Yeah, But the Book's Way Better

Jon Foro on January 25, 2018

We're accustomed to movies based on books. It's no surprise; outside of comic book heroes, CGI dinosaurs, and rootin' tootin' space cowboys, what's a better bet for box-office success than a classic or proven bestseller? This year's collection of book-based films is no different and almost too big to enumerate, but here are a few: A Disney-fied adaptation of Madeleine L'Engle's A Wrinkle in Time featuring Oprah Winfrey and Reese Witherspoon; Steven Spielberg's take on Ernest Cline's hit "cult classic," Ready Player One; Clint Eastwood's latest blue-filtered attack on moral relativism, The 15:17 to Paris; Annihilation, based on the first volume of Jeff VanderMeer's grim, original, and exhilarating Southern Reach Trilogy. Even Winnie-the-Pooh gets the Hollywood treatment in 2018, with Ewan McGregor as a live-action Christopher Robin.

Books-based films are often accompanied by "Movie Tie-In" editions retrofitted with new jackets featuring handsomely airbrushed movie stars and the assuring imprimatur, NOW A MAJOR MOTION PICTURE. But there's another kind of tie-in, one usually found in supermarket spinner-racks or airport kiosks specializing in mints and magazines. These aren't books to be read before you see the movie, because these books had no reason to exist without the movie. These are books for those who needed more after leaving the theater or switching off the TV: more Six Million Dollar Man, more Space 1999, more Gorgo, more...

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Battlestar Galactica, "The greatest space epic ever—from ABC-TV and Universal by Glen A. Larson and Robert Thurston"

For a generation of 12-year-olds power-mad with dreams of Force mumbo-jumbo, 1978's Battlestar Galactica defined appointment television. This serial about a "rag-tag fugitive fleet" in search of a legendary haven—planet "Earth"—had just about everything: space dogfights, space robots, and a thinly veiled space-variant of the F-word. Do you know why there was a third Cylon cyborg in every Raider saucer? To break deadlocks. Even in deep space, bureaucracy is our enemy.


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Porky's by Ron Renauld, based on the screenplay by Bob Clark: "With action photos from the movie!"

A classic late-night cable TV Bildungsroman, Porky's follows a group of Florida teenagers on a mission to "become men," in the parlance of its early '80s release. Nominally an oversexed comedy in the same vein as Revenge of the Nerds and Losin' It, events take a dark turn when eponymous nightclub owner "Porky" steals their prostitute funds and dumps the boys in the Everglades, hospitalizing one. In their quest for satisfaction, the boys achieve true manhood when they sink the club of ill-repute in the same swamps—a climax worthy of The Fall of the House of Usher. This novelization, as I imagine it, adds a layer of Faulknerian Gothic to this gritty tale of vengeance and virginity.


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Man from Atlantis by Patrick Duffy, "Star of the Hit 70s TV Show"

Before he became the dreamy dreamer of TV's prime-time potboiler, Dallas, Patrick Duffy was Man from Atlantis, a web-footed Super Man and the lone survivor of the legendary sunken city. Unknown to most, however, was the scope of his talent and ambition. Obviously no one could better understand the motivations and  psychological complexities of a gilled hunk than Duffy, and confident in this knowledge, he chose to pen this novel himself. It begs the question, but the question goes begging: How much of Man from Atlantis is autobiography?


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Howard the Duck, "A novel by Ellis Weiner based on a screenplay by Willard Hayek & Gloria Katz"

LucasFilm's bizarre adaptation of this cult comic featuring a crass, wise-cracking waterfowl is remembered best—when it's remembered at all—as a box office disaster, the first indication of George Lucas's fallibility that later torched happy childhood memories in the shape of Jar Jar Binks. But despite its source material, this book has earned a cumulative 4.4-star review from its six Amazon reviewers, with "underrated" and "far superior to the movie" being common sentiments.  Then again, this book was based on "a screenplay," which is perhaps not "the screenplay."


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Many questions arise when watching Zardoz. Why "Brutal Exterminator" Sean Connery lift his outfit from Vampirella's wardrobe? Is this red one-piece-clad Zed, who hijacks Zardoz—a giant, flying, prophetic stone head—the original Stone Temple Pilot? Why couldn't anyone figure out what "Zardoz" means and short-circuit the dystopian regime? (Hint.) Boorman—who directed this 1974 release that earned back its $1.57-million budget plus an extra $230K—obviously agreed, and so authored this companion.


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Staying Alive, "A Novel by Leonore Fleischer from the screenplay written by Sylvester Stallone and Norman Wexler based upon characters created by Nik Cohn"

It's six years after Saturday Night Fever and Tony Manero is still dancing, pursuing his Broadway Dreams with less body hair, velour headbands, and hips that just can't, just won't quit. Either the world changed suddenly in 1983, or John Travolta and director Sylvester Stallone badly overestimated the potential of a major studio film apparently based on Jazzercise; the answer is probably in this book. A curious side-note: Manero and his outfits strangely recall another Stallone movie character who originally appeared the year before: John Rambo.


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Buck Rogers in the Twenty Fifth Century: "The Supreme Space Spectacular from Universal!"

Wait. We learned above that Battlestar Galactica was the "greatest space epic ever" from Universal. Did Buck Rogers supersede Galactica when it appeared in 1979, just one year later? Buck Rogers did have a few things going for it: [R2-D2] Twiki, a diminutive robot sidekick [who speaks in a charming series of beeps and boops] whose signature line is the charming "bee-dee bee-dee bee-dee"; his computer companion [C-3PO] Theopolis, who could translate [any language in the galaxy] Twiki's noises for the team; and in a couple of episodes, [Yoda] Odee-x, a mischievous leprechaun cum Papa Smurf who speaks in inverted koans and shoots a blue "force" from his eyes and fingertips on command.

But I think we know which epic reigns "supreme": Howard the Duck.

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