Monday, 18 April 2011

Hollywood Babble On & On #713: Adaptation Palpitations

Right now Hollywood is adaptation crazy. It's currently adapting every public domain fairy tale it can get its well manicured mitts on, and since these imitation Twilight flicks aren't exactly burning up the box office, they've cast a covetous eye to classic science fiction.

Recently Hollywood began development of big screen adaptations of Dragonflight, Anne McCaffrey's first Dragonriders of Pern novel, and Ray Bradbury's The Martian Chronicles.

I'm not familiar with the Dragonriders books, but despite the presence of fire breathing dragons, they are science fiction, and not fantasy. Instead of magic, the dragons are genetically engineered and they battle not wizards or orcs, but an ecological threat called The Thread that periodically drops in from a passing planet.

I am more familiar with Bradbury's
The Martian Chronicles, because I not only read it as a child, I also remember the underwhelming 1980 TV miniseries adaption starring Rock Hudson. In fact my childhood was marked by a huge ABC (Azimov, Bradbury, Clarke) reading binge where I went through everything my library had.

Anyway, let's get back on topic, which is adaptation. I don't know exactly how cinematic
Dragonflight is, but flying, fire breathing dragons, and a weird alien menace sounds like it could play out really well on the screen.

I just hope that they remember that it's a different story, and not a sequel to How To Train Your Dragon.

The Martian Chronicles are a totally different kettle of fish.

First up, it's really a traditional novel. It's what used to be a fairly common tactic in mid-20th Century genre-fiction publishing called a "fix-up."

A fix up is when they take a bunch of previously published short stories, edit them so that they all sort of fit together and put them out as a novel. The original stories were, in their original form, mostly unrelated other than they all involved Mars and people exploring and colonizing the red planet. It lacks the cohesive single narrative thread that a Hollywood feature film needs, and I fear that giving the film that thread could just bastardize it from the impressionistic sci-fi classic it is into a stupid "shoot-em-up" action film like Hollywood did with I, Robot.

Second, the book was written at a time when we didn't know a hell of a lot about Mars. In the book it has a breathable atmosphere, liquid water, and pesky living Martians. To do all that today, after decades of study of Mars, would require a suspension of disbelief that I don't think the audience is quite willing to give for anything that doesn't involve superheroes.

Third, I am suspicious whenever Hollywood seeks to adapt a "classic" sci-fi novel, especially when there isn't a director or producer behind the project who is passionate about the source material, and has the power and drive to see that passionate vision come to fruition on the big screen. They either spend eternity gathering dust in the purgatory of studio development, or they get completely bastardized into something completely unrecognizable except the familiar title, which is all the studio wants anyway.

So while I'm going to wish the people making these films luck, I'm not going to hold out much hope.


  1. I dread to see how fraked up both of these adaptations are going to be.

  2. dcmatthews18/4/11 8:14 pm

    Dragonflight is cinematic as all get-out! There're the flying, fire-breathing dragons, of course, who are very appealing characters in their own right; there are also fire-lizards, the smaller creatures from which the dragons were bred*; the entire civilization of the planet Pern is quasi-medieval, with occasional touches of modernity left over from the original Earth colonists of many generations ago. (*I don't recall if the fire-lizards appear in the first novel, but if there are ever any sequels...)

    And if it's adapted by someone who knows and loves the stories, the human stories can be just as compelling as the scenes of dragon flight.

    But it will require the right creative personnel, people who love and understand Anne McCaffrey's work and world.