Fantasy has made a tremendous comeback. No longer associated solely with guys wearing cloaks around a table playing Dungeons and Dragons (not that I’d ever sincerely knock that as a good time), the genre has become fairly mainstream thanks to well-produced screen adaptations of books like A Song Of Ice And Fire and The Lord of the Rings.
It’s time for sci-fi to do the same.
It’s true some sci-fi books simply wouldn’t make good movies. I haven’t seen the purported disaster that is the film adaptation of Dune, but I can’t imagine anyone being able to take that book from page to screen successfully. That aside, there are plenty with elements that would work rather well on film, and would serve as an introductory for a mass audience into a genre often dismissed as unapproachably geeky. Without further ado, I present five sci-fi novels that need to be picked up by a studio ASAP.
OKAY, I know this technically doesn’t count, as a star-studded film adaptation (Meryl Streep! Jeff Bridges! …Taylor Swift?) is coming out in August—but judging by the trailer, this is not the adaptation that I want to see. In the wake of the cultural success of The Hunger Games and Divergent, it appears studios are rife to capitalize on stories about teens battling dystopian worlds. That’s all well and good, but Lowry’s original text takes a much more Huxleyan approach—the central conflict of the book is rooted in the oppression of societal complacence, not government totalitarianism.
The Giver is fairly non-violent, and for the most part there’s not much action. Its generally peaceful tone makes the few scenes of aggression much more brutal. The passage with Jonas’ father and the twins has stayed with me for ten years. It’s a book that has great potential to tap into a wide range of emotions as a film adaptation. Instead, I fear we’re going to get a lot of clinical-looking psych wards, forced injections, and high-speed chases that don’t do much even on a superficial level.
Obviously, I’ll hold all final opinions until August. And I will say, Jeff Bridges as the gruffly wise Giver is a surprisingly superb casting choice.
The Man In The High Castle
It is insane to me that this movie hasn’t been made yet. It’s been commissioned by BBC and Syfy to be adapted as a mini-series, but this is one book that I think would do much better as a feature film. It seems a perfect adaptation for a director like Quentin Tarantino to scoop up into his pocket. Alternative histories are currently very attractive plot devices; throw Hitler into the mix and you’ve got a movie that can’t lose.
I actually hope Tarantino doesn’t pick this up, since he has a tendency produce oversimplified explosions that make you feel like he’s just beating you over the head with very obvious ideas. A hypothetical that asks, “what if the Axis powers won World War II?” The Man In The High Castle is thoughtful and subtle. It’s a simple idea surrounded by intensely complicated politics that have the potential to be compelling if done right. It’s told via intertwining story-lines, a technique that movies like Babel, Crash and…well, I GUESS Pulp Fiction, have done well.
Dick’s novel explores our perceptions of reality in a somewhat convoluted way, but a seasoned director like Christopher Nolan or Guillermo Del Toro could easily make it a successful mindbender.
But wait, you ask, what about the incredible 2004 tour-de-force starring Will Smith? Unfortunately, that movie is garbage and other than one character name, the Three Laws of Robotics and the title, it shares nothing with what Isaac Asimov wrote in his impressively prophetic 1950 collection of short stories.
Here’s my thing with most recent movies about robots: they’re hardly ever contemplative. It’s almost always a “human, good—robot, bad” dichotomy that makes for a snooze-fest action blow-up. Asimov’s fictional history is a more complex, realistic portrayal of what interactions between humans and robots might actually be like. And in the hands of a good creative team, the text could work very well as a sci-fi drama in the vain of a movie like Gattaca.
I, Robot also spans about 30 years and visits a range of locations and characters. There’s a ton of wiggle-room and a lot of material for a producer to work with. My only concern is that Asimov’s text might feel dated in a Transformers-era world, but I think with a good director, the central idea of the novel would resonate deeply as a film.
We can all strive for a world that has a little less Michael Bay in it.
The Dark Tower
Does this fall under science fiction? I’m noticing now how large an umbrella the genre seems to extend. But I’ll count it here since this is likely my only opportunity to gush.
Stephen King’s seven-book epic would be better served as a mini-series. However, mini-series are woefully inaccessible to the general public, and this is a tale that deserves to be told on a big screen. A post-apocalyptic Western, The Dark Tower is an incredible piece of storytelling. It’s not King’s best-known work, but I feel it’s his most labored; you can feel how intensely he cares both about the world and the characters.
There are multiple routes one could take with The Dark Tower. Each of the seven books could likely be molded into a standalone film (for example, books four and five don’t move the overall arc of the story very much but are wildly good novels in their own right), but the series is ultimately based upon a quest.
Yes, there’s too much material. Yes the timelines aren’t linear. And yes, King does get meta and feature characters from his other books AND HIMSELF. But it’s doable! And I won’t even complain about all the content they have to cut or adjust. That’s how invested I am.
Ideas have been tentatively in the works for a movie for a while. Names like Russell Crowe and Javier Bardem have been thrown around for Roland, the cowboy anti-hero with a checkered past and a tough exterior—while Aaron Paul has been rumored for Eddie Dean, wisecracking drug addict turned braveheart. To which I say, please and thankee-sai.
A Canticle For Leibowitz
This one is tough. How NOT to make a book about futuristic monks trying to piece together the remnants of technological knowledge lost hundreds of years before to a nuclear apocalypse campy seems a difficult task. Canticle is as sharp and witty as it is introspective, but I’m having a hard time imagining watching a monastery equate a generator diagram to a sanctified relic without laughing at the pure silliness. I’ve watched too much British comedy to take monks seriously, I think.
But maybe the absurdity is what’s best about A Canticle for Leibowitz. Walter Miller Jr.’s first and only work, the novel’s plot is based upon the hypothesis that in the event of total destruction of civilization, humanity would turn to the hierarchy of religion out of fear and desperation. The book spans a number of centuries as civilization attempts to repair itself, but in the end, Miller prophesizes, we’re doomed to repeat our mistakes. All this has happened before and all this will happen again, eh?
Canticle does run the risk of getting preachy and it’s far more talk than action, but that’s worked well for films like The Man From Earth or—though it pains me to say, since I find this movie entirely overrated—2001: A Space Odyssey. This is one book that I would love to see a director take into unknown territory—maybe taking just the bare bones of the central idea and running with it.
The novel has been adapted a few times as TV mini-series (sci-fi is really getting backed into a cultural corner here), but with three distinct parts and a great premise, Canticle could be a really exciting film.