Friday, December 15, 2006

Science fiction books at the movies

Inspired this post at John C. Wright's livejournal from a little while back, I'm taking a look at what science fiction books and stories would (or wouldn't) make good movies, and how they might fare in that medium. I am evaluating on the basis of not only the quality of the book, but how well it would translate to the medium of the feature film, as well as the likelihood of achieving commercial success in that format. As much as I love John C. Wright's Golden Age trilogy, for instance, I can't see it being made as a movie without it being mutilated beyond recognition.

Since I'm mentioning John C. Wright, I think his "War of the Dreaming" books would be great, as two or perhaps three movies. It's got likable characters, exciting and often over-the-top (in a good way) action, evil conspiracies, and all sorts of fantastic creatures and locations that would look awesome with modern movie-making technology. I would love to see the city of Acheron rising from the sea in modern CGI.

There are a couple of David Drake stories that might work. Rolling Hot would be a good choice: lots of action, a lot of emotional power, and a good audience identification figure in the form of the young journalist who gets dragged along with the mercenaries. It also has the advantage of not requiring a lot of setting background exposition to fully understand, which is a big advantage if you're translating a science fiction novel into a two-hour movie. Commercially, though, such a movie might be hampered by the sheer darkness of its source. The novel was utterly heartbreaking; faithfully putting it on screen would probably not make for a rousing action blockbuster.

Drake's Cross the Stars would be cool to see on screen, though its episodic nature might not really work for a feature film.

I would love to see Arthur C. Clarke's Rendezvous With Rama as a movie. The interior of Rama realized with modern effects would be stunning to see. Morgan Freeman has apparently expressed an interest in making this, so there's a chance.

John Steakly's Armor would be awesome, but there's a serious problem: it would be hard to conceal the big surprise near the end if you're using live actors. If you've read the book, you know what I mean.

I can't leave Poul Anderson out, of course. "No Truce With Kings" has everything: big battles, family conflict, secret manipulative aliens, and crazy mind powers that would look great in CGI. I'm not sure Hollywood would be likely to leave in the pro-localist, anti-collectivist themes, though. People of the Wind would probably work pretty well as a movie, but the amount of background exposition needed might be too much.

There's a lot of stuff by William C. Dietz that would work pretty well, with the McCade stories probably being the best choice. Lots of action, and the story would remain readily understandable without a lot of setting exposition.

I often hear David Weber's "Honor Harrington" series suggested, but I think there would be too much explanation needed. Specifically, the way space combat works in the Harrington universe is fairly atypical, and would require some awkward explaining, not to mention the political setup. For Weber, Mutineer's Moon would probably be a better choice. Very fun story, and the way the story is set up (human from present day discovers ancient artificial intelligence that explains what's going on to him) makes it easier to relate to, as well as making it easier to explain the setting without resorting to narration or "As you know, Bob" dialogue.

The problem, I think, is that a lot of great science fiction would either be too short or too long for a typical movie. The miniseries would probably be a better medium; I can think of science fiction that would work in that medium much more readily than I can think of books that would make good two-hour movies.

Well, I'd like to hear what anyone reading this has to say. What do you think would translate well to film?

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1 comment:

quasibill said...

I think you're right - that most Sci-Fi adaptations work best as a mini-series. Otherwise, there's just too much sacrificed in the translation.

As for my thoughts - I'd like to see adaptations of some of David Gerrold's work, especially Chtorr, and I think it would work okay on a book-by-book basis.

Something I thought would be really moody and neat, but probably impossible outside the mini-series format, would be Perdido STreet Station. Granted, it's probably more fantasy than sci-fi, but the sheer power of creative imagination behind that novel is magnificent, and the dark mood could be adapted quite successfully given the right director.

"Slant" could probably make the transition pretty well, although it certainly wouldn't be an action-packed blockbuster.