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Review: The Alamo Movie Tie-In Novelization

A look at Frank Thompson's novelization of the 2004 movie

The Alamo.  Who has not heard of the epic, 13-day siege and tragic final assault by Antonio Lopze de Santa Anna’s army on the fort which had the fabled trio of William Travis, David Crockett, and Jim Bowie amongst its defenders?  Who cannot think of it and Texas in the same thought?

Many books and films have been devoted to it, which comes as no surprise considering the saga’s place in the pages of history.

In 2004 Touchstone Pictures released The Alamo, a film not related to the John Wayne title of the same name which valiantly tried to tell the story with more focus on historical accuracy but floundered on a tepid script and bad editing choices, which was a pity, as Billy Bob Thornton put in a fine performance as Davy Crockett, whose legend stands in equal stature with the place he died in.

Frank Thompson’s novelization begins in Washington, D.C., during the last year Davy was a Congressman and goes from there to the start of the Texas Revolution at Gonzales, Texas, through the capture of San Antonio by Jim Bowie’s Texans, to the fatal siege and fall of the Alamo, and then continues with the capture and mass killing of most of Colonel James W. Fannin’s men at Goliad and then finally we get to the revenge at San Jacinto and Santa Anna’s capture.

Interspersed among these big events are scenes of bickering amongst the Texan government, confrontations (and then conversations) between Jim Bowie and William Travis (the former in a bar, the latter on his sick bed), Sam Houston’s sojourn among the Cherokees (where his romance with a Cherokee woman is touched on, but his striking a deal with the tribe not to side with Santa Anna is not), a speech by Travis to his men which, sad to say, does not include his famous “line in the dirt” or Moses Rose’s subsequent escape, apparently due to historical opinion that neither took place.

Thompson’s characters are a mix of factual and fictional ones, and the latter draws a complaint: as a kind of “in joke” Thompson names some of them after noted Alamo scholars such as Bill Groneman, who gets a soldier named “Groneman” in his honor who gets a line right before the Goliad tragedy begins to unfold.  Such “winks” jarred me out of the novel, and did not help the already “so-so” marks I was giving it.

What is more, character development mirrors the movie script precisely: zero.  Indeed, the novelization (and film sans Thornton’s performance) has a “phoned-in” feel to its limp narrative.

In essence, this novelization of the 2004 film is not worth a read. So much so, I recently gave my copy to the local country library.