Usually, I don't read book adaptations of movies. While books may be made into good movies, movies making the jump into book form always strike me as cynical money-grabs. The authors are being paid to put together what amounts to an advertising gimmick for the movie, a story retold as a way to bring in more people to see the big new flick and make more money for the studio. The thankless authors probably don’t have much investment in the stories either—I always imagined starving writers snapping up the bucks and slapping out the manuscripts as, perhaps, a way to fund the writing projects they were more interested in.
But the author of the 1998 GODZILLA novelization—the one written presumably for adults—wasn’t that way. Why? Author Stephen Molstad apparently didn’t have any personal novel projects. The only novels he has that were published were based off of movies—and all of them Dean Devlin/Roland Emmerich projects, including a trio of books based and expanding on the Independence Day universe. From appearances, Molstad was the go-to guy for writing Devlin novelizations. Maybe Molstad and Devlin or Emmerich were good buds—at least until 2000, when Molstad wrote his last book of any kind with The Patriot. Indeed, many of the adaptations were written with Devlin sharing the author’s credit on the books.
Godzilla, though, is a solo affair, and thus Molstad would justly receive all lauds and jeers for the final product. The 222-page book is at least the most interesting and easily the most fleshed-out adaptation amongst a real slew of them; this will be the fifth adaptation for me that I have reviewed.
For the benefit of the few (the proud?) who haven’t seen the film, the plot goes something like this: Niko Tatopoulos, here the narrator, is an expert on arthropods and radiation’s affect thereupon. The government, apparently hard-up for experts, forcibly hires the bug-man as a means to uncovering the mystery behind a new, monstrous threat to national security—a mysterious beast that has been attacking ships at sea. When the monster, which is given the name “Godzilla” by a slimy reporter, attacks Manhattan, the military proves largely useless, and thus it is up to Tatopolous, his ditsy ex-girlfriend, a crazy cameraman, and some members of the French secret service to get the real work done to prevent the world’s human population from becoming lizard munchies.
The most interesting aspect of Molstad’s adaptation is that he envisions the text as a true-life, first-person narrative by the protagonist, Niko Tatopoulos. Here we have Godzilla written as memoir, which opens up a tantalizing spectrum of narrative possibilities. Molstad’s Tatopoulos is a humorous narrator, repeatedly injecting sarcastic remarks and colorful commentary into the story, and attempting to explain more fully some aspects of the story left mostly untouched in the movie. Molstad, however, wants to include all the scenes from the movie, largely in order, and furthermore wishes to write exact dialogue from every one of them, even those wherein the protagonist was not present. If that’s not ludicrous enough, Tatopolous can apparently read minds, as inner thoughts from secondary characters are also included in the narrative. Even more odd, Molstad occasionally tries to ape the camera movements from the movie—at the end of the book, he orchestrates an out-of-body experience for his protagonist just so he can have the camera pull back up into the sky. In other words, Molstad largely botches his own interesting reinterpretation of the script.
On the other hand, a change Molstad adds, and one not welcomed by me, is that he makes Tatopoulos into an extremely vocal environmentalist. Over and over, in several parts of the novel, often awkwardly inserted, Tatopoulos suddenly rants and raves about how humans deface and destroy the environment. Incredibly, our protagonist repeatedly states just how much he wants to rant even more, that he excised long discourses about the topic from the manuscript already! Such digressions are distracting and detract from the story, but thankfully as the action heats up Tatopoulos’ diatribes fade out.
More enjoyable, Molstad portrays Tatopoulos as a bit of an arrogant buffoon, albeit one who nevertheless is always right. Other characters are even more ridiculous. The script for Godzilla is a cartoon action extravaganza, with the characters to match. What else do you call a story with a blatant parody of Roger Ebert as the mayor of New York City? Here we have a cameraman who is thoroughly suicidal in his pursuit of the perfect shot, a belligerent and bellicose stereotype of an army commander, and a French-cliché-infused Bondian super solider who can pretty much do anything the plot calls for him to do. There isn’t much for this motley crew of heroes to show in the way of character development—they are here to chew scenery and make us laugh. Ultimately, despite an additional hundred pages or so, Molstad’s character work struck me as less interesting than Gilmour’s in her junior novelization of the same movie. Gilmour gave me a new appreciation of the character of Audrey Timmonds. Molstad just made me more annoyed with Tatopoulos.
As for the action sequences and scenes of destruction, Molstad performs adequately, but nowhere near the level of Mark Cerasini in his YA novel series. Molstad doesn’t have the knowledge of military vehicles and equipment that Cerasini does, nor quite the visual imagination necessary for conveying the awe and power of the kaiju kind. Maybe Molstad just assumed an entomologist wouldn’t have the writing chops to describe mass destruction.
As always with these adaptations, I was interested to see in what ways the book would differ from the movie, and specifically whether Godzilla would exhibit some of the more colorful attributes that he had in the Gilmour version, such as his chameleon nature, and extendable tongue. Unfortunately, Molstad’s version does not have either of these and, like the Gilmour book, omits the ignited monster burp that appears so fleetingly in the movie version. Disappointing.
One interesting note I must point out before I close—Molstad surreptitiously points out Godzilla’s wholesale cannibalization of Jurassic Park several times. He openly notes the Baby Godzilla’s visual similarity to velociraptors, and later has Mendel Craven writing a book based on his monstrous experiences called Cretaceous-period Park. One wonders if Molstad realized that the entire concept of the movie, Godzilla-by-way-of-Crichton, was not really such a good idea… but if Michael Crichton had written this book, I would have snapped it up years ago.
As it stands, I would never have read Molstad’s adaptation of Godzilla unless I was writing for Toho Kingdom. Years ago, when Independence Day came out, I received the book version as a gift, but never made it past the first few pages, and I had no reason to think Godzilla would be any better—especially after my good friend and Godzilla-loving comrade Sam told me he had once owned Molstad’s adaptation but was so annoyed with the hero that he threw it away. Molstad’s book isn’t THAT bad—it’s just a highly fluffy interpretation of a highly fluffy movie.