In the profit driven environment of Hollywood, there exists an over-riding drive for any motive involved in the green light decisions for movies, and that is the bottom line. Science fiction has a rich history of material, and in encouraging this drive towards safe brands, many great stories and themes have been overlooked for the big screen, despite their potential for great movie entertainment. So here are a few books that I believe would make great film pieces, but are instead reserved as experiences for readers.
Shambleau – C.L. Moore (1933)
Catherine Lucille Moore wrote her classic short story for the November 1933 issue of ‘Weird Tales’. As a modern take on the myth of Medusa the Gorgon, the protagonist, space mercenary, Northwest Smith, stumbles upon the diminutive Shambleau at the core of an angry lynch mob on the streets of Mars. Taking responsibility for the strangely seductive female alien, Smith leads her to safety, and soon enough discovers why this alluring character may have generated such a furore. ‘Shambleau’ is an incredibly kitsch tale, and it was easy to picture it in the style of the 1960′s Star Trek series with bold colours and bravado. Smith has a Shatneresque presence in the story. A movie rendition would do well to pay hommage to such styling, much in the same way that ‘Sky Captain and the World Of Tomorrow’ gave a nod to the Flash Gordon and Buck Rogers serial shows.
At the Mountains of Madness – H.P. Lovecraft (1931)
Lovecraft’s classic tale tells of a scientific expedition to Antarctica. The team discover way more than they bargain for, as they uncover a great and dreadful evil in their attempt to push the boundaries of human knowledge. The novella is a classic tale, and much respected within the sci-fi/horror genre. Lovecraft’s theme of Cthulhu mythos was to be key throughout his work and this story captures the concept succinctly. Mexican director, Guillermo Del Toro, was purportedly working on a big screen creation of Lovecraft’s tale, but production has put on hold when it surfaced that Ridley Scott was developing his Alien prequel, ‘Prometheus’, whose narrative was deemed to be extremely similar in theme to Lovecraft’s work. While the final production of ‘Prometheus’ disappointed audiences with it’s glaring plot holes and the inexplicable drives and motivations of its characters, ‘At The Mountains Of Madness’ remained an optioned entity lacking a green light.
The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle – Haruki Murukami (1994)
Murukami is possibly one of the most prolific and popular modern writers in Japan. His most famous work, ‘Norwegian Wood’ was produced as a movie in 2010. However, my favourite work of his was always ‘The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle’, which plunges the reader into a dream-like enigma. It’s protagonist, Toru Okada is a young unemployed married man, whose life seems to descend into mystery soon after his cat disappears. His fragmented and often surreal relationship with his wife Kumiko, and his friendship with a neighbourhood teenage girl lead to a series of dream-like vignettes. It’s a truly imaginative and engaging story, which would benefit greatly from a telling on the big screen, should any director dare to broach this mysterious, enchanting, and occasionally horrifying tale.
The House on the Strand – Daphne Du Maurier (1969)
Daphne Du Maurier is perhaps an authoress that has missed the gaze of the modern zeitgeist. However, alongside Raymond Bradbury and Stephen King, she is an outstanding story-teller. 1973 saw one of her short stories get developed into what has become a cultish movie in the form of ‘Don’t Look Now’ starring Donald Sutherland and Julie Christie. Du Maurier’s most famous work, however became the inspiration for Alfred Hitchcock’s classic thriller, ‘The Birds’. Some other of her stories have also made the big screen, such as ‘Jamaica Inn’ and ‘My Cousin Rachel’, although they remain rather more obscure. ‘The House On The Strand’ is yet to be filmed and yet really ought to be. It’s a tale in which the main character, Dick Young, agrees with a friend to be guinea pig for a new experimental drug. The effect of which appears to transfer to him the ability to travel through time. While the effects of the drug are implied as being rather dangerous, Young explores it’s effects in continuing visits to a fourteenth century environment, in which a parallel drama is unfolding. The story combines a period romance story with classic themes of science fiction and horror in a thoroughly clever way.
Trouble With Lichen – John Wyndham (1960)
I’ve always been a huge John Wyndham fan, and this novella is one of his most underrated works. A pair of scientific researchers working in a test laboratory happen to stumble upon a type of lichen that yields incredible properties. It turns out that the lichen has the effect of increasing lifespan on a cellular level. The novel explores what might happen within modern contemporary society, where such a discovery to be made. The journey and its nuances are extremely well thought out and the resolution of the story is unexpected, but quite believable. ‘Trouble With Lichen’ is a very clever science fiction story that doesn’t rely on the supernatural, the extra-terrestrial or even the technological to tell it’s tale. That’s why it would make a wonderful human story. I am constantly surprised that this has not been seriously considered for dramatisation.
Deathtrap Dungeon – Ian Livingstone (1984)
Ian Livingstone who went on to become a major player in the UK video game industry and to co-found the wargaming retailer, ‘Games Workshop’, wrote this book as part of a series of ‘choose your own adventure’ books known as ‘Fighting Fantasy’. ‘Deathtrap Dungeon’ was always my favourite, and involves a tournament set around a huge complex packed full of cunning traps and deadly creatures. The one emerging champion would expect to be crowned with great riches, but the challenge was sure to be fatal to most. I met Livingstone at the Develop conference in Brighton during the summer of 2011. Livingstone confirmed that while he had secured the movie options for the film, it was far from green light status. The fantasy genre has had very mixed fortunes in recent times from the monumental success of ‘Game Of Thrones’, ‘Lord Of The Rings’ and Harry Potter, through the abject failure of other titles, such as ‘Conan The Barbarian’ and ‘John Carter Of Mars’. While Dungeon has been incarnated in both PC and iPhone game formats, it is yet to see the light of the big screen. Timing is the most important thing for a title like this.
Great Apes – Will Self (1997)
Writer and journalist got onto ‘Great Apes’ during an era when he was connected with the so-called ’The Chemical Generation’. Works by Self and other writers such as Irvine Welsh (Trainspotting, Ecstasy), Alex Garland (The Beach) and Douglas Coupland (Girlfriend In A Coma, Generation X) told vivid and visceral tales of characters turbocharged by the narcotics subculture of the moment. ‘Great Apes’ is a dark reinterpretation of Pierre Boulle’s ‘Planet Of The Apes’. The character Simon Dykes, after having indulged in a night of drug-use, wakes into a reality in which modern society appears to be populated not by humans, but by chimpanzees. This ape society is moved to convince him that he is suffering from the absurd delusion that he thinks he is a human being. The novel gives us a darkly comical vision of an alternative, simian London in a disturbing tale of chemically-induced psychosis.
In the wake of Disney’s ‘John Carter’, it’s pretty understandable why Hollywood backers would be hesitant to put money into untried material. Instead, audiences are exposed to inadventurous vehicles such as ‘The Amazing Spiderman’ and the remake of ‘Total Recall’. Hollywood doesn’t care if people walk out of the multiplexes underwhelmed and unsatisfied, so long as the shareholders can get good news at the AGMs.