Tuesday, November 17, 2009

LUANA (1968) and its novelization

A couple of years ago I bought a bootleg copy of the then hard to find Italian made jungle girl film LUANA. I had hopes that it would be either a rough gem of hidden skill or, if that was too much, a sleazy soft-core romp in steamy nudity with fur loin cloths. It turned out to be neither sad to say. Its a poorly made outdoor epic shot on obvious indoor sets with very little in the way of sleazy fun or even interest outside of the basic idea. Not that the idea for the story was original at all but the 'child lost in the wilderness/raised by animals' concept is inherently fascinating on many levels so it takes a real effort to screw it up. That effort was made with LUANA and in a certain light that makes it unique. Not adult enough to be dirty, not well written enough to be fun it still manages to be a mostly painless 85 minutes or so even if it would have been greatly enhanced by the Mystery Science Theater crew.

A while after finally seeing the movie I made a shocking discovery- science fiction author Alan Dean Foster had written a novelization for LUANA. Holy crap! I found a copy for sale and was stunned by what I held in my hands. How had this come to be? Foster was kind of the king of science fiction film novelizations for years but how did he end up handling this small, obscure production? There was nothing for it but to ask! So I looked up Mr. Foster on the old inter-tubes and there was his contact info - right on his website. He turned out to be a very nice fellow and responded to my questions quickly and with great humor. Sadly the later emails I exchanged with him were lost when my old computer crashed but I still have our first communications. Here's how I broached the subject.....

Hello Mr. Foster,
As you might surmise, I am a fan of your work. I first became aware of your name from many science fiction film novelizations in my youth but then quickly branched out into the Pip & Flinx novels and the Spellsinger series with my favorite still being 'The Man Who Used the Universe'.

I recently became interested in tracking down a copy of the very obscure film LUANA. For months all I could locate was the amazing poster art done by Frank Frazetta but I finally was able to get a copy sourced from the only video release of the film in the world that I'm aware of (from Venezuela, of all places). Then one bit of good luck followed another and I stumbled across a copy of your novelization of the film. Until I spotted it on the table of a used book dealer I had no idea this existed. I know from your web-site that this book was published in 1974 coinciding with the small scale US release of the film. The movie was actually shot in 1968 and released in most of the world then with the US getting it a bit too late to really make much of an impression- if it really could have ever done so anyway!

I am curious about what you remember of this film and your involvement with it. I realize the passing of years and the slightness of the film are working against me but I'm hoping you have some information. Did you ever see the film? Were you given a shooting script to work from? Were you aware of the film's pedigree i.e. the comic strip its based on? Any information at all would be welcome.

I must confess that I still haven't read the novelization. I haven't even pulled it from its plastic wrap! Often the anticipation of a thing can be as good or better than its realization but I hope that's not the case here. With your name on the cover I'm sure there are at least some points of interest within.

Thank you very much for reading this email. I look forward to learning what you remember about this long ago project.


Rod Barnett

His reply came in less than a day.

Hi Rod;
There was no shooting script of the film available. I did the novelization after watching it...in Italian! I didn't know it was based on a comic strip.
The funniest story involves Disney. After reading the book, they wanted to buy the film rights...they didn't realize it was a novelization of an existing film.
Thanks for the kind words regarding my work.
Alan F

As I've said, we wrote back and forth a few more times and I particularly liked his comments on his novel 'The Man Who Used the Universe' but those missives are gone now. I'll leave speculation on the Disney idea to others but it does amuse me. Foster did some serious creating to fill the book's pages with no English language translation to work from. Of course, the film is pretty simply plotted so it wouldn't have been too hard to follow the tale - but still! One of the things we discussed included the fact that film was made in 1968 and released then in most places around the world but didn't get picked up for the US until 1974 which is when his novelization was written and published. He was unaware if its age at the time but wasn't surprised. LUANA was his very first job as a film novelizer and seems to have pointed the way for his later career in the field.

Just for the record - the book was very good. Foster made up his own story to go along with the film he watched and, to put it clearly, his is the better tale by far. But if you're curious the film can now be had pretty cheaply on DVD straight from Amazon and the book isn't too hard to find either.

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