Friday, September 15, 2006

AvP, FvJ, book v. movie?

Most of the time, as any good reader knows, when a movie is based on a book, the book is inevitably better.

The book has better pacing, a more expansive story, more character and background and everything that comes from not having to cram 450 pages into two hours of screen time.

Think of "Jurassic Park." The book is an interesting, in-depth sci-fi tale filled with about a dozen major characters and several sideplots.

The Stephen Spielberg movie is an entertaining but shallow thrill ride best known for its then-groundbreaking special effects, and not for any of the six or so cardboard cutouts who populate it.

The movie is also cleaned up and reworked enough that Michael Crichton's sequel novel, "The Lost World," essentially reads more like a sequel to the movie than the original book. (And like most sequels, book and movie are both pretty bad.)

Or look at "The Relic," one of my favorite books. Same thing. The Preston & Child novel is detailed, science-filled, with many characters. The movie is a shallow, entertaining thriller with many major book characters erased entirely and others meeting completely different fates.

As I said in my HorrorTalk review, there's no way they could film the book sequel, "Reliquary," as a movie sequel.

But what about the books written as movie tie-ins? That is, the ones where the book is supposed to mimic the movie and not the other way around?

I bring up the subject because, on a whim, I ordered the novel based on "Snakes on a Plane."

Now, the movie is an entertaining, shallow thrill ride (notice a pattern here?) with a few major characters, a handful of minor ones and no depth whatsoever.

(Doesn't mean it wasn't fun. Right?)

So, my limited experience with movie tie-in books is basically the tie-in to "Aliens," my favorite movie, written by sci-fi great Alan Dean Foster. And you know what, it adds to the experience. For starters, it's based on the original script, which included many scenes not available in theatrical versions of the videotape (which is how I saw the movie back in the mid-to-late-'80s). Second, it does what I expected, add a bit of depth and character to the Marines, including the cannon fodder ones who get almost no screen time in the film.

Thus, I figured during that whim that the "Snakes on a Plane" novel would do the same thing, lend a bit of depth to the characters you get emotionally involved in without really knowing anything about.

Well, I was wrong. The book sucks. I skim-read most of it last night, and it just does nothing for me.

For one thing, and maybe it's the medium, the book completely fails to capture the excitement of the movie. "Aliens," for all the bluster of its combat scenes, is an action movie that relies on tension. Tension you can build in a book. Hell, you can probably build pulse-pounding excitement in a book (Matt Reilly can!), but this is a movie about MOTHERfreakin' snakes on a MOTHERfreakin' plane, and there's just no excitement to the man-vs.-snake angle of the book.

It was interesting to see some of the details - like the names of various snakes, and some of the little character touches I enjoyed so much in Foster's "Aliens" book.

But the book committed another cardinal sin: It added too much. Maybe that stuff was in the script at some point, but Lord knows, the book actually bogs down in the subplots and character development, with whole chapters (it feels like) devoted to every little bit of backstory of a character who's just going to die in a few minutes anyway.

I realize this sounds like a hypocritical argument, given that I generally, and admittedly, prefer books with their character development to movies with their stock characters. But the thing is, with this book, compared with the movie it's based on, it just doesn't feel natural.

Maybe Alan Dean Foster is a better writer than Christa Faust (despite her solid resume, including a collaboration with Poppy Z. Brite), but the book just feels like it took a 50-page script and had to flesh it out to 300 pages, whereas Foster's book isn't much thicker than the script it's based on, maybe 200 pages or so.

I guess when there isn't much to the movie, an author has to start making stuff up. "Aliens" had plenty of stuff cut out for Foster to use and embellish, whereas I suspect "SoaP" is exactly what it is. Quick, nasty and fun. The book winds up being long, dull and not really great.

Too bad. I was hoping for more. Guess I'll just have to wait for the DVD.

1 Comment:

jin said...

I always wanted to read the pulp fiction book that came out after the film. Only because I heard that it tells you what was in the briefcase. I always wanted to know exactly what was in there. LOL! time I'm at B&N I'll have to scan it!