Wednesday, April 15, 2009

Tie-In Stupidity

Film tie-ins are stupid, but they're an unalterable fixture in our commercial world. At least since Star Wars, no blockbuster family movie has been complete without a collectible toy, soft drink container, breakfast cereal, line of clothes or jewelry, video game, etc., etc., etc.

Sometimes I pity the suckers who are taken in by this stuff, like the kids who just had to have all the crappy trinkets tied in with the Twilight movie. At other times, I have to check my own desire to grab a piece of the memorabilia. I'm proud to say I have (mostly) resisted the temptation, even refusing the free poster I was entitled to after waiting in line at Borders for my release-day copy of Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows.

My greatest vulnerability, however, is the book tied in with a movie. If a movie is based on a book, and I know I'm going to watch it, I will often buy the book and read it first. Sometimes, if the book is based on the movie - a novelization of the screenplay - I'll read that too. Diane Duane's novelizations of the 1980s Star Trek films beguiled many of my teenaged hours, thrilling me with daring concepts that weren't even in the films. I was probably not even a teen when I read William Kotzwinkle's novelization of E.T., yet I still relish the memory of the alien's-point-of-view passages in that book and how they admiringly described Dee Wallace's character as having "a nose like a based-in Brussels sprout."

I have even bothered to review some film-tie-in novels, such as Millions (though whether it is a novelization of the film is debatable) and The Amazing Compendium of Edward Magorium (though it is only loosely connected to Mr. Magorium's Wonder Emporium). I have also discovered some wonderful books after enjoying the movies based on them, though admittedly my reviews of those books may have been colored by memories of the films.

For example, a sharp-eyed reader had to correct me when I incorrectly gave "Luke" as the name of the main character in The Witches, a name revealed in the film but not in the book. Likewise, I had to step carefully in reviewing The Neverending Story because the movie had made a strong impression on my when I was a child, but I only discovered the book as an adult. Judging by how awfully some book-to-film adaptations turn out, it's probably a good policy that I read the book first. Otherwise, I might never have bothered after seeing the movie version of, say, Five Children and It; or, I might have felt let down by the spareness of the book compared to the souped-up glitz and glamor of the film, as in the ongoing Chronicles of Narnia movies.

But the full extent of the stupidity of movie/book tie-ins cannot be appreciated until you behold a book adapted from a movie that was, in turn, adapted from a book. The first time I noticed this phenomenon it had to do with Planet of the Apes. The original book by Pierre Boullé inspired a series of movies and TV programs a generation ago; Tim Burton filmed a 2001 remake; and a novelization of that screenplay was then published and sold alongside Boullé's original novel, to the confusion of would-be readers.

This is commercial stupidity at its most staggering. But the same kind of monkey-business is still going on. Recently I spotted a DVD of the movie based on Kate diCamillo's book The Tale of Despereaux, bundled with an audio-book recording of the "junior novelization" based on the screenplay. In other words, a children's book based on a movie based on an award-winning children's book. And the original book hasn't even been out that long; the first edition came out in 2003.

Now, I have yet to read the original book. I plan to do so soon. I'm torn as to whether I want to touch the "junior novelization." I can't think of a more effective way to screw up my personal visualization of the book. And I can't help but wonder why an author would consent to such a thing being done to her work. Perhaps she had no choice. Perhaps, in signing over the film rights, she also gave the studio the right to establish all kinds of movie tie-ins, all the way to replacing her novel with a film tie-in book that they own outright and can exploit as they see fit.

I suppose this is no more cynical than Disney ransacking the Grimm Fairy Tales and, after turning many of them into animated films, disseminating storybooks based on their own version. Now, thanks to Disney, if you recite the names of the Seven Dwarfs (Happy, Sleepy, Sneezy, Dopey, Grumpy, Bashful, and Doc), members of every generation now living can pick up on the cultural reference. They would probably be shocked and discomfited by the unfamiliarity of the tale as told by the Brothers Grimm. This bit of folklore has been irreversibly changed by passing through the filter of Walt Disney's 1936 film and his company's subsequent tie-ins.

Is this wrong? Perhaps not. Perhaps it only seems sinister when you see it happening to an author who is still trying to live off her work.


Diane said...

:) Robbie, I haven't done any Trek novelizations. Novels, yes. But no novelizations. Perhaps you're confusing me with Diane Carey on this one?

Robbie F. said...

Maybe...I was going on a 20-some-year-old memory. I'm probably confused because I read your Trek novels too. Oh well!