Word Count Of Doom

For the introduction to this series, click here.

Meatballs
Novelization by Joe Claro
Scholastic Book Services 1979, 91 pages
Pictures: 7 pages of black and white photos

Finding this book was a fortuitous circumstance, wherein I was walking quickly through a book fair and did an immediate rewind ("frrrrwhippp!") back to a shelf where I saw this slim little paperback sitting forlornly on the shelf. "Meatballs!" it cried out, in a reedy little voice. "Bill Murray! Buy meeeeeeeeee!" How could I resist giving this battered tyke a new home?

It’s beyond deluded to call this loose collection of words, wide margins and seven pages of photos a "novel", particularly when the total page count doesn’t even break three digits. Yet that’s what it boldly proclaims on the front page. It’s much more in tune with kiddie movie novelizations, although I dare any writer to take the screenplay of Meatballs and expand it into an epic 300-page universe of witticisms. Author Joe Claro does the barest minimum of exposition and description between regurgitating, line for line, the dialogue in the script. A sad state of affairs, if you ask me.

Yet, reading through all of Murray’s dialogue instilled in me a fierce desire to actually watch the movie again and hear him say these things, instead of just reading them. Tripper in the book (like pretty much everyone else) is a thin, barely fleshed-out character with no discernable personality. The biggest stretch Claro does is to type in ALL CAPS FOR SEVERAL PARAGRAPHS whenever Tripper is shouting or using the P.A. system. WHICH IS A LOT.

As a memorial to this book, which will soon find its place at the bottom of my trash can, I relate to you its sordid history: it used to be the property of Burbank Elementary, North Central Board of Education. Take it as you will.

Notable lines:

  • Then he licked his lips several times, in the manner of someone who had just eaten three pairs of socks.
  • He seemed to use it as a defense against things that puzzled or troubled him. And everything either puzzled or troubled him. Quite a few things puzzled and troubled him.
  • As they sang and danced, the cheerleaders wielded real tomahawks. They were little tomahawks. But they were tomahawks just the same.


Event Horizon
Novelization by Steven E. McDonald
Tor 1997, 218 pages
Pictures: None. Probably a good thing.

You know, I ask for one little thing, one simple thing that I expect from these novelizations. It’s not a big thing. It’s not too much to ask. But if I’m going to read them, I want them to be bad. Bad in some way, shape or form. Is that too much of a burden on these pseudo-authors to do for me?

It’s no fun if they’re actually well-written, but it turns out that — unexpectedly, believe you me — Event Horizon’s novelization is a peppy little piece of horror that doesn’t deal with a writer going overboard trying to beef up the script with overwrought phrases and descriptions. Instead, McDonald treats the material at face value, taking us at a steady chug through the movie and even splashing some genuine horror on here and there. Since the movie didn’t do much with the characters and their backstories (a gaping weakness of the film), anything that the novelization includes is actually kind of a bonus. Dr. Weir gets special treatment, especially at the beginning, which adds a new dimension to his eventual transformation. No pun intended.

About the worst thing my notes could produce after a few days of reading this in the bathroom (hey, we all have our reading spots, okay?) are two wee little complaints. The first is that McDonald sets up his book into micro-chapters of sometimes two pages each. Quick isn’t the word for it. It’s like many airport novels that people speed-read through in a couple hours and feel satisfied that they’ve done something substantial ("Ooh! I‘m on chapter 98! I must be a brilliant NASA guy now!"). The other nitpick is McDonald’s obvious love of obscure words that are a little above this 4th grade reading material. It’s as if he kept tiptoeing to the line where good description would suddenly fall into pretentious rambling, and pulled himself back from the brink.

The worst offenders I found are listed below… and that’s actually a compliment to this pulp fiction novelization.

Notable lines:

  • The ceiling was his icon, his mandala, so lacking in features that he had discovered that it helped him focus.
  • He opened a cabinet, extracted a box of instant oatmeal, added milk powder, water, salt, and too much sugar, irradiating the compound result in the microwave until it was suitably unappetizing and had developed a texture akin to wet, sweetened sawdust.
  • To Miller’s eyes, the Event Horizon was a dark Industrial Revolution monstrosity, the future as envisioned by Stephenson and Brunel, wrought from iron and powered by coal, a foul juggernaut tearing the heavens apart and polluting the remnants with its effluvium.
  • Cooper was a resourceful cuss, that was for sure.
  • "And the gravity drive goes where no man has gone before," Cooper said, his eyes narrowing. He did not smile.


Judge Dredd
Novelization by Neal Barrett, Jr.
St. Martin’s Movie Tie-In, 1995, 251 pages
Pictures: None.

I’m not quite sure who Neal Barrett Jr. is, although I’m certain I’ve heard his name before. What I do know is that he took his publisher’s assignment to write up a halfway-literate book version of Judge Dredd far too seriously. This is a tiresome 250 pages of a guy taking a thin plot — c’mon, you’ve seen the film — and trying to make it as deep and as self-important as it could be. It comes across as a geek at a circus sideshow, eating whatever bolts and fish heads are thrown in the cage.

I do sympathize about the source material; no one ever nominated Judge Dredd’s script for an Oscar or even for Decent Toilet Paper. But I can’t for the life of me figure out why Barrett couldn’t just tell the story straight, instead of trying to fancy it up. He uses heavy handed tools such as fake book excerpts (that’s rich, a fake book in a fakey book) at the beginning of every chapter, trying in vain to give this story some larger meaning. What’s even worse is that sometimes, for no good reason whatsoever, he’ll just cut ‘n paste from the script and present a whole chapter in that format: CAPITAL LETTER NAMES, and the bare dialogue beneath. He tries to pass this off as "dictated recordings" or some such, but really. If I wanted to read the script, Barrett, I wouldn’t have spent 25 cents on this tome!

Another weird oddity is that Barrett, in his attempt to jigger in "future talk" with his dialogue, rips off A Clockwork Orange’s "droog", a name used quite often. Huh.

I would absolutely love to quote part of the back cover’s description of this movie/novelization: "The hottest superhero to grace the screen since Batman, Judge Dredd comes alive in the futuristic action thriller of the century!" Way to sell it, dude!

  • The stink in the entry was strong enough to gag a goat.
  • It was close to sunset outside, but it was always high noon in the harshly-lit corridors of Mega-City’s Hall of Justice.
  • Dredd glared at the screen. "What the hell do you know?" he said aloud. "You want to see a disturbing probe? Give me a call, I’ll show you a disturbing probe!"
  • The man was made of ice, an iceman with a chunk of iron for a heart!
  • The odor was of flatulence and fear, fury and the sour smell of sweat.
  • Reverend Billy Joe Angel fought the urge to reach beneath his robe and scratch his crotch. That was wrong, that was sin.
  • Death was just there. Death was what you did when you didn’t do life anymore.
  • The raw, animal smell of this woman could bind him tighter than the strongest chain.
  • The odor was strong enough to gag a hooker-droid.

Posted On:

  • 8.11.05

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