Book Review – “Spider-Man” movie novelization

The novel adapted from an early draft of the
Spider-Man movie script is on store
shelves. There are minor spoilers below, but
nothing that would be news to comic book fans or
anyone who has seen the previews for the movie.
Still, if you want to stay spoiler-free, here’s
the short version: it’s good. I will
see this movie on opening night.

General Information

Title: Spider-Man
Author: Peter David, based on the original
screenplay by David Koepp, which was based on the
Marvel comic by Stan Lee
Original Publication Date: February 2002
ISBN: 0-345-45005-1
Cover Price: $6.99US, $9.99Can
Movie Information: Due out in theaters on May


Peter Parker is transformed into Spider-Man. A
super-villain rises to
make his life difficult.

Comic-to-film Translations and Spider-Man

The Spider-Man movie has been
languishing in preproduction
for over 15 years. It took the financial success
of X-Men to
get this film on the fast track. I was expecting
an adaptation of
similar caliber; some characters were mostly
right, while most
characters were mostly wrong.

I was very pleasantly surprised. I was expecting
this movie to be
more like X-Men than any other
adaptation. Instead, I found
a title that has all the respect for the source
material that came
across in Richard Donner’s Superman, or
Tim Burton’s
Batman. I put the book down feeling
even more resolved to be
standing in line on opening night.

Spider Man’s comic book origin is very well
represented. The
technological buzzwords are the buzzwords of
today rather those of
1964, and the abilities aren’t gained instantly
and painlessly, but
it’s otherwise unaltered.

The secondary characters have been adjusted.
Peter Parker and Mary
Jane Watson don’t meet the way they did in the
comic books, but this
version works. The Green Goblin’s outfit has
been modernized, but it
works. I haven’t read any of the comics, but I
know that this film
uses the original Green Goblin, and makes a
fantastic villain out of
him. I hope that this portrayal is the same as
in the comic books.

Those who read spoilers will know of a minor
alteration to the
mechanism of one of Spider Man’s powers. Well,
as far as I am
concerned, the alteration works.

Movie Novelizations

Before I get into the scores, I should say that
I’ve read a few dozen
movie adaptation novels. They are invariably
worse than the movie.
One of the few benefits, though, is that I’m not
as likely to get
swept up in the movie-going experience, and I’m
less likely to mistake
the bass sound-induced adrenaline rush as a
response to something I
see on screen. If an action movie like this one
works on the page, it
should definitely work on screen.

High Point

The representation of the hero. He’s capable,
but not invulnerable.
Most importantly, he’s human. The comic books
developed a wonderful
storyline around his early days with his
abilities, and what events
inspired him to become a hero. Those events are
unaltered and
effective in this adaptation.

Low Point

The novel delves a lot into the mental tangents
the characters go off
on. Sometimes these work, but more often than
not they feel like
filler. The good news is, they probably are
fillers. I don’t expect
to see the truly awkward ones represented on
screen by more than a
quick facial expression.

The Scores

The first score is for originality.
This is also the lowest
score. The idea is adapted from another medium,
and the story events
and structure harken back to the greatest
superhero movies I’ve seen.
(In one event, it even goes back to something
from a mediocre movie,
but does a much better job with that idea.) It
put these borrowed
ideas to good use, but they’re still borrowed. 2
out of 6.

The imagery was a bit light in places.
I got the impression
that the author was using the imagery present in
the script, and
omitting all other details. In many cases that
was fine, but in other
spots, the action was a bit hazy. 3 out of 6.

The story is a definite origin story.
We watch Peter gain
his powers, and we watch him fight the temptation
of becoming rich
instead of a hero. This isn’t the plotless
drivel of, say, Batman
and Robin
. This story works on the page as a
story in its own
right, without the need for comic book or movie
visuals. The story is
simple, but not nearly as simple as other entries
into the superhero
genre. I give it 4 out of 6.

The characterization was very well done.
There are really
four main characters in the story; Peter
Parker/Spider Man, Norman
Osborn/Green Goblin, Mary Jane Watson, and Harry
Osborn. The
villain’s subtle descent into madness is
incredible. This isn’t Jack
Napier’s sudden psychosis after an odd swim, it’s
a battle to maintain
control of the mind and body. Mary Jane and
Harry, who could have
been one-dimensional window dressing around the
hero and villain, are
fully developed characters with thoughts,
feelings, and ambitions of
their own. In fact, there is a grand total of
one completely
stereotypical character in the novel, and he’s
built like a man who
wants to live a stereotype. I give it 5 out of 6.

Now for the category that I’m usually the hardest
on: emotional
. Most of my response was
excitement in seeing a well
known character treated properly. However, there
was more than that.
Peter Parker, Harry Osborn, and Mary Jane Watson
are all very
sympathetic characters. I found myself caring
for their home lives.
That’s enough to earn this a four. However, the
events of the last
four chapters (which I refuse to elaborate on)
bump it up to a 5 out
of 6.

When rating the editing, well, the Low
Point takes its toll.
The mental tangents are often repeating aspects
of a character that we
already know, while simultaneously screwing up
the pace. I give it 3
out of 6.

Overall, this is a very good book, worth
reading without the
movie tie-in. On the page, I give it an overall
score of 4 out of 6.

In total, Spider-Man receives 26 out of
I expect that a movie directed by Sam Raimi, with
great visual effects
and a Danny Elfman score, will do at least that