Book - Men in Black: International

The world's not going to save itself so, to get into practise, Paul Robinson read the official novelisation of MIB International by R S Belcher, thanks to Titan Books...

It has to be said that movie novelisations are something of a science. Growing up in the Eighties, without easy access to films online or on DVD, sometimes the only way to relive (or, in some cases prelive) movies was to read the novelisation. I've got distinct memories of reading the novelisation of the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles film in 1990 and ploughing through the annual two partners of the two-parter Star Trek episodes. You often found differences between the script the novel was based on, and the movie that was released, and sometimes the writer wrote things with a different tone.

This novelisation is the same - clearly written before the movie was made, at times it reads like it was written ahead of the casting. This doesn't mean that the writing is bad - it just makes me wonder whether I'm unfairly judging the novelisation a little harsher given I greatly enjoyed the movie.

The writer tries - early descriptions of High T (the name still irritates me) and Agent H are described as '(carrying) himself with a coiled power and quiet authority -' and 'handsome, bright eyed and clean shaven'. To me that reads as a script direction rather than the words of someone who has seen the movie. Similarly M is described as having 'A natural beauty she was dimly aware of.'

At various points, there is a struggle with view point and narrative sense, most notably during those moments where the standout action sequences from the film are described. But maybe I'm just being inordinately fussy about things because this isn't a bad novelisation by any stretch of the imagination, there have been much worse (witness the later Trek novelisations, even the recent Suicide Squad adaptation).

The job follows the plot of the movie pretty closely, there are a few small tidbits we don't get in the movie (the name of certain characters, for example) and certain sections are just deleted. The sequence with Agent M attempting to join the FBI, CIA, NSA etc is boiled down to a simple statement that she had flirted with attempting to do so, and the hoverbike chase sequence in Morocco and the firing of the alien weapon in the Empty Quarter are boiled down to about eight pages. The novel seems to hit it's stride about two thirds of the way through, with the meeting with Riza and the finale at the Eiffel Tower being well described. But Riza isn't described as Rebecca Ferguson, but that's not an issue given that, as I've said, the novel was probably written before filming and maybe even casting too.

The best thing about the novelisation is the addition of a short story in which we get some background information - namely the relationship between Riza and H. And it reads much better - which suggests to me that there isn't anything fundamentally wrong with the actual novel, and the issues were purely my own with H not being Hemsworth and M not being Emma Thompson.

If you have seen the movie before reading, I'd be curious to know if people feel the same way. And perhaps how people fare if they read the novel first - is there a different experience here that I never had?

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