5 Great Movies That Were Turned into Terrible Books
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?
E.T. the Extra Terrestrial Turns E.T. into a Perverted Old Man
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.
Total Recall Ruins Everything People Like About Total Recall
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.
Jaws: The Revenge Introduces Magic to the Jaws Universe
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.
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.
The Gremlins Novel Turns the Gremlins into Aliens, for Some Reason
The first Gremlins movie is fondly remembered as another inexplicable oddity of the '80s, like Max Headroom or Ronald Reagan. The film doesn't even attempt to explain where the Gremlins came from, but it's hinted that they're of magical origin: Gizmo is purchased at a store manned by an old man who conforms to every Chinese stereotype ever, and old Chinese men are always selling magical shit to white people in movies. Also, these things replicate when wet and turn into monsters if they feed after midnight, so there's that.
Anyway, like most hit movies, Gremlins spawned a boatload of crappy tie-in merchandise, like trading cards, dolls, a breakfast cereal ...
... a rapper ...
... and, of course, a novelization by George Gipe. Except that, for some reason, Gipe sat down at his desk, looked at the screenplay titled Gremlins that he'd been hired to adapt into a book also called Gremlins, and immediately started writing about ... aliens. From the first chapter:
"Centuries ago on another planet, Mogturmen had set out to produce a creature that was adaptable to any climate or condition, one that could easily reproduce itself, was gentle and highly intelligent."
Don't worry, he doesn't try to fuck Billy's mom.
Turns out this Mogturmen guy is the inventor of the Gremlins and "genetic hero of three galaxies." Already this is starting to sound more like someone's terrible Doctor Who fan fiction than the movie we know and love. The first chapter explains that Mogturmen sent his genetically engineered creations to inhabited planets in a mission to spread peace, like Operation Iraqi Freedom. Unfortunately, the whole thing turned into one big clusterfuck, like Operation Iraqi Freedom.
Apparently, Mogturmen didn't administer that crucial test to see if his creations had the potential to easily spawn large murderous monsters before he started jettisoning them out into space.
The only built-in safety mechanism was a crippling addiction to Disney movies.
So what was Mogturmen's fate? At one point, the surprisingly articulate Gizmo recalls that his creator was punished by the other Mogturmens (Mogturmanses?) before suddenly changing the subject, as if remembering that there might be kids reading this shit. OK, there's no way that dude didn't get castrated. In fact, we can extrapolate from what we know that it must have been his attempt to build himself a new dong that eventually led to the events of Alien.
The rest of the book ditches the space opera crap, but the tone is ruined -- when you watch the movie for the first time, you have no idea what to expect next, since it starts off relatively normal and gets more ridiculous as it goes. If they start the story in space, though, then you're like, "Oh, so they turned into cocoons after eating that chicken. Whatever."
Halloween Reveals That Michael Myers Is Just a Possessed Victim
Halloween is a 10-movie franchise based solely on how goddamn creepy Michael Myers was in that first 1978 film by John Carpenter. For the first time, here was a movie killer who didn't murder people because he wanted money or due to chronically untreated mommy issues, but simply because he was pure evil. He was the perfect boogeyman for the modern era.
So naturally, the novelization's author decided to go ahead and ruin all that.
The book went to press before they bumped up Myers' costume budget.
Let's say you bought this book under the naive impression that it follows the plot of the movie, so you open it expecting to find a description of a suburban house on Halloween night or something like that. Then you look at the first page, and it says:
"The horror started on the eve of Samhain, in a foggy vale in Northern Ireland at the dawn of the Celtic race."
Yes, the book starts thousands of years in the past with the story of a young Irish boy named Enda. Enda murders the king's daughter Deirdre, succumbing to a curse on the druid day of the dead, Samhain, which would eventually become All Hallow's Eve, which would eventually become Halloween. It's always a good sign when the slasher movie novelization you just bought begins with a history lesson.
"Elm Street was named, in 1865, after then Mayor Jonathan James Elm, a descendant of the town's original settlers. During the Prohibition era, Elm Street served as a secret transportation route for alcohol between Al Capone's Chica-"
Flash forward to 1963 -- young Michael Myers' mom confesses to her mother that Michael's been hearing voices, having violent dreams, and wetting the bed.
The next time you're watching one of these movies, please remember that mental image.
Young Michael complains of voices that "tell me to say I hate people," and it's heavily implied that he's actually possessed by the dead boy from the prologue. Turns out Enda's soul was cursed to relive the events of Samhain for all eternity, and now he's slowly taking over Michael's brain:
"It was the voice. The voice stirred up the hatred. It had done so in his dreams, and now it was doing so in real life. It had begun with the strange pictures in his head at night, pictures of people he had never seen -- oh, maybe in comic books or on television, but never in real life."
So basically, sweet innocent Michael Myers is just the victim of some ancient Celtic curse/demon thing. In fact, he's not even the first person in his family to suffer this fate, since it's mentioned that his great-grandfather went through similar problems. Had Michael's mom simply hired a good exorcist, the next nine movies could have been prevented (or the spirit would have moved to another member of the Myers clan, perhaps that famous cousin in Canada).
J.M. McNab writes and podcasts for Rewatchability.com.
Related Reading: You know that trippy light show at the end of 2001: A Space Odyssey? It was totally explained in the novelization. Oh, and did you know Who Framed Roger Rabbit started with a book that featured the titular rabbit murdered via machine gun. All this should be proof that books aren't always better than movies. But if you need more evidence, click here.