Rocky & Rocky II
The blurb on the back:
THE MOVIE ...
He came from nowhere to within a heartbeat of victory...
If you've been with me as this site has grown, you'll have noticed a couple of themes emerging. One of them is that novelizations of movies suck; another is that Sylvester Stallone is an undervalued film-maker. So here we are with the two themes coinciding in Rocky, a novelization of Stallone's first and greatest block-buster. And? And it's very good indeed actually, written by Julia Sorel from a screenplay by Sly.
In case you don't know the story (shame on you): the world heavyweight boxing champion is Apollo Creed, a fiercely intelligent, articulate black fighter with a fantastic sense of theatre and box-office (any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead purely intentional). He's due to defend his title in Philadelphia on 1 January 1976 to get the US Bicentennial Year off to a flying start, but unfortunately his opponent sustains an injury in training and Creed instead decides to give a complete no-hoper, an underdog a shot at the title: it's the land of opportunity we're celebrating, after all. And the man accorded the honour is Rocky Balboa, the Italian Stallion, a bum who would be over the hill save for the fact that he's never lift his eyes far enough from the gutter to notice that there is a hill.
So you've got a simple little Hollywood fable that translates perfectly well onto the page. Without the epic, and frankly preposterous, scenes in the ring, it's a quieter, tougher piece. And I still love the peripheral characters, especially Rocky's bitter old veteran trainer, Mickey, described here as having 'one foot in the grave, the other in a Dr Scholl's footbath', and portrayed in the movies by Burgess Meredith (who played the Penguin in Batman in the 1960s, trivia fans).
Part of the beauty of Rocky II is that it kept all those peripheral characters, right down to the acapella vocal band hanging out on the street corner. The story followed up how a simple man handles overnight fame, which is a perfectly sound basis for a movie, and was one of the few cinematic sequels worth making. (The remaining films in the series, on the other hand - oh dear, oh Lord, oh my oh my.) The book claims to be by Stallone himself - he wrote and directed the movie - and isn't quite as strong as the first. Still pretty good though.
Time to pay some respect to Sly.
ENTERTAINMENT VALUE: 3/5
HIPNESS QUOTIENT: 2/5
William Campbell Gault, The Canvas Coffin