Tuesday, May 30, 2017

The Terminator

The Terminator by Shaun Hutson. Originally published by Star, 1984. Approx. 165pgs.

One novelization that has definitely been on my radar this year is for The Terminator. I mean, this movie remains iconic, even over thirty years after its initial release. So, the curiosity surrounding how the novel turned out is quite high. I knew that Randall Frakes had done the novel work, and also that this book runs very high in the secondary market (lowest prices rarely fall below $30). However, I didn't realize until perusing some blogs lately that The Terminator actually had two novelizations. Indeed, it turns out that the Frakes book is actually the second one released; the first being penned by British author Shaun Hutson, best known for spinner-rack horror novels (as well as WWII books and some Westerns). Better yet, it is the more affordable of the two (I snagged this copy for about $6, after shipping), and most reviews of it were positive. So, I got a copy and tore right through it. How was it? Read on...

As with other novelizations, we have no idea what version of the script the author had to work with, or if anybody had already been cast. I will say this; Hutson's novel adheres very closely to the finished movie. Also, the characters are described well enough to assign the actors too (especially Traxler). There are some minor differences in background characters, and certain locations have different names as well (sadly, Tech Noir is known as Stoker's in the novel).

Now, knowing that the novel plays out very close to the movie, what then is the draw of reading the novel? It all falls on the writing style of the author. I was not familiar with Hutson prior to this novel, and I was interested to see how a horror specialist would handle this story, which actually does have some horror elements in it (I can remember being pretty scared of the Terminator skeleton as a 10 year old back in '84). Here's the thing: Hutson has a really sharp, detailed writing style that moves at a brisk pace. He is very descriptive, and shrewd enough to focus on the details that matter. Case in point; when describing a rainstorm that breaks a few days of continuous L.A. heat, he also describes how that torrential downpour - something that should be a welcome respite - actually releases all the saturated stench of the City. Growing up in a major city, in the same time period, this gave me PTSD-level flashbacks. He also employs a kind of colloquial, conversational tone as well. For example, when discussing some of the food at the restaurant Sarah works at, he outright calls it "junk". It might seem like poor or puerile writing, but believe me, when you are flipping the pages, it is all part of the flow. You don't always have to use lofty terms such as "gastrointestinal abomination"; sometimes junk is just junk. Writing is about picking the right word at the right time.

The real area in which Hutson's extremely descriptive style yields noticeable dividends is when he is talking about wounds and injuries. It may be his horror chops flexing, but the man can write some serious gore. The shooting scenes from the movie are rendered here in such a realistic manner that you can almost see, feel, and even smell it. Even the scene where the Terminator is removing his damaged organic eye; the way Hutson describes it, it makes you wince, even though you know the Terminator doesn't register pain.

Also, the few sex scenes in the book are nicely squishy, and slightly over-broiled. I'm sure this was a nice draw for young male readers back in the 80's.

I mentioned before that the novel and the movie follow pretty much the same track. However, as with most novelizations, there are scenes in the book which offer more detail than what we saw on the big screen, and there are some additional scenes as well. One plus is that in the book we get more of Traxler and Vulkovich, who were always a great team. We also get to see the scene of the second Sarah Connor's murder, and there is also a moment where we realize that destroying Cyberdine was something that Sarah was contemplating from the beginning.

There really isn't anything that I can say as a negative regarding this novelization. I mean, it tells the story we all know and love, and it gives us some fresh takes on it, all slathered in gory gobbets. I will say this; I got my copy from a UK seller. So, there are some "British" variations on words here: dumpsters are garbage skips, apartments are flats, and speedometers are just called speedos (which gets weird, since there are numerous car chases, and when Kyle Reese "looks down at his speedo", you suddenly have a vision of him sitting there in a bathing suit). Also, Hutson has a tendency to use the term "precious seconds" very often. Car hitting a bump while speeding? It'll fly for "precious seconds". Terminator aiming a gun at your head? He'll be zeroing in for "precious seconds".

Oh, and the character is referred to as "Terminator". Not "The Terminator". "Terminator". It takes a little bit to get used to.

And, lastly, Arnie's iconic line is slightly different here. Be forewarned.

All in all, this is an excellent novelization, and it won't cost you your retirement fund to own. Hopefully, I can get a copy of Frake's version sometime this year and do a comparison.


The cover of the novel is simply the movie poster. Given that this is one of the greatest, most iconic posters of all time (hell, I still want a pair of Gargoyles), it's a winner.

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