Comics : Spider-Man: The Official Movie Novelization

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This story is part of a Lookback Series: Book of the Month Club

This review was first published on: 2004.

Background...

"I haven't seen the movie - I'm waiting for the book to come out."

For quite some time now, the rule has been that if a popular movie isn't an already adaptation of a book, then it will need to be adapated into a book. Spider-Man shows that having come from a comic book is not sufficient excuse to escape this novelization process, and hence we have this movie tie-in. "Spider-Man: The Book of the Movie of the Comic."

See also Spider-Man: The Official Movie Adaptation, the comic version.

In Detail...

Spider-Man: The Official Movie Novelization
Mar 2002 : SM Title
Find ISBN 0345450051
Publisher:  Ballantine Publishing Group
Writer:  Peter David
Screenplay:  David Koepp
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Review

This is a regular paperback, 4.5" x 7" and a healthy 311 pages. Writing is by Peter David, who did a great run on Spectacular Spider-Man a few years ago now. He's a talented and sometimes quirky writer with a proven track record, and this is where the problem begins.

The difficulty seems to be that PD is just too creative for his own good. For the most part the story sticks pretty close to the David Koepp script, and in doing so it can't really go wrong. Now, since the book hit the presses before the movie hit celluloid, there are a few scenes that feel like they came from the screenplay, but which were clearly edited from the final film version:

  • On the first morning that Peter has his powers, on the way to school he is nearly hit by a truck - he jumps up forty feet, sticks to a wall, and crushes a drainpipe with his fingers. Then he inexplicably goes to school, as if nothing had really happened.
  • Much more weight is given to Peter's desire to apologise to Ben immediately after their fight.
  • We get to see the scene where Doc Connors fires Peter from his college job.
  • After the Thanksgiving fiasco, Peter comforts MJ on the steps outside the apartment, and Harry notices them. This makes a mockery of his later being upset when discovering them holding hands at the hospital.
  • There's an epilogue at the Daily Bugle where Betty Brant finds Peter's trousers in a cupboard, and tells Jonah (who doesn't even get suspicious).
  • At the end of that scene Jonah spouts the dialog from ASM #10 where he admits to being jealous of Spider-Man. This may have been screenplay, or more likely was PD's idea to include, since it doesn't appear in the kids version of this novel, The Adventures of Spider-Man.

All of these scenes are basically redundant (and sometimes conflicting), so it's no surprise they were cut from the film. But given the circumstances, they are naturally in the novel. Can't criticise PD for that. But there are other chapters and scenes which are almost certainly the product of PD's imagination entirely.

The most noticible addition is an entire chapter chapter where a recently orphaned and somewhat bewildered four-year-old Peter Parker is brought to live in Queens with his rather fuddy-duddy elderly Aunt and Uncle. At the end of this "bonus chapter", the Young Peter is prompted by Uncle Ben to begin a diary in which he writes to his deceased parents - a diary which is kept up through the rest of the book.

Actually, this chapter is quite well-written, although it really steps sideways out of the narrative flow, and it kills the pace of the book somewhat. But other scenes are far more intrusive. The worst example is after MJ failed audition, and following her rescue from the four muggers. There's a tack-on scene where the woman running the audition is shown to be Flash's Aunt, who somehow recognises MJ (even though MJ doesn't recognise her), and sought revenge on Flash's behalf.

Is it too much for the reader to deal with the fact that MJ might actually fail an audition? Remember Fred Astaire's screen test? "Bald, can't sing, can't act, can dance a little." Every artist has rejections, why the need to change the story and take MJ's little failures away from her? This kind of thing really doesn't help the book, especially if you've already seen the movie.

There's more examples of that, some more whole scenes, and other cases where explanetary paragraphs are appended to various scenes in order to clarify (or sometimes alter) the more subtle message that the screenplay offers. Example: When Peter is bulked-up the morning after the spider-bite, PD tells us he has "stomach muscle in the shape commonly refered to as a six-pack". Clearly the simple phrase "six-pack abs" wasn't sufficient. Strangely enough later we see "Kafkaesque" and "entre nous" casually dropped without explanation. Not sure how that works.

I dunno, maybe PD was getting paid by the word? Or maybe he just wanted to contribute. Whatever the reason, the final result is a story which is less conscise and far more heavy-handed than the screenplay we saw in the movie. Every tender moment is over-documented and over-interpreted. Plus, at the end of each chapter Peter's diary entry comes along to re-analyze recent events, just in case the reader didn't understand the last three explanations.

Finally, when PD really gets bored, he starts adding a few in-jokes. Various walk-on characters get names like Romita and Kirby. A cop's name badge clearly reads "LIEBER". I have no problem with this, normally, but these are rather ham-fistedly done. The worst instance is where JJJ debates the abundance of characters with alliterative names (something Stan Lee admitted he did as a deliberate mneumonic). There's "Peter Parker", "Betty Brant", "Robbie Robertson", etc. PD gives several paragraphs to this, pulling in all the examples he can find, and totally killing the gag in the process.

In General...

Peter David is a great writer. But he clearly struggles in this scenario, where he is trying to put his own stamp on somebody elses work. It just doesn't work, and that's a shame. The result is a flawed transcription of a great screenplay. A less talented writer with less imagination would have been better suited to the job.

Overall Rating...

Readable, but peppered with annoying and silly distractions. Two and a half webs, just below the grade curve.