Adapt This! Six Works of Speculative Fiction For Your Consideration

Contributing Writer; Toronto, Canada (@triflic)
Adapt This!  Six Works of Speculative Fiction For Your Consideration

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Personally, I have a bit of a speculative fiction bent (with a penchant for post-apocalyptic flavours) and an aversion to long winded film franchises, here are the ground rules for this weeks ScreenAnarchy-O-Meter. A couple cases below may benefit from splitting up the adaptation into more than one film (as is the trend these days, at least evidenced mightily with the works of J.R.R. Tolkien) might help ease the burden of adapting the dense plotting, but then we are talking story telling, not the typical breeding ground for repetition and diminishing returns that plagues both American and International sequels (The Alien franchise anyone? Infernal Affairs? Ringu? Whispering Corridors? Ginger Snaps? Highlander?)

But first, a few notes on what is not included on the list, but might have been some years ago. Certainly Cormac McCarthy’s The Road would have been on this list if it was not already in post-production and in very able hands (a source of much happiness, if only the darn thing would get released!) William Gibson’s Neuromancer is also in production, but my chief concern is that the final product will end up looking like a Matrix clone, despite it being one of the chief source materials to the Wachowski Brothers’s successful franchise. Then there is Orson Scott Card’s Ender’s Game; a film which has gone through a series of (rumoured) starts as a film adaptation. Although there are many that would love an adaptation of this modern classic, at this point, especially after the slew of twisty films from and mind-bending films from 1999, part of me suspects that many of the surprises in that novel may feel old-hat. Still it is a great piece of science fiction and there are some fabulous characters in there that translate well to the empathic/emotive element of cinema so lets call it an honorary mention and hope that Vincenzo Natali considers it after his completion of Splice and High Rise.

Enough rambling. Onward. I hope that filmmakers, producers and screenwriters are paying attention.

Miss Wyoming
by Douglas Coupland
As a staring point, a film version of this novel could play like a cross between Preston Sturges‘ Sullivan’s Travels and Peter Weir’s Fearless. A former beauty queen hits bottom during a tenure as a soap opera actress as she gets involved in a airplane crash where she is the only survivor. She disappears from the crash site only to begin some of her own reinvention. Meanwhile a Don Simpson/Jerry Bruckheimer type action film producer throws away all of his earthly belonging and tries to live life like a wandering bum. That these two will eventually bump into each other and fall in love amongst the humour and musings on modern line (and death) of Douglas Coupland’s prose makes for a fresh look a familiar Hollywood type romance. Coupland has not fared well on the big screen, his original screenplay, Everything’s Gone Green, felt comprised of many bits and pieces of his novels. It was a fun but disposable entertainment. Miss Wyoming has enough interesting tangents, characters and story arcs to make for a very compelling and empathic bit of story telling. Maria Bello or Uma Thurman would make a fine Susan Colgate (former white trash turned Miss Wyoming) and if we are going to aim current. Why not Robert Downey Jr. or Tony Shaloub as John Johnson. The key would be to tone down the quirk and absurdity and play up the existential and emotional. In spite the previous sentence, I could picture David O. Russell pulling it off.

The Long Walk
by Richard Bachman
So, you may say that the gist of this story has already been covered across two films. First with the mighty, existential nightmare of Gus Van Sant’s Gerry. Yea, well, Gerry was not a near-future totalitarian game show, and that distinction, as humble as it is (Jeopardy anecdotes aside). But Kinji Fukasaku’s Battle Royale certainly had that element going for it, albeit that film has never been properly released in these parts, despite having solid cult status. This culminates to a request for Frank Darabont to get out of his state of Indiana Jones ire, keep with the grim-fun displayed in The Mist and get down to business on this, one of Steven King’s best books. He has the rights after all, and has indicated a small existential approach to the subject, which is probably the correct way to go about it. Keep in mind however, that the other Bachman-to-big-budget-feature was The Running Man, and as amped up and cheesy as it was, it was a pretty darn solid film. It was even a tad ahead of its time (even if it was trapped in the 80’s action aesthetic) anticipating reality television and ‘extreme sports’ with a WWE flair for the ridiculous and a rich/poor privatized post 9/11 police state divide of the country. It is noteworthy that The Running Man film was far superior to its source material. If Darabont (or someone else) could top the quality of this self-contained, highly focused story, well, that would be just dandy. And if someone would do the intro/prologue to the film as a lo-fi montage of famous game-show hosts, boxing matches, and even reality TV moments, well, we might even top the opener of Zack Snyder’s Dawn of the Dead remake.

Riddley Walker
by Russell Hoban
I am not sure if the stunted one-syllable dialogue was what killed Idiocracy as a mainstream entertainment. There were a plethora of issues going on with the production that film. The dialogue, which appropriate to the story, probably didn’t help though. Riddley Walker, a story told first person in phonetic English dialect, which makes A Clockwork Orange seem like See Spot Run, has that against anyone trying to make a screenplay out of it. The dour post-apocalyptic story really gets under the skin as you strain to understand the perspective of a world ruined by nuclear war and left to rot for many, many generations. Where any technical and social science has turned to myth and religion. As Riddley Walker sets out on the road to (accidentally) become a prophet, inklings of a history lesson in a culture that is post-history are thrust at the reader to make of them what they will. All that being said, there is a rich verdant countryside on display in the novel, full of barking dogs, traveling puppet shows and scavenging. It could become of a more upscale version of A Boy and His Dog (a film that was itself derived from a Harlan Ellison novel). Maybe it is the 2002 re-print cover of the novel, similar in tone to the early stills from the Where the Wild Things Are adaptation that bring Spike Jonze to mind for directing this apocalyptic spiritual journey - for that matter, the puppetry sequences in Being John Malkovich also spring to mind. Perhaps Paul Dano, or even more interest, Michael Cera against type, could take on the title role. If Jonze was busy, I’d love to see Vincent Ward or Christian Petzold give it a try.

by Guy Gavriel Kay
With all the fantasy novel and adaptations out there, the majority tend to skew young. Eragon, The Spiderwick Chronicles, Stardust, The Chronicles of Narnia. It would be refreshing to see a mature minded fantasy novel which eschews black and white and relishes the many shades of grey. Tigana is that novel. Canadian author Guy Gavriel Kay tells the story of a war which sees a major battle on ‘the peninsula,’ a sort of alternate-history medieval Italy. The Wizard-King and invader Brandon and his army win the battle the war into a delicate balance of power. In the process he loses his son. He takes his wrath out on the province by banishing its name forever from the hearts and minds of men. This sets the stage for the few who manage to remember (and love) the lost kingdom. They begin a rebel movement during the tense power stale-mate to break the spell. The story is told from the point of view of a troupe of traveling musicians, and involves a variety of aspects of art, music, romance, sex, patriotism and loyalty. The beauty of the novel is that it plays with the notions of good and evil. The invader is portrayed in a very sympathetic way, despite his sense of wrath and harsh justice. The leader of the defending army (the supposed good guys) is a power-hungry tyrant. All the characters have moments of questionable morality at times, thus making it far from black and white who to root for and how things are going to end up. The closing moments of the book offer a sublime sense of poetic justice. Despite the clean and precise storytelling and attention to period detail, nobody has latched onto Kay as an author to adapt into film. There was some movement on The Lions of Al Rassan as a film, but that has been stalled for years, and the options likely expired. Tigana features a large cast of characters, and cross-cutting dual story structure, and would be perfect to split across two (or three) feature films. The fantasy elements are there, but the emphasis is on character, emotion and social texture. It is also an interesting meditation on revenge. I don’t know who would be best suited to doing this sort of thing. I’d love to see Guillermo del Toro take a crack at it instead of spending his time on The Hobbit. But a director of complex and adult drama would be the best way to go. Perhaps Neil Jordan or Michael Winterbottom could pull this off.

Never Let Me Go
by Kazuo Ishiguro
I would have no idea how to go about filming this novel, which is laser focused to the perspective of someone entirely ignorant of what is happening. But three films (Remains of the Day, The White Countess, The Saddest Music in the World) have already been based off Kazuo Ishiguro’s work who (for the most part). And then Dark City and Memento turned out OK. So yes, I am all for a big screen tale of Kathy, Ruth and Tommy, the cloistered mansion of Hailsham and the scary and unknown world that exists outside. The novel is structured in a strange manner in that the reader knows far more than the characters do, yet the information is not actually provided by the author; rather it is gleaned from veiled and elliptical hints and the readers own life-experience. Kazuo Ishiguro’s strange brand of narrative storytelling. A gauzy soft-focused style would suit the subject matter. I’d be itching for Michel Gondry or Wong Kar Wai to give this one a shot with the capable cinematographic eye of Dion Beebe or Christopher Doyle. The trick would be how to reveal the non-twist without making this paradoxically emotionally stunted and emotionally textured story feel like maudlin or overblown like an M. Night Shyamalan cheap-O. Actually, maybe a woman’s touch may be called for on this one. What is Jane Campion doing these days?

Chasm City
by Alastair Reynolds
Fast paced, pulpy and epic in scale, admittedly the Universe around Chasm City would make for a great HBO series or something to fill the void after Battlestar Galactica is wrapped up. But really, I yearn for the big-budget Imax treatment of this novel of assassins, post-mortals, and nanotech gone terrifyingly awry. The story follows weapons specialists and security-enforcer Tanner Mirabel on the tail of an aristocrat who murdered his gangster boss (and his bosses wife with whom he was having a chaste affair). The chase goes up a planet/space umbilicus and across a few solar systems into the destroyed landscape of Yellowstone and Chasm City. Once the jewel of the universe through the pinnacle of scientific achievement, it has been ravaged by a plague which made all of the ubiquitous and necessary nanotechnology go haywire, killing most of the population, plunging things back few centuries, and creating ‘The Canopy’ which is a twisted merging and melding of all the architecture (nanotech enhanced self-healing skyscrapers) into intermingled chaos. Inter-cut with the cat and mouse chase is the story of one of the founding colonial missions from Earth (hundreds of years ago) and the trials and follies of a multi-generational colonization mission around their soon-to-be-leader and religious pariah, Sky Haussman. These two stories merge in an unusual way. As Neuromancer was to Cyberpunk, Chasm City is (for me, although proponents of this movement/subgenre would most likely disagree) to The New Weird. The novel is a hybrid of hard science fiction, noir, shoot-em-up pyrotechnics and social (and bio-) engineering. It is loaded with religion, sex, violence, larger than life characters and yet it all glues together into magnificent entertainment. This would call for a big visionary eye that can juggle a convoluted narrative structure big set-pieces and stylized dialogue. The easy choices would be Alex Proyas or David Fincher. The more exotic choices would be Peter Weir or Paul Verhoeven.

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