Movie Novelizations Gone Wrong, or Plagiarism Red Heat of the ‘90s

Have you ever wondered –

  • What’s in the head of John Matrix as he rows his inflatable boat?
  • What does Robocop’s inner self look like?
  • Or, about how tight a ninja suit is for an American soldier?

If so (certainly, not), neither Commando nor RoboCop or American Ninja movies will help you find the answer. Literature will.

As it turns out, such literature exists:

Novelization is an attempt to translate popular movies plots into the fictional prose language.

Take a look.

Novelizing movies is less popular today. Unlike a million strong runs of Star Wars and Alien in the ’70s, only top 20 movie bestsellers turn into books today. Yet, socko still happens. For example, the novelization of Godzilla, that was featured in The New York Times Best Seller List for mass-market paperbacks.

Everything was different 20 years ago. The media tie-in book market was humming.

And not only in the USA.

Churn ‘n Burn Novelizations of Hollywood Top Bestsellers

Book, video game, and cinema businesses looking to capitalize off a giant hit often skate the rules when it comes to surplus profit. But there were also cases when the rules were entirely thrown out.

To solve a daring crime of copyright abuse, we’ll need the help of Marty McFly and Dr. Emmett Brown to travel in time:

  • Destination: any survivor country of the former USSR
  • Time: the ’90s
  • Soundtrack: plucking a balalaika slowly, gradually revving up
  • Rules: no rules
  • Bears and vodka to taste

Welcome to the bookish helldorado, the brave new world of the post-USSR business wheeler-dealers. The world without rules and controls, with no borders or boundaries. The world where anything is possible.

Where you can:

  1. Take a blockbuster, blown by local video rental shops and video rooms (small room packed with TV, VCR and seats).
  2. Assign cheap writers to copy the movie frame by frame, enhancing its familiar (stolen) storyline with their imagination.
  3. Coin an English-like pen name.
  4. Wrap it up in a jazzy cover with recognizable characters/actors on its front fly-leaf.
  5. Entitle it like a boss (Hollywood Bestsellers, for example), launching an edition of over 100500 copies.
  6. Bring it to local bookstores.
  7. Wait for the cash flow to roll in.

Here they are, all in one place:

hollywood bestsellers series

You are what you read, so be careful.

From the Mouth of Witnesses

Local bloggers remember those times (translated from Russian):

“… in the ’90s, together with 3-4 people, we took part in writing books after American (DYNASTY) and Mexican TV series. As for iconic movies such as Twin Peaks, Alien, etc., their bookish versions were being created by trophy writers: Henry Lion Oldie, Andrii Bliznetsov, Mykola Yutanov…”

“…Russia published more books after X-Files series than the USA and other countries all together.”

“…the story goes on, and, let’s say, J. K. Rowling’s Harry Potter, has dozens of analogs in Russian, starting from Dmitri Yemets’ series about Tanya Grotter and ending with Julia Voznesenskaya’s attempts to create the image of a young orthodox witch. Bridget Jones’s Diary (Helen Fielding) was so successful that it spirited the Amphora publishing house to make The New Russian’s Diary series. Its author Elena Kolina is sure her work is better than original because ‘our protagonist has wider interests. Her relations with adults are deeper, she is interested in politics, and read something all the time’.”

“In the early ’90s, when video cassette recorders were attributes of the rich and rumors had it about cool movies of Hollywood, some handymen generated a truly awesome idea: people read a lot, so it was decided to novelize all Hollywood bestsellers. People couldn’t help buying books with Schwarzenegger, Willis, Murphy, Seagal, and other Hollywood actors on covers. They read about aliens, terrorists, and superheroes, which made such literature even glossier. My father had bought about 30 books of this series, and I galloped through most of them. Thus, being a 12-year-old boy, I READ many blockbusters before I watched them…”

“… And who are Arch Stranton and other authors not even mentioned as scriptwriters of those movies? I dare say they are pen names of ghost writers who turned all those popular movies into ‘literary language’.”

Certainly, it wasn’t first or last time someone tried to steal an idea and make money from someone else’s talent or brand. For example, many know the cases of Alexander Volkov’s “The Wizard of the Emerald City” (“Wizard of Oz” spinoff) and Aleksey Tolstoy’s “The Golden Key, or the Adventures of Buratino” (interpretation of “Pinocchio”).

But this “Hollywood Bestsellers” series is simply beautiful in its weird plagiarized way:

  1. Production values were low.
    • Some books were like two peas in a pod with movies, copied word for word without reference to existing official novelizations that could be translated from English.
    • The books were filled with odd design and illustrations:
    • poor book design

    • The publishers asked readers to vote for the next “movie to a book.” From a book cover: “write to us, and we’ll turn a movie into a book.”
  2. Circulation was astonishing:
  3. The surreal fact you still can buy those books in the biggest online shops:

Run plagiarist, run. Crime solved (after 23 years)

You want proofs. Nuff said.

It would be funny to find a movie version of a book based on a film made after a book itself. I think such works would find their fans, too.

Trashy books deserve to exist somewhere in a row between Batman’s mask and The Avengers’ poster. But why to make them even trashier? The ugly truth is, people buy.

At least, they read.

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