Friday, 23 September 2011

Hollywood Babble On & On #811: Adaptation Palpitations

When I was a kid and heard that a major studio was going to be making a movie version of a book that I liked I'd get a case of the giddies.  I'd be so eager to see the characters I read about on the big screen I'd be sending good vibes down Hollywood way to speed up the development process.
Oh, how times have changed.

Let me illustrate my point...

I should be happy.  I should be excited.

But I'm not.

Instead, I can't help but find myself agreeing with this fellow, who finds that the only passionate emotion he can summon up is anger about what will most like be a complete creative abortion.

Why am I so cynical?

Because if there is one thing Hollywood has become brilliant at, it's the fine art of disappointment when it comes to adapting classic novels, especially science fiction novels.

Science Fiction novels, especially the classic ones, succeed because of the ideas at the heart of the book.

However, Hollywood is convinced that science fiction novels, especially the classic ones, are only good for providing familiar sounding titles for bombastic action thrillers that have little or nothing to do with the source material. 

Case in point...

I, Robot, a collection on interconnected stories by Isaac Asimov about the development of robotics and artificial intelligence.  It's all about what constitutes a "sentient being" as well as issues of morality, and if mankind can create an ethical machine.  Pretty weighty stuff.

It languished in development purgatory at Warner Bros. for decades, it even had a screenplay draft by noted writer/curmudgeon/litigant Harlan Ellison.  Then Warner Bros. dropped it and 20th Century Fox picked it up, promptly turning it into this...

A loud, bombastic, cliche addled action movie about a loose cannon cop who plays by his own rules fighting a nasty robot rebellion that actually started out as a completely different screenplay, but Fox slapped on the title because they hoped the familiarity would give it a veneer of class and make it sell better.

It did make a lot of money worldwide, so I fully expect Fox to run Caves of Steel through the rewrite ringer until it comes out I, Robot 2: I Hard With A Vengeance

Now I'm not going to declare that every adaptation of a classic book has to be done to the ink of the source material.  Far from it.  Literature and cinema are two radically different art forms, and thus taking a story from the page to the screen while keeping the spirit alive is a lot tougher than you think.

But it's not impossible.

Blade Runner has a radically different narrative from Phillip K. Dick's original novel Do Androids Dream Of Electric Sheep.  It has to be different, because the book goes down the rabbit hole a few too many times for a writer to faithfully adapt for a mainstream movie audience.  However, the movie is faithful to the books themes of isolation and empathic connection in the never ending quest for identity and humanity.

Sadly, Blade Runner didn't do very well in its original release, only becoming a classic on home video and TV, and no studio executive wants that kind of classic, because it only happens after they've been fired.  So best to go all Michael Bay with explosions and loose cannon cops who play by their own rules going: "Aw hell no!" at appropriate times.

Now do you see why I'm so cynical?


  1. Ah, baby, let me in. It'll be different this time, I swear. You know I love you. I know I made some mistakes with I, Robot, baby, but you know that wasn't my fault, right? I just needed some cred so I could make a *real* Asimov movie. You one you always wanted.

    That's right. Just...that's that ticket....

  2. The only good adaptations I see form books tend to be series on HBO like, True Blood and Game of Thrones. Sure TB did stray from a few aspects of the novels, but they kept of core of them and the themes intact.

    maybe this book will do better as a TV series.

    Right now I find the only place Sci-fi seems to thrive is on video game consoles.

  3. Dirty McDingus Sezs:
    Before ellison hanged his creativity cap for milking extremely loosely allusions to anything he every wrote, he did make some great stories and in the case of I, Robot. He made a amazing script that was deemed too expensive when it was presented. This was back in the days when SF cost hundreds of thousands of '80s dollars (for the '00 gen that'll be in the Millions to Billions) to make.
    Ties in a lot of Asimov shorts into one complete tales that has been dying to be filmed even now.

  4. Shameless Plug: my own movie, The Whisperer in Darkness, I believe stays true to the spirit of the original (unfilmable) story, while making those changes necessary to the genre. Ken Begg has seen the film and can judge.

    So it's possible. Of course, my movie is a micro-budget indie so 'tis not typical, but frankly I think the salvation of movies lies in indies.

    Of course, back in the 90s I thought the salvation of the action movie was Hong Kong and the salvation of the horror movie was Italy, and look what happened to THEIR film industries.

  5. If you have a trailer for Whisperer, let me know and I'll post it here.

  6. There are at least three trailers for Whisperer. A teaser filmed way back in 2007, then two other "real" trailers. All are visible at and also on youtube. I'd be thrilled to see one posted on the prestigious Furious D site of course.

    But my main point wasn't how awesome is my movie - instead it was to state that movies can still be made that are cheap, innovative, and effective. Just not inside Hollywood, evidently.

    Just saw the vampire film STAKE LAND which was a lot of fun, and clearly filmed on the cheap. It covered basically the same ground as Will Smith's arthritic I AM LEGEND but presumably cost about 2% as much yet to me it was more entertaining.

    It even had the required-by-law evangelical-Christian-bashing but since it was post-apocalypse, it wasn't able to pick as much on the government and big business.

  7. The Outer Limits twice and very badly adapted I, Robot.

    Looking forward to seeing Whispers. I like their Call of Cthulhu.