Wednesday, 8 January 2020

Shaun Hutson's Terminator

The fly crawled into the wound, feasting on the dark fluid within. Terminator ignored it as it nudged deep into the gash on his face. The skin was torn in many places, some of the cuts mottled green and blue where gangrene had begun to set in. The flies swarmed over the putrescent repast like gourmets. The cyborg could smell its own odour. The tiny hotel room was rank with it, a thick fetid stench which clogged the air and was made worse by the stifling heat...
Shaun Hutson, The Terminator

It seems an unlikely pairing, James Cameron’s stylish hi-tech sci-fi thriller and splatterpunk novelist Shaun Hutson, but back in 1984 UK publishers Star commissioned Hutson to write a novelization of Cameron’s film to tie in with its January 1985 release in the UK and Ireland. By all accounts neither party was terribly enthusiastic about the project. Hutson reportedly completed his assignment in just 15 days, and the novelization was not published in the US. Instead a more substantial, expansive and what might be best described as official novelization was penned by Randall Frakes and Bill Wisher and published in the US in November 1985. Of the two Terminator novelizations, the Frakes and Wisher book is probably the one best recommended for Terminator scholars. I've read in tandem with Hutson's novelization, a advanced draft of The Terminator screenplay, dated April 20th 1983 and the novelization closely follows, almost scene-for-scene, the screenplay, even dialogue in most cases remains unchanged. That’s not to say Hutson’s pass at the film should be disregarded. Before the advent of the 2001 Special Edition Terminator DVD, Hutson's novelization was one of the few sources of information on scenes that never made the final cut, and even today, with The Terminator mythos thoroughly explored in numerous books and websites, the novelization can still surprise with a few interesting diversions.

Two scenes that most likely were not filmed involve two supporting characters. Early in the novelization, readers are introduced to redhead Ginger Ventura and boyfriend Matt, when Sarah meets both at a gym. It's a minor, lightweight scene that no one would miss. The second lost scene is more substantial though and serves to introduce the character of the weary lieutenant Ed Traxler, first seen attending the home of the second murdered Sarah Connor:
Lying face down was a young woman, although it was hard to ascertain her age at first glance. Her upper body was a torn mess, a congealed puddle of blood having spread out around her. Part of the back of her skull had been blasted away revealing the sticky grey brain matter beneath.
‘Sarah Connor?’ he said. ‘That can’t be right. That’s the name of the one from Valley Division this afternoon.’
Vukovich shrugged and handed something to his superior
‘No doubt about the name. Here, we got her driver’s licence.’
‘You gotta be kidding me,’ Traxler said. ‘Jesus Christ. A one-day pattern killer. The newsboys will be short-stroking over this one.’ He looked down at the driver’s licence, hoping that there was some kind of mistake. There wasn’t.
Cameron judiciously transposed this bit of exposition to the police station for the film, but the scene as originally written lends Traxler a more profound connection to the unfolding events - when Sarah is later stalked by the Terminator in the police station, the critically injured Traxler hands Reece his gun and implores him to keep Sarah alive, suggesting that he believes what Reece had spoken about during his interrogation.

If the Frakes and Wisher book is now considered the definitive novelization of the film, Shaun Hutson's book has at least one important plot point not found in its US counterpart. After Sarah and Reece regroup at the Tikki motel, Sarah tries to convince Reece to destroy the Cyberdyne Systems plant which she locates in the phonebook. The plan is ultimately scotched when the Terminator resumes his pursuit but by a strange twist of fate, the climactic battle between Sarah and the Terminator takes places at the Cyberdyne manufacturing plant, where two of its personnel recover one of the cyborg chips. Interestingly there seems to have been some confusion on Hutson's part about what the computer system that waged war on humanity is actually called, referring to it as Skynet, but also as Titan. The word Titan eerily anticipates James Cameron's 1997 film Titanic but I could find no evidence that it sprang from an early Terminator screenplay draft. Perhaps Shaun Hutson was sneaking in a reference to Trident, the United Kingdom's nuclear missile programme established just a few years earlier in 1980.

A noteworthy aspect of the book is the naming convention used for the cyborg assassin. For the bulk of the novelization, Hutson refers to the T-800 as simply Terminator, without the definite article, which is not restored until the story's climax. This initially threw me off, thinking it was an ill-advised idiosyncrasy of the author, but the inconsistency is explained in the April 1983 screenplay which contains this bit of action:
The last flakes of flesh are falling from him like burning leaves. His gleaming structure is revealed in all its intricacy. No longer a 'He', but an 'It'. It looks like Death rendered in steel.
And for the remainder of the screenplay, the cyborg is referred to as The Terminator, which Hutson duly follows for the rest of the novelization.

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