Seth MacFarlane: writer, director, producer, Oscars host, and now, novelist. The Family Guy creator announced that he has written a novel based on the screenplay for his upcoming film, A Million Ways to Die in the West, and will release it in March, two months before the film hits theaters in May. The book will tell the story of Albert Stark, a sheep farmer who spends most of his time attempting to avoid the overwhelming dangers that fill the wild west in order to survive, until his girlfriend leaves him, and "Albert decides to fight back—even though he can’t shoot, ride, or throw a punch. Fortunately, he teams up with a beautiful gunslinger who’s tough enough for the both of them. Unfortunately, she’s married to the biggest, meanest, most jealous badass on the frontier. Turns out Albert has just discovered a million and one ways to die in the West."
Turning the film into a novel is an unusual choice, since MacFarlane's comedic style tends to rely on rapid-fire jokes and visual gags that may be difficult for him to translate from the screen into print. Since he wrote the novelization himself, it's very likely that those jokes will have made it into the book, but the story will need to have a little bit of depth or character development in order to work properly as a novel. However, turning the film into a novel could be a good sign, as it can be taken as an indication that the film has a lot more to it than just an endless stream of jokes. There's been no indication thus far that MacFarlane has added material for the novel, which means we all might need to get excited about A Million Ways to Die in the West.
But as weird as it might seem to read a novel from the same guy who wrote Family Guy or Ted, A Million Ways to Die in the West is not the strangest or most surprising film novelization out there. We've rounded up 12 of the weirdest ones, and ranked them in order of insanity. Looks like MacFarlane has a lot to live up to with this project.
12. Pretty In Pink If you've ever watched the classic 1986 film and wished that Andie had chosen her dorky, loyal best friend Duckie over rich kid Blaine at the end, we may have the perfect solution for you. The novelization of the film sticks with the original ending, and allows Duckie to live the dream of every awkward, poorly-dressed high school guy and win the girl of his dreams away from the obnoxious kid with good hair and a nice car. The downside, though, is that unlike the screenplay, it isn't written by John Hughes, which means it likely lacks some of the wit and heart that characterizes his film. But that's a small price to pay to watch the nerd emerge victorious.
11. Kazaam Remember when Shaquille O'Neal decided to try his hand at acting in the late 1990s, and the world was gifted with Kazaam? Well, it should come as no surprise to you, then, that movie executives realized that school children all across the country would buy anything with O'Neal's face on it, and churned out a novelization of the film in order to sell it at book fairs. Unlike most film novelizations, there are no significant changes or additions to the book, probably because there is very little that can be done to that script in order to make it worth reading, but that didn't stop it from flying off the shelves of every elementary school library around.
10. Great Expectations Long before he stranded Sandra Bullock in space, Alfonso Cuaron directed an adaptation of Great Expectations starring Ethan Hawke and Gwyneth Paltrow. Then, someone adapted that adaptation into a novel that is even more "loosely" based on the Dickens classic. Although both the film and the novel make a lot of interesting and strange changes in order to modernize the story, the most inexplicable decision comes from author Deborah Chiel, who changed the name of the protagonist to Johnny from Fin (itself a change from the original name, Pip.) Dickens likely turned over in his grave when this hit bookshelves.
9. Crossroads The 2002 film Crossroads was notable not for its script, acting or cinematography but simply for the fact that it was the acting debut of pop princess Britney Spears. Which makes it even more surprising that someone would turn the film into a novel, as it then loses the one thing that made it worth talking about. Sure, Spears' face is on the cover, but the only reason to see the film was to watch her attempt to transition into a film career, and then sing along every time one of her songs played on the soundtrack. The book even takes away the joy that comes with watching Dan Akyroyd act in a Britney Spears film. It's all plot and no fun.
8. The Cabin in the Woods Co-written by Joss Whedon, this 2012 film was designed as a way to "revitalize the slasher film," and featured a surprise twist that thrilled fans and critics alike. But in case you're uncomfortable with too much gore, or you just never got to catch the film in theaters, there's a novelization of the film available so that you can still talk about the film without having to watch people get decapitated. It's the best of both worlds!
7. Mortal Kombat If there's one thing that old-school video games lacked, it's a strong sense of plot and character development. Jeff Rovin has remedied that by turning the video game Mortal Kombat into a novel, although he cut out most of the fighting in favor of backstory and long explanations of how the character came to be the super-powered fighting machines that they are. Which is cool if you're a hard-core fan, but let's be real, here: the only reason anyone was interested in Mortal Kombat was the fighting. Without that, what's the point?
6. John Carter John Carter is the story of a Civil War captain who gets transported to Mars after he dies, and leads a Martian army to save the princess. With it's mix of sci-fi and action, it makes sense that movie executives would want to turn the film into a novel; what doesn't make sense, though, is why they would choose to publish it alongside A Princess of Mars, the original Edgar Rice Burroughs story that it is based on, especially when the film famously failed to live up to its source material. You would think that the last thing they would want to do is draw attention to the ways the stories differed.
5. Paradise AlleyThis is a novelization of a film that was written and directed by Sylvester Stallone, adapted by Stallone himself, which makes it worthy of this list. You can actually own a book authored by the guy who played Rocky Balboa. What a time to be alive.
4. Spaceballs For some reason, Mel Brooks seem to think that his film Spaceballs would make an excellent children's book - which is not a thought that anyone who has ever seen Spaceballs shares. However, Brooks ignored everyone else, and the novelization was published, and sold to students in elementary schools across the country through Scholastic Book catalogs and school book fairs. Of course, they made sure to edit the content down to a more child-friendly nature, but anyone who's buying a Sapceballs book is probably not a child.
3. Ace Ventura: Pet Detective and Ace Ventura 2: When Nature Calls Everything that makes Ace Ventura work as a film is everything that makes it fail as a novel. The humor relies so heavily on Jim Carrey's physicality and line delivery, that without the visual element, all that's left are descriptions of the weird gags that take place in the film, which isn't fun or funny for anybody who reads these.
2. The Cat in the Hat No, we didn't make a mistake. Someone actually thought it was a good idea to turn the Mike Myers film into a novel, despite the fact that there is a book that already exists that is better written and more fun to read than the movie itself. When it comes to a showdown between the original Cat in the Hat and any kind of pale imitation, Dr. Suess will always walk away the winner. There's a reason it's become a classic, and it has nothing to do with Myers.
1. Howard the Duck Nobody who has ever watched Howard the Duck has wished that the story lasted longer. Nobody. But the strangest thing about this novelization isn't the fact that it exists in the first place, but the fact that it is widely regarded to be better than its source material, and even adds extra layers of depth and humor to the characters and story that appears onscreen. That's right: Howard the Duck has hidden layers. Who'd have known?
David Mitchell's novel Cloud Atlas consists of six stories set in various periods between 1850 and a time far into Earth's post-apocalyptic future. Each segment lives on its own the previous first person account picked up and read by a character in its successor creating connective tissue between each moment in time. The various stories remain intact for Tom Tykwer's (Run Lola Run) Lana Wachowski's and Andy Wachowski's (The Matrix) film adaptation which debuted at the Toronto International Film Festival. The massive change comes from the interweaving of the book's parts into one three-hour saga — a move that elevates the material and transforms Cloud Atlas in to a work of epic proportions.
Don't be turned off by the runtime — Cloud Atlas moves at lightning pace as it cuts back and forth between its various threads: an American notary sailing the Pacific; a budding musician tasked with transcribing the hummings of an accomplished 1930's composer; a '70s-era investigatory journalist who uncovers a nefarious plot tied to the local nuclear power plant; a book publisher in 2012 who goes on the run from gangsters only to be incarcerated in a nursing home; Sonmi~451 a clone in Neo Seoul who takes on the oppressive government that enslaves her; and a primitive human from the future who teams with one of the few remaining technologically-advanced Earthlings in order to survive. Dense but so was the unfamiliar world of The Matrix. Cloud Atlas has more moving parts than the Wachowskis' seminal sci-fi flick but with additional ambition to boot. Every second is a sight to behold.
The members of the directing trio are known for their visual prowess but Cloud Atlas is a movie about juxtaposition. The art of editing is normally a seamless one — unless someone is really into the craft the cutting of a film is rarely a post-viewing talking point — but Cloud Atlas turns the editor into one of the cast members an obvious player who ties the film together with brilliant cross-cutting and overlapping dialogue. Timothy Cavendish the elderly publisher could be musing on his need to escape and the film will wander to the events of Sonmi~451 or the tortured music apprentice Robert Frobisher also feeling the impulse to run. The details of each world seep into one another but the real joy comes from watching each carefully selected scene fall into place. You never feel lost in Cloud Atlas even when Tykwer and the Wachowskis have infused three action sequences — a gritty car chase in the '70s a kinetic chase through Neo Seoul and a foot race through the forests of future millennia — into one extended set piece. This is a unified film with distinct parts echoing the themes of human interconnectivity.
The biggest treat is watching Cloud Atlas' ensemble tackle the diverse array of characters sprinkled into the stories. No film in recent memory has afforded a cast this type of opportunity yet another form of juxtaposition that wows. Within a few seconds Tom Hanks will go from near-neanderthal to British gangster to wily 19th century doctor. Halle Berry Hugh Grant Jim Sturgess Jim Broadbent Ben Whishaw Hugo Weaving and Susan Sarandon play the same game taking on roles of different sexes races and the like. (Weaving as an evil nurse returning to his Priscilla Queen of the Desert cross-dressing roots is mind-blowing.) The cast's dedication to inhabiting their roles on every level helps us quickly understand the worlds. We know it's Halle Berry behind the fair skinned wife of the lunatic composer but she's never playing Halle Berry. Even when the actors are playing variations on themselves they're glowing with the film's overall epic feel. Jim Broadbent's wickedly funny modern segment a Tykwer creation that packs a particularly German sense of humor is on a smaller scale than the rest of the film but the actor never dials it down. Every story character and scene in Cloud Atlas commits to a style. That diversity keeps the swirling maelstrom of a movie in check.
Cloud Atlas poses big questions without losing track of its human element the characters at the heart of each story. A slower moment or two may have helped the Wachowskis' and Tykwer's film to hit a powerful emotional chord but the finished product still proves mainstream movies can ask questions while laying over explosive action scenes. This year there won't be a bigger movie in terms of scope in terms of ideas and in terms of heart than Cloud Atlas.
As with seemingly every other tentpole release to hit the multiplex this summer the action thriller Cowboys & Aliens is based on a comic book – albeit a lesser-known one. It’s directed by Jon Favreau whose previous comic-book adaptations Iron Man and Iron Man 2 proved how much better those films can be when they’re grounded in character. Unfortunately his latest effort is grounded not in character but a hook an alt-history scenario best expressed in the language of the average twelve-year-old: “Like wouldn’t it be awesome if like a bunch of 1870s cowboys had to fight a bunch of crazy aliens with exoskeletons and spaceships and super-advanced weapons?”
Like perhaps. The hook was compelling enough to get someone to pony up a reported $160 million to find out and the result is a film in which the western and science-fiction genres don’t so much blend as violently collide. After the wreckage is cleared both emerge worse for wear.
Daniel Craig stars as Jake Lonergan a stranger who awakens in the New Mexico Territory with a case of amnesia a wound in his side and a strange contraption strapped to his wrist. After dispatching a trio of bandits with Bourne-like efficiency he rides to the nearby town of Absolution where he stumbles on what appears to be an elaborate Western Iconography exhibit presented by the local historical preservation society. There’s the well-meaning town Sheriff Taggart (Keith Carradine) struggling to enforce order amidst lawlessness; the greedy rancher Colonel Dolarhyde (Harrison Ford) who really runs things; his debaucherous cowardly son Percy (Paul Dano); the timid saloonkeeper Doc (Sam Rockwell) who’s going to stand up for himself one of these days; the humble preacher Meacham (Clancy Brown) dispensing homespun spiritual advice; et al.
Jake of course has his own part to play – the fugitive train-robber – as we discover when his face shows up on a wanted poster and a sneering Dolarhyde fingers him for the theft of his gold. The only character who doesn’t quite conform to type is Ella (Olivia Wilde) who as neither a prostitute nor some man’s wife – the traditional female occupations in westerns – immediately arouses suspicion.
Jake is arrested and ordered to stand trial in Federal court but before he can be shipped off a squadron of alien planes appears in the sky besieging Absolution and making off with several of its terrified citizenry. In the course of the melee Jake’s wrist contraption wherever it came from reveals itself to be quite useful in defense against the alien invaders. Thrown by circumstances into an uneasy alliance with Dolarhyde he helps organize a posse to counter the otherworldly threat – and bring back the abductees if possible.
Cowboys & Aliens has many of the ingredients of a solid summer blockbuster but none in sufficient amounts to rate in a summer season crowded with bigger-budget (and better-crafted) spectacle. For a film with five credited screenwriters Cowboys & Aliens’ script is sorely lacking for verve or imagination. And what happened to the Favreau of Iron Man? The playful cheekiness that made those films so much fun is all but absent in this film which takes itself much more seriously than any film called Cowboys & Aliens has a right to. Dude you’ve got men on horses with six-shooters battling laser-powered alien crab people. Lighten up.
Craig certainly looks the part of the western anti-hero – his only rival in the area of rugged handsomeness is Viggo Mortensen – but his character is reduced to little more than an angry glare. And Wilde the poor girl is burdened with loads of clunky exposition. The two show promising glimpses of a romantic spark but their relationship remains woefully underdeveloped. Faring far better is Ford who gets not only the bulk of the film’s choicest lines but also its only touching subplot in which his character’s adopted Indian son played by Adam Beach quietly coaxes the humanity out of the grizzled old man.