“Star Trek” by Alan Dean Foster (2009 Movie Novelization and Audiobook)

I was looking through my old Livejournal and realized I never got around to reposting this here. So to celebrate the release of “Star Trek Into Darkness”, here is my integrated review of “Star Trek” (Movie Novelization) by Alan Dean Foster and “Star Trek” (Movie Novelization – Audiobook) narrated by Zachary Quinto, which was originally published on NewWorlds.ph on 26 June 2009.

star trekStar Trek
Author: Alan Dean Foster, based on the screenplay by Alex Kurtzman and Roberto Orci
Audiobook Narrator: Zachary Quinto
Read Date: Sometime in 2009
Rating: Novel – 4 out of 5 stars; Audiobook – 5 out of 5 stars

The origins of James Kirk, Spock and the crew of the USS Enterprise from the 2009 film “Star Trek” and how these iconic characters came together in the alternate reality caused by Nero’s time travel. This book is the novelization of the 2009 film of the same name.

* This review assumes readers have at least watched the film. 🙂 *

When I read a novel, I create an independent movie in my mind. I visualize scenes and characters vividly as if I were directing them, and every word contributes to my imaginary screenplay.

Listening to audiobooks, on the other hand, provide me with a completely different kind of entertainment. In a way, they add sound and music to my mental indie film, especially if the narrator delivers an exceptional performance. For a long time now, my personal standard for audiobooks is Stephen Fry’s reading of Harry Potter – all 7 of them. Even though I’ve read each of the books several times over, I still take away something new from the story every time I listen to him.

In the past, I’ve always read the books before listening to their audiobook counterparts. I didn’t realize doing things in reverse will result in an unexpected side-effect; at the time, the books were simply easier to get hold of than the audiobooks.

With the movie novelization of Alex Kurtzman and Roberto Orci’s Star Trek by Alan Dean Foster, I experienced the novel by listening to Zachary Quinto’s unabridged narration first, so I’m now writing about both the book and the audiobook simultaneously. [Full Disclosure: I’ve listened to the audiobook too many times that I can’t read the book without hearing ZQ’s voice inside my head.]

Foster’s adaptation stays true to Kurtzman and Orci’s screenplay and basic storyline about James Tiberius Kirk, Spock, the rest of the crew of the Federation Starship USS Enterprise, and how their lives were changed by a time-travelling villain who is out for revenge. Foster, however, wrote in several key scenes that were cut from the film [For reference: DVD list of deleted scenes]. They became effective establishing scenes: Spock’s birth, a little more about Kirk’s childhood, certain parts of the Kobayashi Maru arc.

Conversely, there were also scenes that he did not include but were shot for the film and edited out. Why he did not write about Nero and Crew’s time at the Klingon prison planet when it could have been used to give the readers more insight into the Romulans is a mystery to me. He also extended many of the scenes from the screenplay. The discussion between the people on the bridge after Kirk assumed command of the Enterprise became the platform to unravel the intricacies of the parallel timeline plot point. If the final cut of this scene from the film forced audiences to take leaps to connect the dots, the scene in the book will at least help readers grasp the concept at the same time the characters do. A lot of sections were also added to establish relationships and flesh out characters and backstories.

One of the fascinating things about novelizations is being privy to the characters’s thoughts. Foster gives us a lot of these, especially for Kirk and Spock. However, his characterization of Kirk did not quite endear the character to me as the movie did. Kirk does have his moments, but he is abrasive and arrogant for the most part. In contrast, Chris Pine’s portrayal gave that same arrogance a softer edge and a certain vulnerability and charm. I always root for movie!Kirk, but I wouldn’t mind someone hitting novel!Kirk squarely in the face just once. Foster’s Spock was written closer to how the Vulcan was portrayed by Zachary Quinto, though Spock in the novel is perhaps less intriguing. The other characters were better written, most notably Leonard McCoy and Christopher Pike.

I’m not too crazy about the general writing style that Foster employed, but the one thing I specifically loved and he got right is the humor of the film; this really redeemed the novel in my eyes. If I had read this before listening to the audiobook, though, I fear I might have been a bit more disagreeable, so special commendation must be given to Zachary Quinto for his narration.

For someone who is on his first stint as an audiobook narrator, Quinto turned in a remarkable performance. He has a very pleasant voice and good enunciation. His extensive experience as an actor obviously came into play as he gave a lot of thought to how each scene and character will be portrayed, capturing the essence of the performances of his fellow cast members in the film, yet giving each one his own personal interpretation.

Quinto’s narrator voice is appropriately neutral most of the time; omniscient, but never intrusive. However, he adjusts perceptibly to add atmosphere to certain sections. This is best exemplified by the transition from a subdued reading of Spock’s audience with the elders in Vulcan to a more vibrant reading of Kirk’s bar scene in Iowa, you can almost hear the jovial music playing in the room; from the frantic reading of Kirk’s encounter with the monster in Delta Vega to a wistful reading of Kirk and Spock Prime’s mindmeld; from the melancholic reading of the scene between Spock and Sarek to the urgent reading of the strategy session on the Bridge.

The voices he created for the different characters were very distinct, but he never resorts to exaggeration. Instead, he varies the cadence, texture, volume, and tone of his voice slightly to convey McCoy’s gruffness, Kirk’s brashness, Spock’s calmness tinged with emotion, Chekov’s eagerness, Nero’s subtle menace, Pike’s confidence, Uhura’s femininity, and yes, even the monster Polarilla’s growls. My only problem was I could not stop laughing at his portrayal of Amanda Grayson. Quinto also managed the accents of both Chekov and Scotty wonderfully, again, rendering a distinct reading without resorting to parody.

In conclusion, Foster generally did a good job of adapting the screenplay and adding richness to the story we see on film, but there are glaring hits, misses and inconsistencies. Quinto, for his part, pleasantly surprises, entertains, and elevates the novelization to a new level.

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Excerpt from the audiobook:

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