This year’s summer movie slate is full of sequels and remakes of existing properties. As science fiction/fantasy fans we know there is a wealth of written material that deserves to appear on the big screen or on TV. The recent news that Dan Simmons’ Hyperion Cantos is being adapted for the silver screen is welcome, even as we’re sceptical about the final result. Our question this week:
Q: What other story, or stories, do you believe are deserving of being made into movies and why?
I like Dune as much as the next science fiction fan, but I find it disappointing that Hollywood keeps remaking the same stories instead of tapping into the wealth of science fiction literature. I’m not sure that every story can be easily translated into film, particularly if it features many non-humanoid or posthuman characters. I also think that there is a glut of action thrillers and SF-horror movies. Keeping that in mind, here are a few SF stories that I’d like to see on the big screen:
– I think Neal Stephenson’s Snow Crash could make a brilliant movie, if a screenwriter could be found who could pare the plot down to feature film length without eliminating the humor. What makes it enjoyable to me is that the over-the-top characters and settings – the reluctant hero Hiro, who is an excellent swordsman in both the real world and online, the badass teenaged skateboard messenger, the evangelist who wants to take over the world through speaking in tongues, the mafia-run pizza delivery business, the decaying crowded freeways, tacky strip malls and gated ‘burbs covering Southern California, the giant “raft” of refugee boats drifting along the coast – seem almost plausible. And of course there is the appeal of the Metaverse itself, where computer geeks can don an avatar of their own creation and are at the top of the social hierarchy.
– Connie Willis’s time travel novels are among my favorites, so I’d love to see them made into movies. The Doomsday Book would make a moving drama, with its contrast between young historian Kivrin’s experiences in the medieval village beset by plague, and her colleagues fighting the influenza epidemic in future Oxford. The ending is probably not upbeat enough for a commercial SF movie, though. On the other hand, I think Willis’s much lighter time travel comedy of errors, To Say Nothing of the Dog, could be fun light entertainment. I like to imagine it filmed in the style of a Merchant-Ivory production (maybe my fondness for period pieces makes me different from the “average” SF fan, though).
– The theme of environmental destruction in Kate Wilhelm’s Where Late the Sweet Birds Sang is as timely today as it was in the 1970s, as are the issues surrounding the ethics and technical limitations of cloning. While the multigenerational scope of the novel is probably too broad for a single movie, I think that it would work to focus the story on Mark, one of the few “singletons” in the survivalist colony of clones .
– My choice for an outer space flick would be Frederick Pohl’s Gateway. It’s got dangerous exploration of space and unknown worlds, flawed main characters, tense interpersonal relationships in the close quarters of the alien asteroid spaceport and, and, of course it the dramatic ending with the characters’ ships trapped by a black hole. While the novel doesn’t really have a feel-good ending, it could be combined with “Heechee Rendezvous” to provide a happy resolution to the story.
– Finally, my nostalgic entry is Alexei Panshin’s Rite of Passage. It features a teenaged girl whose coming of age story involves the development of both physical and mental toughness as she fights to survive on an unfamiliar planet. Perhaps it is out of date now, considering it was published 40 years ago, but I include it in my list because it made a big impact on me when I read it as a 13-year-old. It was the first (and one of the few) SF book I read that featured the heroics of a girl, and it will always hold a special place in my heart.
– I was going to also suggest Clarke’s Rendezvous with Rama, but a search turned up that it’s already in the process of being made into film by Morgan Freeman’s production company. I’m looking forward to it.
I actually think that many SF novels can only be faithfully reproduced as miniseries, rather than 90 minute moves. That doesn’t mean that SF novel-based movies aren’t possible, but that they are necessarily something different than the original. Bladerunner is a great film, but it’s only loosely based on Dick’s Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?. It’s not just that typical SF stories are sprawling in time and space, but that the speculative part of the speculative fiction is usually cut in favor of action. Personally, I would love to see the SciFi channel produce more original miniseries based on classic SF, rather than filling up their schedule with ghost buster “reality” shows and wrestling, but I’m not holding my breath.