Monday, May 27, 2013

Into Darkness

Star Trek Into Darkness by Alan Dean Foster
Novelization of the film from Paramount Pictures
Release date: May 21st,
 2013
Read May 25th 2013


Previous book (J.J. Abrams's New Trek): Star Trek


Click to purchase Star Trek Into Darkness by Alan Dean Foster from Amazon.com!

Spoilers ahead for Star Trek Into Darkness!

From the back cover:
Months after the dramatic events seen in the 2009 blockbuster film Star Trek, the crew of the U.S.S. Enterprise—including Captain James T. Kirk, First Officer Spock, Doctor Leonard McCoy, Lieutenant Nyota Uhura, Chief Engineer Montgomery Scott, Lieutenant Hikaru Sulu, and Ensign Pavel Chekov—is called back home. But an unstoppable force of terror from within their own organization has declared all-out war on Starfleet and everything it stands for, leaving Earth in a state of crisis. Now with a personal score to settle as a result, Kirk must lead a covert manhunt to a war-zone world to capture a one-man weapon of mass destruction. As these valiant heroes are propelled into an epic chess game of life and death, love will be challenged, friendships will be torn apart, and sacrifices must be made for the only family Captain Kirk has left: his crew.

My thoughts:

Readers of this website may have noticed that I haven't done reviews of novelizations in the past. In fact, when reading Star Trek, I tend to steer clear of them for the most part. However, since beginning this project in 2010, I have made a point to read every new Star Trek novel as it is released. Initially, I went back and forth on reading Alan Dean Foster's novelization of the new film, but obviously, I decided to go ahead with it in the end.

Star Trek Into Darkness - The novelization. My first foray into books made from films on this review site.

In my mind, novels excel at telling stories that are not necessarily possible in a visual medium. The best stories are those that communicate ideas and images in a fun and exciting way, allowing the reader to form those images in his or her mind with only imagination being the limit, without a thought to effects budgets or casting limitations. Novelizations, however, are simply re-telling the story that has already been presented in a film or on television. While reading this novel, I couldn't help but visualize it in my mind the way I had already seen in in the theatre. Aside from a few short snippets of extra dialogue or a little bit of extra insight into what the characters are thinking, it's difficult for me to find any sort of added experience from reading this book that the film didn't already provide me.

The Wrath of Khan by Vonda McIntyre.
A Star Trek novelization done perfectly.
This is not to say that novelizations can't be great. One need only look to the novelizations of The Wrath of Khan, The Search For Spock, and The Voyage Home by Vonda McIntyre for truly great reading experiences. Those novels not only recounted the events of the film, but expanded upon them, using material from scenes that were cut from the films as well as the author's own imagination. Relationships between the characters were examined in greater detail, and the reader got a great deal more insight into the story. It seems to me that writers of past novelizations had a great deal more freedom in crafting their stories. I wonder if today's novelization writers simply aren't allowed to take the same sort of liberties that writers like Vonda McIntyre were previously able.

As for the book itself, the story is competently adapted by Alan Dean Foster. Regardless of my personal feelings about novelizations, I found that his style of writing was particularly suited to a project such as this. Because the vast majority of readers will have seen the film, Foster doesn't spend a great deal of time on descriptive prose, instead launching the reader into the action and presenting the story in a fast-paced manner. After all, we've already seen the sets, characters, and action sequences; why waste time describing every minute detail over again? As far as the plot of the story goes, because the author didn't have much of a hand in crafting it, criticism or analysis of the events of the story feels far too much like a film review. I will say, however, that the written word allows for more careful analysis of the plot, and parts that passed by too quickly in the film are allowed greater scrutiny in this medium. In that way, I suppose I can see the value in a film novelization.

Foster doesn't waste time with lengthy descriptions of visuals. After all, we've already seen this on the big screen!

Why are film novelizations made? If I were to allow myself a certain amount of cynicism, I might say that they are simply made to make money and cash in on the popularity of a film at a particular time. Although, is that even necessarily a bad thing? Publishing in general tends to be a little more cash-strapped, particularly now. How can I possibly begrudge something that makes the industry more money?

Looking at it from a somewhat less cynical perspective, perhaps film novelizations stem from the perception of books as inherently valuable experiences, a viewpoint that I can definitely appreciate. However, I prefer when the various mediums are able to do something different with the story. For example, many people complain when television or film adaptations of books don't strictly adhere to the story as laid out in the book. However, I understand that the two mediums are very different, and I find myself separating the two in my mind. Game of Thrones is an excellent example. A few of my friends complain bitterly that the HBO series doesn't follow the plot of the books exactly. To my mind, however, we've already gotten that story in the books; why shouldn't the series do something a little bit different? I suppose I feel the same way about novelizations. We've already gotten the film. I would love for the novel to take it in a different direction, or perhaps even just offer us a little bit more. Reading the exact same story I saw on the screen is superfluous.

Novelizations, in my opinion, work best when providing details and insights not in the original film. I would definitely have appreciated more information on Benedict Cumberbatch's character's background and recent experiences, for example. Alas, such detail seems to be beyond the scope of the Into Darkness novelization.

Final thoughts:

Well, this review turned into more of an analysis of novelizations in general than a strict review of Into Darkness! As for the book itself, I found Foster's adaptation to be ably written, with an eye to getting the story across without bogging the reader down in exposition that was already presented in the film. I have a hard time reviewing the plot of the story, as Foster didn't exactly have a hand in crafting it. Extra details or some elaboration on the part of the author would very much have been appreciated, but I understand if the guidelines for writing the novelization didn't allow for that sort of embellishment.

More about the Star Trek Into Darkness Novelization:


My next read:

At the moment, I'm reading the latest release from Pocket Books, William Leisner's Original Series story, The Shocks of Adversity.