Tag Archives: Movie Adaptation

Filed under obscure comic book adaptations…

I’ve recently rekindled my passion for finding and reading 80s era movie tie-in novelizations, and in restarting the hunt for books there were a few candidates that jumped up to the top of my list.  One in particular has proven super difficult to track down, the novelization of the Tom Hanks/Penny Marshall movie Big.  I can’t confirm that a novelization actually exists as I’ve never seen it, and finding evidence on the internet is proving to be way more difficult than I could ever have imagined.  First off, there aren’t that many folks talking about novelizations as it is, but this is drastically compounded by the fact that using “Big” as a search term is about as useful as searching for a determiner like the world “the”.  Adding insult to injury is combining it with “Tom Hanks”, “Movie”, “Tie-in”, “Novelization”, or “Book”.  Try looking up “Big” in fiction and literature on Amazon, and then decide whether it’s worth the 16 hours it would take to flip through the six billion books the database brings up.  Long story short, I can’t confirm this novelization exists outside of a few forum posts, and none of these ever list anything remotely useful, like say the name of the author.  The search wasn’t completely fruitless though, as it did turn up one piece of obscure Big merchandise that I had been totally unaware of, a 1988 comic book adaptation!

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I know, “What the what?!?” indeed.  It’s not that comic book adaptations of flicks are all that rare, it’s just weird to find one that wasn’t action, horror, or science fiction-oriented.  You don’t tend to see dramas or comedies adapted because the target audience, especially in the 80s was almost always 12 year-old boys, and by and large most comics aimed at this audience are almost always super hero-related, with the stray Archie and cartoon adaptation thrown in for good measure.  What makes this even weirder, at least for me, is that this single issue was published by Hit Comics, which was a division of Dark Horse, the company at the time that was responsible for bringing us a line of very adult and graphic movie tie-ins including Terminator, Aliens, Predator, and RobocopBig just doesn’t seem like a likely candidate to fit in with this line’s tone or audience appeal.  Regardless it exists, and when I first found out about it I really hard my hopes up that it was going to be amazing considering it was largely advertised as featuring the artwork of Paul Chadwick, the man behind Dark Horse’s Concrete

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Before I get into the actual comic though, I wanted to take a look at the single most important reason this comic book exists, which is the back cover (featured above.)  A full page advertisement for Big coming to store on VHS seems a little redundant, but then again it explains the entire endeavor.  I know this is obvious, but this comic is just one giant advertisement for the home video release, but considering it was released via Dark Horse is where it gets a little weird in my eyes.  See, back in ’88 DH didn’t have the market presence of some of their rivals like Marvel and DC.  To be honest, I don’t remember seeing any DH titles in grocery or convenience stores, only in the specialty comic stores.  So it’s weird that an obvious 32 page advertisement would be produced, with writers, pencilers, inkers, and colorists brought on board just to have it sit on a rack in a comic store being largely overshadowed by a plethora of more popular titles.  If I had to take a guess, I’d say that this was comic ended up as a marketing blunder and an eventual lesson learned by both DH and 20th Century Fox, that in the future the future it might be a better idea to try something else (like Dark Horse partnering with New Line to reverse the process and bring their comics properties to the screen, ala The Mask.)

Anyway, this obscure gem exists, and I thought I’d take a few moments to take a look at what it is we did get.  So, as I was saying earlier, I was pretty excited by the idea of Paul Chadwick handing the illustrative duties on the book, but then was sorely disappointed when I had the comic in hand and realized he only worked on the cover.  The actual comic was penciled by Jack Pollock, inked by John Nyberg, and adapted by Mark Verheiden.  Pollock worked in the production department at DH and brought a very Mad Magazine-esqe cartoony-ness to the project.  It’s not that this is awful, but it wasn’t the wistful tone that I was expecting from Chadwick’s brush.  As far as the adaptation of the film goes, well, it’s all basically there, though extremely abbreviated considering the actual comic only runs 28 pages.  Most scenes only get a panel or two, and a majority of the dialogue is reserved for the key quotes from the flick.  I was actually surprised that they really managed to fit it all in considering…

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Back to the artwork, again, it’s not awful, though it is pretty loose and a lot of the caricatures and exaggeration tend to go way too far.  There are a bunch of places in the book where Pollock tries to ramp up the intensity of a scene, or to capture the action of the film and he just ends up going way too far off the grid.  Take this segment where Josh Baskin wakes up as a fully grown man…

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Egads, no one ever needed to see that particular angle of comic book Tom Hank’s underwear-covered taint.  The effect this has on the tone of the overall book can be quite drastic at time.  Consider this next scene when Josh first confronts his mother…

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Wow, vicious and kind of scary.  This cartoon-y approach does make for some weirdly fun interpretations though.  My favorite by far is Pollock’s take on the segment where Josh and Billy decide to check into the Saint James hotel in the city.  Pollock’s version of a run-down New York is pretty bonkers, and evokes something you’d be more likely to see in a Troma or John Waters film.  Speaking of John Waters, I think the caricature on the far left was an homage to the pencil-thin mustachioed king of sleazy cinema…

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Of all the scenes to leave in or cut, I was actually surprised that the touching love scene between Josh and Susan was one of the ones that made the cut.  Granted, we’re luckily spared of seeing the comic version of Hanks getting to second base.  But the scene is alluded to and we do get the “lights on” quote/gag…

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All in all I thought this was a thoroughly weird piece of obscure 80s merchandising, and quite possibly the only for the film Big (unless I eventually track down an actual novelization.)  It certainly makes me wonder if there are comic adaptations of The Money Pit or the Man with One Red Shoe floating around out there.  Better yet, I could actually see Dark Horse having done The ‘Burbs.  As it stands, I guess I’ll just have to console myself with this parody of Splash in the meantime…

Delving into Ghostbusters: The Expanded Supernatural Spectacular Universe…

I had such a fun time reading the long sought-after Goonies novelization recently that I decided to dip back into my collection to find another fun one to devour.  I wasn’t sure what to dip into next when I stumbled across a very reasonably priced copy of the Ghostbusters tie-in (reasonable being less than $10), so I decided that had to be the next on the reading pile.  As a quick side note, I really can’t believe how insane some of the secondary market prices are on a handful of these movie novelizations.  A nice copy of the American Ghostbusters (subtitled The Supernatural Spectacular) typically goes for around $30-$100, which is just loony toons.  A reader named Erin also recently pointed to the scarcity of the Labyrinth tie-in, and doing some research I found that it sells for between $50-$200?!?  WTF?  I understand that these can sometimes be a bit rarer than say your average Stephen King or Janet Evanovitch paperback, but those prices are downright crazy town.  Actually, I’m surprised that these two in particular haven’t been re-issued over the years due to the popularity of their respective franchises.  There’s some new-ish Labyrinth manga and a slew of special edition DVDs, why not a newer printing of the novelization?  I guess I feel lucky that I’ve managed to pick a bunch of these up here and there over the years for a buck or less, but there are still a few volumes that are just too rich for my blood (in particular the horror novelizations like Return of the Living Dead, Friday the 13th, and the Thing.)  Anyway, back to Ghostbusters

Ghostbusters Novelization

This paperback, which was printed in 1985 by TOR, was written by Richard Mueller and was adapted from and expanded on the screenplay by Aykroyd and Ramis.  The book is a little odd in that it’s not the first adaptation/novelization of Ghostbusters, that honor goes to Larry Miline who wrote a very faithful and dry translation of the script for Coronet, which was published in ’84 in the U.K.  That isn’t a slight against Miline, by the by, it just points to the fact that in the world of movie novelizations there are basically two philosophies, straight/faithful adaptation into prose or expansion.  Are either better or worse?  Well, I don’t think there’s a right and a wrong, just expectation and desire and what experience you want out of reading one of these.  I’m finding that I’m falling into the expansion camp.  I mean, the standard complaint one hears when watching a film that’s been adapted from a novel is that there was so much left out (whether it be plotlines or subtext.)  So when we reverse the polarity and adapt a movie to the novel format, it just stands to reason that there should be ample room to add a bit more story.  My wife, on the other hand, is four square against the idea of expanding the story and considers stray plotlines and subtext to be outside of “official” cannon.  Having grown up reading comics, I have to say that it’s a hard point to argue against.  But I’m also really fond of the Laser Disc/DVD/Blu-Ray format and all the wonderful bits and pieces it brings to the experience of watching films.  Deleted scenes, director and actor commentaries, and alternate casting snafus (like the original segments of Back to the Future shot with Eric Stoltz), all this stuff really goes a long way to enriching my love of these films.  Are deleted scenes canonical?  Who the hell knows.  All I know is that I love watching Michael Beihn and Bill Paxton set up the defensive robot machine guns in Aliens, or Troy picking on Mouth, Chunk, Data, and Mikey in the convenience store scene in Goonies.  Even though a lot of the stuff I’ve been finding in these novelizations is weird and at times swarthy (see my update on the Goonies novel review), I love that it exists.

So how does Ghostbusters: The Supernatural Spectacular fair in terms of expanded novelizations?  I’d have to say that so far it’s setting the gold standard for what a great expansion can be.  Whereas James Kahn took all sorts of weird twists and turns with the Goonies (both in the formatting, tone and added material), Mueller has done a pretty darn good job of keeping the added material and odd formatting in line with the experience of watching the film.  There are some included scenes that were either filmed and deleted (like a framing device for the film featuring two bums, Harlan Bojay and Leonard Cooms, that witness most of the story from afar), or some that I don’t think ever made it from script to production (like a sequence involving a newly wed couple encountering Slimer in their honeymoon sweet, prompting the hotel to contact the Ghostbusters.)  There’s also some space given to fleshing out the backgrounds of the majority of the main players; nothing too in-depth, but enough to flesh out the characters a bit more.  That’s not to say that there aren’t some weird aspects and wrong turns in the novel…

Some of the weirder aspects involve some odd point-of-view work in the text.  Though the book is largely written in 3rd person/omniscient, every so often Mueller dips into 1st person when he wants the characters to offer commentary.  It’s generally a weird shift in narration, but like I mentioned in the Goonies novelization, 1st person is a really tricky device to use when dealing with the transition of characters from film to page.  Dipping into the mind of a character that we’ve come to know and love though a film can be a very weird and disconcerting experience the writer goes “off script”.  For instance, everyone thinks about sex to one degree or another, but if I’m used to dealing with a character where this is never brought up, say the Librarian in the opening sequence of Ghostbusters, then when she starts “thinking” about how she feels guilty for seeking out all kinds of ancient kinky woodcuts featuring taboo sexual practices in the library’s non-public collection, well, I get pretty weirded out.  As far as I can tell, the librarian character in the script is slightly different; she’s written to be rotund and in her mid to late twenties, but for all intents and purposes the scene in the script is almost shot for shot what we’ve come to know and love in the final film.  Mueller, though, felt the need to paint her as a bit more sad and depraved, which for an incidental character is pretty weird.  This sort of thing pops up here and there in the novel, including in the scene where we’re first introduced to Dana as she gets out of a cab and goes into her building.  The narrative is fractured into a bunch of perspectives as a handful of people on the street take notice of her and give their two cents.  One of these includes an elderly man walking his dog who glances at her and thinks, “…how long (has) it been since it’s been long…”  I might be reading too much into the passage, but I’m pretty sure he’s referring to having a boner.  WTF?  On the other hand though, these dips into character’s minds can sometimes be fascinating, like the sequence when one of the terror dogs, Vince Clortho the keymaster, is hiding in Louis Tully’s spare bedroom during his client soiree.  Mueller actually dips into the terror dog’s mind to get his take on Louis.  Weird, but cool!

There’s another weird sequence that actually manages to answer a nagging question I’ve always had about the flick.  In the movie, during the big Ghostbusters success montage, there’s an odd dream sequence bit where Ray is being, um, “serviced” by a rather fetching ghost.  The bit that’s always bugged me is that Ray is wearing some sort of period military outfit in the scene with no explanation as to why.  I guess, since it’s framed as a dream (the screen has one of those flowing wavey filters as a transition into the scene) I always just assumed he was dreaming about being in the Civil War or something.  As it turns out, there’s an explanation for the military garb.  In the book (as well as in the shooting script), there’s a sequence later in the film, right after Ray and Winston are driving through the city talking about the end of the world, when the two go to Fort Detmerring looking for a spook.  They split up and Ray stumbles upon a room that is a replica of a revolutionary war officer’s barracks.  He finds a uniform and puts it on, lays on a bed and promptly falls asleep.  When he wakes, the ghost they were looking for is about to go to town on his junk.  Apparently this sequence was largely cut, but I’m betting none of them wanted to ditch the blowjob joke, so they sandwiched it into the montage.  What’s even weirder is that this is actually the culmination of a plot thread in the book where Ray is both lonely and changing his feelings about catching the ghosts.  Since Peter is courting Dana and (in the book) Egon and Janine are becoming an item, Ray is looking to blow off some steam, and the experience with the ghost is just what he was looking for.  Also, there’s a bit with Ray thinking about how it might be wrong to catch these ghosts just to jail them in the containment unit, and when he awakes to his spectral date-night he wonders if maybe some ghosts are good.  Weird.

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As far as what’s new, there are a ton of little interesting tidbits like the fact that Janine designed the Ghostbusters logo (the iconic no-ghosts image), while Peter came up with the name.  In the Ghostbusters success montage (and yes, there is even a montage in the book) there are segments when the GB’s are contacted by Revell models, Marvel Comics and TSR about licensing deals (none of which came to pass in reality even though all of this merchandising did end up at other companies including a West End role playing game, an Ertl AMT model kit, and a NOW comics series.)  Ok, there was a UK Marvel comics, but not a domestic one.  Their phone is also different in the book, consisting of a real number, 1-212-NO-GHOST.  There’s also some neat details with Ecto-1 and their equipment that is different than in the movie.  Part of the rig on top of Ecto-1 is there to sense and destroy (with lasers) anything placed on the vehicle when it’s locked and left alone, like parking tickets.  Also, the proton packs produce a generator field when powered on that will affect people standing near by that don’t have their own pack on.  This field will make your hair follicles itch as well as heat up any metal on your person including the fillings in your mouth.  Another interesting tidbit is a slight difference in the containment unit.  In the book (and I believe in the script as well), there is a observatory window on the unit so that you can see the ghosts that are inside.  This comes up in a few scenes, most effectively when Ray ends up coming down at night to look inside, getting bummed by all the sad trapped ghosts that are just pacing around inside.

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I don’t want to spoil all the differences in the book for those that might want to read it, but I did want to point to the fact that Mueller did a really good job of fleshing out Peter, Ray, Egon, and Winston.  There are sequences that illustrate the friendship of Peter and Ray, including a scene where Ray takes Peter home with him for a family reunion only to have him run off with his sister and his brother’s rental car, effectively making Ray an outcast in his own family.  According to Mueller, Egon has a bit of a destructive thread in him starting back in childhood when he constructed homemade bombs that he used to detonate in deserted parking lots.  Egon is also painted as fairly asexual, much in the same way that Sheldon Cooper is portrayed on The Big Bang Theory, though he does end up hooking up with Janine by the end of the book.  My favorite bit of character background involves Peter’s family being part of a traveling carnival.  He grew up a carney, and extremely devoted to his family (both immediate and communal), and viewed all other outsiders as rubes, marks, or those to be avoided.  It illustrates why he has the extremely outsider and sarcastic streak in him…

All in all, this is the type of reading experience I’m loving with these movie novelizations, and I’m dreading the first book that reads chapter and verse straight from the finished film.  I think the next book I’m going to cover will be Gremlins, by George Gipe, as I’ve heard that there’s an expanded back-story involving the Mogwai as aliens.  Here’s to hoping it’s half as good as Mueller’s Ghostbusters.  Oh, and before I forget, here’s a link to where you can download PDF copies of either Larry Miline’s original novelization, or Mueller’s The Supernatural Spectacular.  I don’t condone piracy by nature, but this book tends to be so darned over priced on the secondary market that it might take awhile to luck into an affordable copy like I did…

There’s a little more adventure in the Goonies novelization…

I’ve talked before about my love of souvenir movie magazines and novelizations of 80s flicks because they were a great source of obscure information and deleted content from a lot of the films I grew up loving.  Back before DVD and the internet, which provides such easy access to deleted scenes or behind the scenes commentary and the like, it was really hard to track down more about movies like The Goonies, Karate Kid, or the first Batman flick.  So when you were the only one of your friends that happened to catch a screening Batman in the theater and you remembered a scene with a little homeless girl in a trash pile and no one believed you because that scene was edited out of the theatrical cut for the VHS release, well, you had your work cut out for you in proving it.

Over the last few years I’ve been picking up cheap copies of souvenir magazines and movie novelizations when I can find them.  Lately I’ve been lucky enough to stumble upon a bunch of these 80s novelizations and I thought it would be fun to pull one out of the pile from time to time to share what insights or differences these offer from the versions of the films that we know and love.  I had a lot of fun when I read the E.T. novelization by William Kotzwinkle, and I’m hoping more of these books were written with the same sort of changes in perspective that open me up to experiencing the flick with a fresh set of eyes.  Real quick, I’d like to point out that I’m going to concentrate on novelizations, books based on screenplays, and not movies that were adapted from existing novels.  For one it narrows the field a bit, and it pretty common for film adaptations to excise material from the original books because of time and pacing considerations.

This week I thought I’d take a look at one of the harder books to track down, the novelization of the Goonies by James Kahn (adapted from the Chris Columbus screenplay.)

I say it’s hard to track it down, but mainly I’m referring to copies of the book that were printed here in the US by Warner Bros.  The book was also printed in the U.K. by Coronet in 1985, and from what I can tell there is no real differences it the text except an odd Britishism here and there (I compared it to a snippet of the American edition available on Google Books), and some minor differences in the cover blurbs.  My UK edition simply states, “Take the Oath.  Join the Adventure.”, whereas the US edition is a lot more wordy.  Anyway, the UK edition is more or less readily available on ebay, and lately with the exchange rate equaling out it’s kind of a bargain.

Upon cracking the cover and diving into the book the first main difference that I noticed is that the book is presented in a slightly odd format.  The text is bookended by excerpts from local Astoria newspaper articles, first detailing the escape of Jake Fratelli, and later covering the “rescue” of the kids, the arrests and prosecution of the Fratelli gang, and some other interesting footnotes to the story I’ll get into in a minute.  The main reason for this is that for the bulk of the book Kahn chose to use Mikey as the narrator with a first person perspective.  If I had to guess I’d say that this was in an attempt to make the novel more approachable for kids, but it ends up making the who thing very difficult to read.  First person is a tricky perspective, and when adapting an omniscient film experience it forces the narrative to constantly explain why the narrator knows about sequences that they didn’t take part in or know little about.  Thus the newspaper articles are Mikey’s way of opening the story with the facts of the breakout and the ensuring police chase.  What killed me is how dry this approach came off, lacking any of the humor and excitement that was in the opening scenes of Donner’s film.  Not only that but some little details are lost, most importantly how the chase manages to cross the paths of all the Goonies, Andy and Steph.  Not a huge deal, but it’s a detail I love in the first film as it both introduces us to the characters and gives some background details on each of them (Mouth’s dad being a plumber, Steph’s family working as fishermen on the docks, and Chunk being a spaz to name a few.)

On the other hand, the “articles” that close out the story are kind of interesting.  For one, they take the ending of the movie a bit further in that there is confirmation, through a series of excerpts, that the Goon docks are safe as the plans for the new golf course are ditched in favor of building more low cost housing.  The already constructed country club was even rumored to be converted into a community center that will feature a children’s center, a Chinese restaurant, a plumbing supply house, a fish market, a new addition to the museum, and a public-access invention laboratory.  A little goofy, but still pretty darn cute.  The last article is a notice of the Bar Mitzvah for Jason “Sloth” Cohen, the newly adopted son of Mr. & Mrs. Jerry Cohen.  So I guess Chunk made good on his promise to have Sloth come live with him…

As for the narrative being from the perspective of Mikey, this is also a little 50/50 in terms of execution and insight.  On the plus side, it’s kind of fun to “hear” him tell the story, as he adds some background (most of it pointless, but still fun) and adding his thoughts on every aspect of the adventure.  He makes a metric ton of Star Wars references (probably infused because Kahn also wrote the Return of the Jedi novelization), which is always fun, as well as playing the cool, level-headed leader of the group while describing each of the Goonies and their various quirks, annoying habits, and strengths.  He even ends up explaining some of the subtle references that made it into the performances in the final film (like when Mouth first comes to the Walsh house and starts trying to cheer the brothers up with a slight John Belushi impression.)  At the same time Kahn has him hating Saturday morning cartoons (I guess he’d rather be outside adventuring), already dating (and smooching girls before Andy), and comparing the Mad magazine “fold-in” concept to the Playboy centerfolds, which is just weird.  Again, the danger of writing in the first person like this is that we’re in Mikey’s head, and being inside there is nothing like what I thought it would be in the movie.  Granted, I know we’re really inside Kahn’s head, but you get my drift.

Anyway, some of the slight differences in the book include Mouth’s propensity for rhyming, Data pulling out inventions three times as much, and Mikey tending to censor some of the racier jokes and sight gags from the film with his descriptions (remember the broken stature of David, well Mikey didn’t want to repeat Brand saying that, “…If God made it that way, you’d all be pissing in your faces…”.)  By the by, in the book Mikey’s mom discovers the broken statue.  There’s also some interesting cross-pollinating with other Spielberg projects like Poltergeist.  At one point Mikey shares and anecdote about how he broke his arm falling into an excavation in the newly built Cuesta Verde Estates housing development.  Did I mention that James Kahn also wrote the novelization for Poltergeist?  The thought that, Cuesta Verde would be within biking distance from Astoria is pretty cool, as if there really was this specific Spielberg suburbia out in the pacific northwest where all kinds of crazy shit happened.  Maybe E.T. would have landed there too if that novelization hadn’t already been written by Kotzwinkle.

Also, for all those kids out there that only caught the Goonies when it aired on cable (specifically the Disney Channel in the early 90s), the book provides vindication of some of the deleted scenes that appeared in that cut of the film.  I always thought it was weird that there were so many different versions of flicks in the 80s, one for theaters, one for vhs, one for cable, one for airline exhibitions, etc.  Deleted scenes sort of meant more then, as they were potential filler for some of the other raunchier stuff that needed to be cut for cable.  Anyway, I was one of those kids that saw the octopus scene, and the segment at the beginning when Mikey, Data, Chunk and Mouth have a run in with Troy in the minimart when the flick aired on the Disney channel, and later when watching the official VHS with friends none of them believed me that these scenes existed.  Can’t express how happy I was to see them finally pop up on the DVD.  There are also a couple of extensions of the wishing well scene.  One involves Andy being inducted as an official Goony by repeating the oath: “I will never betray my Goon dock friends, We will stick together until the whole world ends, Through Heaven and Hell and nuclear war, good pals like us will stick like tar, In the city, or the country, or the forest, or the boonies, I am proudly declared a fellow…”  The oath is finished off with the exclamation of “Leech!” as Mikey realizes they’re all covered in leeches.  These scenes were new to me when I ready the youth adaptation of the movie back in 2010 during my Goonies 25th anniversary week.  Glad to see them in this full on novelization as well.

I don’t want to spoil all the good stuff from the novel that didn’t make it into the film, but there’s one more segment that’s really cool involving an underground river.  While the gang is trying to find their way to One-Eyed Willie’s ship, they come upon a cave with only one exit, which is almost completely submerged in water.  There’s a raft, so they all get on as they hear the Fratelli’s hot on their trail.  Along the ride they all take turns telling stories to keep each other from freaking out in the dark water-filled tunnel.  Again, nothing that needed to be in the film, but it’s really fun to stumble upon an extra like this in the book.  All in all I think this one is worth the read, even though the first person narrative is awkward.  It’s a great way to spend a little more time with the gang while getting some new aspects to the adventure along the way.  If nothing else it has me really jazzed to read the Three Weeks with the Goonies book by Mick Alderman.  I can never get enough of this flick!

***UPDATE***

Okay, so there was one other thing that I wanted to point out about the book, one small segment of a scene that was cut from the film involving the leeches.  I wasn’t sure I wanted to mention it because it’s kind of messed up, but I thought about it and I can’t help it, it’s just too damn weird.  So in the wishing well sequence, at the end, after Andy has sent up the bucket empty, all the kids realize that they’re covered in leeches.  Data has a bright idea and end up strapping two wires to a 20-volt battery.  He sticks the wires in the water by his feet sending a light electrical charge through his body that’s lethal enough to kill the leeches.  He does this for the rest of them, and afterwards, James Kahn tags on a small scene that is, well, almost obscene.  After getting the shock, Andy and Stef are standing off to the side, and Kahn describes them as having “…limp smile(s) and small sigh(s)…”  Then Stef says to Andy, “I got all tingly – just my luck, I’m in love with a pond!”  After which the following passage appears: ‘It annoyed Andy, for some reason, I don’t know, like someone had made her feel good and she didn’t want to…’  Then Andy hauls off and slaps Data saying “Don’t-you-ever-try-that-again-with-me-Buster!”  What the hell!  Did Kahn actually suggest that Andy and Stef had orgasms from the electric shock!?!  W-T-F?!?

E.T. went home alright, and maybe he should have stayed there…

I think I’ve written about this before, but there’s aspect to American pop culture that I find endlessly fascinating; this deep need for sustainable continuity.   Though we’re fanatics for origin stories, once an idea is set into motion we very rarely want to see it end.  So when a successful sitcom invades our television schedule, the hope is that it will be continually produced for as along as possible, ten, twenty years down the line. When it ends, there’s still hope in our hearts for spin-offs, and reunion specials, and when all else fails, hopefully it will eventually end up as a big screen adaptation (which will hopefully be successful enough to garner a trilogy.)

I’m not sure what it is in our culture that makes us so clingy as an audience.  Maybe subconsciously the idea of a story having a distinct ending echoes fears of our own eventual mortality.  Maybe we just love a good success story and nothing says success like sequels and long running TV which have a validating effect on our own enjoyment.  I loved Ghostbusters something fierce growing up and I pined for the eventual sequel that seemed to take a million years to materialize.  Sure, I’d watch the original when ever it came on TV, but somewhere in the back of my mind I felt that I deserved to see the continuing story.

Battling against this cultural yearning are the hopes and dreams of the very people who makes these stories possible.  Sure, Dan Akaroyd, Harold Ramis, Ernie Hudson, and Sigorny Weaver seemed more than willing to make a sequel but how did Bill Murray and Rick Moranis feel?  Word is that they weren’t all that keen on the idea, that as actors and creative-minded individuals they were more interested in pursuing something new, something that was interesting to them at the time.  Often this creative reluctance to suit up for a sequel is what quashes projects, but it’s not necessarily the end of the story.  There are other outlets for continuity, especially for entertainment that feeds the all-ages sensibility of an audience.  The cartoon spin-off for instance.  While waiting the five years in-between Ghostbusters films, DiC started production on the Real Ghostbusters cartoon, which featured the continuing adventures of our favorite spectral sleuths.  But for various reasons the creative yearnings of writers, and the monetary needs of the studio forced the story to change.  Egon became blonde, the group all began wearing colored coded jumpsuits, Janine became a punk, the Stay Puft Marshmallow Man became an ally and Slimer switched from being a chaotic-neutral villain to a bungling, Baby Huey-esque sidekick.

This leads me to the gist of today’s subject, which is the continuing story of the beloved plant-friendly alien, E.T. the Extra Terrestrial in his only sequel story, The Book of the Green Planet.  Published in 1985 and written by William Kotzwinkle, the same gentleman responsible for the film-to-book novelization of the original story, Book of the Green Planet follows E.T.’s adventures after reuniting with his species as they travel back to the home planet to study the flora specimens they’ve been collecting from Earth over the millennia.  In the original novelization we got a peek into a different view of the movie as Kotzwinkle tended to write from E.T.’s perspective, giving the reader an insight absent from the movie.  In that book E.T. comes across as a wholly different character, at times a centered peaceful monk-like being wise beyond his ten million years of age (yup in the book he’s 10,000,000 years old for crying out loud), a others a tired curmudgeon afraid of offending Elliott and his siblings as he sees them as the rulers of the planet.  It’s an odd balancing act that takes a weird shift in the follow-up sequel novel.

Unburdened by adhering to a script, Kotzwinkle decides to let loose in the sequel revealing that E.T. is not merely an alien from another world, but a traveler from outside of our universe/dimension.  Kotzwinkle also decided to mold the character more into the image we get in the film, drawing him as playfully ignorant, continuously spouting incorrect English to his friends as if he had learned to master the language during his layover on Earth.  He’s also shown depressed, having left his newfound friends behind, never to see them again, yet I find this awkward and weird considering that he’s literally lived throughout the millennia.  Was this experience with Elliott so profound, and if so, how boring was the rest of his existence?  Besides, for a being of that age who travels through out dimensions and across galaxies with ease, isn’t it a bit naive to assume you’d never see your friends again?

Anyway, the basic plot involves E.T. returning home only to be demoted for his shenanigans on Earth.  Sad and lonely, it becomes his quest to find a way to travel back to the Milky Way and to his beloved friend Elliott.  The book flits back and forth between E.T.’s adventures trying to secure a vessel to make the trip and a slightly older Elliott on Earth who is struggling with puberty and his newfound obsession with girls (which troubles E.T., through their psychic connection, to no end.)   Trying to help (but coming across as a dumped ex stalker) E.T. sends astral projections of himself towards Earth in the hopes that they will meld with Elliott’s troubled soul and help him to find peace (as well as the nerve to finally step up and mingle with the girl of his dreams.)  In a sort of anticlimactic ending E.T. grows a ship (making it easier to hide from his people) and embarks on the long journey back to Elliott, though the story ends before the trip is finished leaving the book open to an obvious sequel (though unlike this one, a sequel that never materialized.)

All in all, this book (and the original novelization) gives the audience what it craves, a continuation of the story with so much more to explore.  It’s weird and not much like the original film, but it is something which in and of itself is sort of a treasure.  Also, believe it or not, with the re-release of this book in 2002 there was a teacher’s guide printed that has artistic rendering of a couple of the odder creatures mentioned in the book including the ellusive flopgopple!

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