Generally, I’m not one for reading books after seeing the movie upon which it was based. I’m even less inclined to read the “novelization” of a film, figuring its sole purpose is to put additional cash in the pockets of the studio or those that own the movie. Because of my adoration of the all-too-soon-canceled TV series Firefly, though, I did pick up Serenity, Keith DeCandido’s novelization of the movie of the same name. While undoubtedly a good marketing tie-in with the film, the book also helps demonstrate the qualities inherent in each form of media.
As expected, the book is very true to the film. DeCandido also does a good job incorporating additional back story from episodes of the television series. He also uses language in both the narrative and dialogue that you would have heard on the series or in the movie. Yet what Firefly and Serenity fans will find to be a treat are the scenes DeCandido writes to help move the story that don’t appear in the film. Perhaps even more notable is something that reflects an ability the written word has that the visual can lack — explaining character motivation.
DeCandido takes us inside the minds of characters and tells us what they are thinking, something we can only intuit when seeing the same characters on the screen. For example, the novelization allows Firefly fans to get a better understanding of the source of the apparent antipathy Captain Malcolm Reynolds had for what a preacher on the ship, Shepherd Book, stood for. Likewise, we gain insight into the thoughts and motivations of most of the other characters at various times, something neither the series nor the movie necessarily provided.
Yet just as it is difficult for a movie to give us a character’s private thoughts, a book sometimes cannot do justice to the visual. For example, one of the climactic scenes in the movie involves the heroes’ spaceship coming out of an ion cloud with dozens of other ships in hot pursuit. It is doubtful any writer could convey that scene on paper with anywhere near the effectiveness and power the film does. Similarly, when a particular character dies (name omitted to preserve spoilers for those foolish enough not to have seen the movie), the shock is much more palpable on film than on paper. Perhaps it is my own lack of imagination or the fact that, having seen the film some weeks ago, these film images outweigh the written word. Regardless, the fact remains that certain scenes and events just seem far better suited to film than paper.
The novelization is far from a science fiction classic. In fact, to the extent it is based on the film script, it cannot be considered evidence of DeCandido’s originality in that genre. Moreover, if you’ve seen the movie, you know the overwhelming majority of the story already. Still, the underlying story itself and the nuances DeCandido adds make it a worthwhile, if not necessary, addition for Firefly fans.
If you can’t do something smart, do something right.
Jayne Cobb (Adam Baldwin), Serenity