the pill that is meant to bring him out of the dream:
"But this wasn't the end of the dream! This was the confirmation of the Mars reality!"
In this version it's a suppository, though.
You can tell it's exciting! Because every sentence ends in an exclamation point! The novel even goes out of its way to point out that Melina is a model, thus explaining why Quaid saw her face on a monitor before the "dream" started, simply to quash any last trace of incertitude that may be left. And then there's the famous ending: In the movie, Quaid and Melina triumphantly gaze upon the Martian landscape as the image fades to white, and it's up to the audience to decide whether Quaid is in some kind of coma or the two of them are about to have passionate Martian crater sex. In the novel, not so much:
"Quail cast the specter away. He took Melina in his arms and kissed her robustly. He was through with dreaming; reality was much better."
"And then he saw her real boobies and sexed her with his real penis. For real."
The most baffling part is that the movie was already based on a short story by Philip K. Dick, so we're not sure why they didn't just reprint that in size 72 font and call it a book.
When discussing Jaws: The Revenge (the third sequel to Steven Spielberg's killer shark extravaganza), scholars seem to agree that it did exactly one thing right: Sure, it's a terrible movie in almost every aspect, but at least it didn't explain that the shark eats people because of a supernatural voodoo curse.
The same thing can't be said about the novel.
"This time, it's mystical!"
The even-more-terrible Jaws: The Revenge novelization doesn't just shit on that particular movie (which would be like going on a used toilet without flushing first), but on the entire franchise -- it indirectly suggests that when Chief Brody and Quint were hunting a savage force of nature in the first film, they might have actually been battling a wizard who was remote-controlling that shark with his mind. Which is a perfectly fine premise for a motion picture, now that we think about it, just not this one.
Admittedly, the novel didn't have a lot to work with. The movie's central plot concerns a great white shark following Chief Brody's widow, Ellen, to the Bahamas, where she's visiting her son Mike after her other son was killed by a different shark ... or possibly the same shark, it's not really clear.
Universal Studios Florida
Jaws: The Ride had a more cohesive plot.
While it didn't really make sense that a shark would have a vendetta against a particular set of humans in the first place, author Hank Searls carried on the great literary tradition of saying "Oh, fuck it," then writing something even more ridiculous. Searls' version of the events includes an evil witch doctor named Papa Jacques who seeks revenge against the Brody family. We learn right off the bat that Papa Jacques "hates Michael," and the novel heavily implies that the witch doctor is able to enter a trance and control a great white shark to attack the Brodys:
"It was one of Michael Brody's shirts, stolen by a devotee from his washerwoman's line that day. The houngan fingered his shark's-tooth necklace, sent his mind beneath the sea, and went into a trance himself."
The most frightening part is how much sense all of this makes with the movie. How did a creature with the mental capacity of a fetus know to target a specific family? Because magic, of course. On the other hand, the fact that this is a universe where witches exist would probably explain much of Jaws 3-D.
And Mario Van Peebles' accent.