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The (superior) books behind 2012's sci-fi and fantasy movies

Jay Garmon lists the 18 science-fiction and/or fantasy titles you should read before heading to the multiplex this year.

The 2012 sci-fi, fantasy, and horror movie season has just begun, and already a staggering number of films are actually adaptations (for better or worse) of blockbuster books. Check out these unaltered and awesome tomes before you see what Hollywood has done to them.

  1. The Mysterious Island by Jules Verne is the basis (as only Hollywood could use the word "basis") for Journey 2: The Mysterious Island, sequel to 2008's Journey To The Center of The Earth 3D. Going by the last movie, you can read the prose version of The Mysterious Island with virtually no fear of spoiling any actual plot or character developments in the "modernized" film, which debuts Feb. 10.
  2. Essential Ghost Rider, Vol. 1 showcases the trippy, wildly inconsistent yet often ingenious 1970s horror comics origins of the character Nicolas Cage will reprise in Ghost Rider: Spirit of Vengeance, which opens Feb. 17. If you like the funny book version, you can probably stand the silver screen incarnation.
  3. The Borrowers by Mary Norton was adapted by anime icon Hayao Miyazaki into The Secret World of Arrietty, which opens in the United States (finally) on Feb. 17. Hard choice to say which version of tiny sprites living in the walls of a small cottage will be more compelling, so consume both.
  4. A Princess of Mars by Edgar Rice Burroughs is the story that both launched the author's seminal Barsoom series about a 19th-century American soldier turned Martian warlord, and serves as the basis for the epic John Carter film that opens March 9. Swords and spaceships for the win.
  5. The Complete Tales and Poems of Edgar Allan Poe, once read, is a two-edged sword. You'll almost certainly have a better understanding of The Raven, in which a serial killer taunts Poe with murders based on the author's own writings. Of course, after reading, you'll also understand how much the Mar. 9 film mangles the source material, too.
  6. The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins is like The Running Man crossed with Twilight. In the case of the book, which depicts a sadistic reality show pitting starving children against each other in a race to the death, that's a compliment. As to the movie of the same name, opening Mar. 23, well, it can't be worse than Twilight. (Can it?)
  7. Essential Avengers Vol. 1 should get the five geeks in the world unaware of Marvel Comics' premiere superteam up to speed on the eponymous May 4 superhero flick directed by Buffy The Vampire Slayer's Joss Whedon and starring Iron Man's Robert Downey, Jr. Taking said book to opening night may earn you extra street cred, too. (Not really.)
  8. Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter by Seth Grahame-Smith is the insane "why the frak not?" novel behind the insane "why the frak not?" movie Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter, opening June 22. One of these features Wash from Firefly as Stephen A. Douglas and Scott Pilgrim's Mary Elizabeth Winstead as Mary Todd Lincoln, but we're honestly not sure which.
  9. Essential Spider-Man Vol. 1 should recap what director Marc Webb (seriously) claims is the plot of The Amazing Spider-Man, opening Jul. 3. Namely, the true, authentic origin of your friendly neighborhood wall-crawler. For Tinseltown values of "true," anyway. Excelsior!
  10. Batman: Knightfall, Pt. 1 collects the Caped Crusader's epic original comic book confrontation with Bane, the headline bad guy from director Christopher Nolan's final bat-film, The Dark Knight Rises, which opens Jul. 20. You won't need the former to understand the latter, but one will help you appreciate the other. That's a promise.
  11. We Can Remember It For You Wholesale by Philip K. Dick was the loose inspiration for the 1990 Schwarzenegger classic Total Recall, which was in turn the loose basis for the Aug. 3-debuting Colin Farrell dystopia film, Total Recall. But which version is real, and which is just a false memory?
  12. Warm Bodies by Isaac Marion tells the tale of R, a zombie that manages to fall in love with the girlfriend of one of his victims (and maybe end the zombie war). On Aug. 10, the guy who played Beast in X-Men: First Class will portray R in the silver screen version of Warm Bodies, with a supporting cast that includes John Malkovich.
  13. Judge Dredd: The Mega-City One Archives Vol. 1 is the best primer for Dredd, the new dystopian sci-fi actioner arriving Sep. 21 to make us all forget the dreadful 1995 Sly Stallone adaptation of Britain's classic comic book anti-hero future-cop. This time around, Karl Urban portrays the lawgiver, which can only be a good thing.
  14. The Hobbit by J.R.R. Tolkien finally gets the big-budget treatment by Peter "Lord of the Rings" Jackson. Unfortunately, Hollywood needs to squeeze every last dime from the Middle Earth cash cow, so Dec. 14's The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey only adapts the first half of the novel, and may introduce some new material to pad the story before next year's "sequel" shows up. Brush up on the prose classic, if only to see what "improvements" Jackson has made.
  15. World War Z by Max Brooks helped jumpstart the "serious" zombie fiction craze, but the Dec. 21 movie version of World War Z has seen a procession of writers come and go and Brad Pitt installed as the hero protagonist the novel never had. Read the groundbreaking book, as it seems unlikely the film will bear much resemblance to it.
  16. Life of Pi by Yann Martel chronicles the fantastical story of an Indian schoolboy who supernaturally survives 227 days at sea in a lifeboat with a ravenous Bengal tiger (or so he seems to remember). The Dec. 21 film version stars Tobey Maguire as the required Caucasian frame character, but it otherwise appears faithful to the quirky book.
  17. Midnight's Children by Salman Rushdie chronicles the lives of the magically empowered children born the moment India gained independence, with special emphasis on the boy whose life dictates the fate of the nation. No word on when the film adaptation will earn US release, but the smart money is on Oscar season (AKA autumn).
  18. Cloud Atlas by David Mitchell is an ambitious novel describing the inexplicable links between six unlikely historical figures connected across six moments in time: Past, present and distant sci-fi future. Tom Hanks and Halle Berry headline the film version's all-star ensemble cast, which is still searching for a U.S. release date. Again, expect it during Oscar season.

About

Jay Garmon has a vast and terrifying knowledge of all things obscure, obtuse, and irrelevant. One day, he hopes to write science fiction, but for now he'll settle for something stranger -- amusing and abusing IT pros. Read his full profile. You can a...

7 comments
metaphysician
metaphysician

In Peter Jackson's defense, when you need to get it right for the fans, typically you can get two, maybe three, pages of book per minute of film. The Hobbit certainly qualifies as one of the books with fans who have basically memorized it, and there's a lot to put on the screen. It looks like a wonderful summer. Zombie movies and remakes of movies about comic book (oops, make that Graphic Novel) stories, with maybe one or two original ideas. Yum.

ggrihn
ggrihn

I'm surprised "Avengers, Vol. 1" was not mentioned--.

john.a.wills
john.a.wills

I have not read The Mysterious Island, but I understood that it was a sequel to 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea, not to Journey to the Center of the Earth. I suppose this is a wake-up call to get a copy and read it, 50 years after reading both the alleged prequels. Off to alibris.fr.

Jay Garmon
Jay Garmon

...I'd put a marker down on World War Z. Not just the best zombie novel, but one the best genre books -- period -- I've ever read.

DBinNC
DBinNC

The first film version of this was released in 1961 - and was pretty dang good for the time! Ray Harryhousen did the stop-motion animation for it. And yes it was a sequel of sorts to 20k Leagues...Captain Nemo is in it, played by Herbert Lom (Inspector Clouseau's twitchy superior). I enjoy watching the original, but I'll probably pass on this rendition of it. I like Johnson, just not thrilled about the gooiness this movie seems to project along with the special effects. Now Hobbit and Hunger Games....I'd have to be dead in order to miss those!

Tuura
Tuura

Judging by the trailer, take two Valium. Or possibly two kicks to the head. Pity as I have a soft spot for Johnson too.