I was going to stipulate that we should restrict ourselves to books that have not already been given the cinematic treatment, but I figured no one would listen and it was just a waste of electrons. In fact, I don’t even care if the book you bring up is not your single most beloved work of fiction. All I ask is that it be a work of fiction–either novel or short story-- that you actually like.
I’ll start off with Valerie Martin’s A Recent Martyr. Set in New Orleans during the 1970s, it’s the story of Emma Miller, an unhappily married woman in her mid-thirties having an affair with Pascal Toussaint. Pascal, in turn, is enamored with Claire D’Anjou, a 20-year-old postulant being obliged to spend a year outside the covent to test her faith. Claire, for her part, is friends with Emma, but has passion only for her God.
It sounds a bit like a romance novel. It isn’t. It is, instead, an exploration of the nature of obsessive love. Emma is the narrator, and she comes to see her love for Pascal as a variation of Claire’s love for God. This isn’t presented as a good thing in either case; both Emma and Claire see their lovers as persons who will be satisfied not simply with their submission to their desires, but with absolute possession of them; whether Emma and Claire will survive the experience is entirely beside the point to both Pascal and God.
I love this book, but it’d make a terrible movie. Oh, there’d be plenty of opportunities for hot naked chicks doing sexual (and sometimes degrading) things; Emma’s lovemaking with Pascal grows more and more dangerous as the story progresses, while Claire has a habit of self-flagellation to gain control of herself during prayer sessions. But most of the action of the story is internal; it just wouldn’t translate to the screen. I wouldn’t want anyone to try, actually–not even if Natalie Portman and Kristen Bell were playing the female leads and agreed to the nudity. Even if the movie were given the indie treatment, I suspect all the interesting things about the story would be lost.
ATLAS SHRUGGED - an epic trilogy with the gradeur of GONE WITH THE WIND or LORD OF THE RINGS… or a truncated bare bones travesty with less of the book’s soul than SIMON BIRCH had a A PRAYER FOR OWEN MEANY. Thank God the plans for the 2 1/2 hr version starring Angelina Jolie tanked.
The Sot-Weed Factor by John Barth would be hard to film (As would all of Barth – Letters would be absolutely impossible) – too bawdy, too many characters, too literary, too complex a plot, a McGuffin that would be too much for even an R rating, too dependent on esoteric knowledge, etc. I don’t know of any actor who’d be able to play Ebeneezer Cooke, and the necessity of cutting it down would remove too much.
Dhalgren by Samuel R. Delaney – an 800 page science fiction novel about ambiguity (described as “a riddle that was never meant to be solved”), with hundreds of pages of explicit sex scenes (usually, two men and a woman, so there’s gay sex in it), and no coherent narrative. Lots of luck with that one.
Now Playing at Canterbury is Vance Bourjaily’s story of the production of an original opera at a great Midwestern university. It’s summer in the mid 70’s & the show will inaugurate the school’s big, new performing arts center. Students, faculty, townies & some visiting artists have roles. (Well, some have actual roles in the opera; others “play” roles such as The Director, The Librettist, The Librettist’s Wife & A Philanthropist.)
While these very different people are involved in the production, some of them also get “involved” with each other. And, somehow, they manage to have enough free time to tell stories. Each story is told in a very different style–fairly simple narrative to rhymed couplets, stream of consciousness & a comic strip (for which we don’t get to see the pictures). And the stories vary in tone as widely as the ones Chaucer’s pilgrims told. (He told that story on a holy pilgrimage!) Other characters are named Hoffman & Murasaki, just in case you haven’t gotten the hint.
For all the variety, we really get the feel of academic & artistic life in the 1970’s. One of my favorite books–but it would make a dreadful movie. There’s no way a few hours of film could do it justice. However, it would make a great miniseries. Or perhaps maxiseries. With guest directors for the “stories” within the story…
Too many novels are too long to be made into movies. I still think the way to go is to take a short story and tell it properly (i.e. – add important development, background, and evocative images, not “pad it out”). And I’d like to see more SF. The Puppet Masters – The 1980s version coulda been worse. But it could be an awful lot better. Action/adventure set in the near future. James Bond meets The Body Snatchers. (Heinlein’s book predated the books both of those were based on.)
The Stars my Destination – I still think this has an absolute killer opening, and the rest can certainly be filmed, despite the naysayers
Arena – Fredric Brown’s story could be done, I’m convinced, as a CGI film without voiceover or narration. But I’ll bet nobody will do it. Previous versions and ripoffs (Outer limits’ “Fun and Games”, Star Trek TOS “Arena”) didn’t begin to do it justice. Great story and wonderfully weird visuals.
The Moon is a Harsh Mistress – Revolt on the Moon. Invasion in low G. Space Bombardment. What more can you ask for?
Somebody needs to film Time of the Great Freeze by Robert Silverberg. it’s basically a kid’s science fiction story, but it has everything going for it: Post apocalyptic survivors, futuristic society, harsh prejudices, pirates, betrayals, life and death competition.
I wouldn’t say it’s my favorite novel by any stretch of the imagination but I’ve enjoyed reading it several times. With that being said, I’m glad the Jolie project failed. There’s a reason the film version has been stuck in development hell for decades, trying to squeeze that much material into any film version would just be a nightmare. It would probably be released as a stripped down, bastardized, action movie with none of the vision or thought provoking depth of the book.
Ok, I get a lot of flack for this, but I LOVE She’s Come Undone by Wally Lamb. Yes, yes, it was an Oprah book, but I still love it. Delores is a fully fleshed out Everywoman, all at once loving, trusting, hostile, mean-spirited, sane and insane. I must have read this book 100 times.
But whether or not it would make a good movie depends a lot on how one would film it. Filmed straight-forward, just acting out the story, it would start to resemble a “Lifetime Victimized Woman of The Week” story too much. But one of the things I love about the book is it’s believable story still has hints of surrealism. Delores’ time in the mental hospital, her encounter with the whale, swimming with her father in the pool as a child and then swimming with Dr Shaw, who switches between Delores’ dead mother and himself as he “reparents” her. Dr. Shaw himself is a half serious portrayal, half parody of 70’s New Ageism. I think in the right hands, with someone willing to fully explore all the hints of surrealism in the book, a movie version could take on a slightly otherworldly, “memory play” quality.
And let the writer of the novel no-where near the movie. He’s said he wants Kate Winslet as Delores. No no no no no no no. All wrong.
Gene Wolfe’s New Sun series has a good movie in. Maybe even several. It’d just about have to be done as a straightforward space opera, though. All the unreliable narrator business and the Severian-as-Christ subplot/symbolism would have to jettisoned. Trying to put any amount of that on screen would result in a ponderous, confusing story.
Wyoming Knott, line wives? I think the ‘Hot Naked Chicks’ would be covered (heh heh) quite nicely.
One of my favorites,
Armor by John Steakley, would be done horribly. I’m sure the power-armor/bug war aspects and the wild west frontier town effects would be done well. But, all of the cerebral aspects of Felix, Crow and Hollis would be either gone or done horribly. Without narration/voice-over I can’t think of any way a persons mental dichotomies effectively.
I would love to see someone try, but I cringe at seeing it end up as Starship Troopers 2 or some crap.
Snow Crash, by Neal Stephenson: Lots of fast-paced action, swordfights, gunfights, plenty of potential for stunning FX (the VR world, the Rat Things), skateboarder heroes! Plus plenty of highbrow interludes.
Beat me to it. I think that the director would need to very carefully handle the issue of YT’s chosen method of, er, “female protection,” lest most of the men in the audience spend a good chunk of the film cringing, after that particular scene plays out.
However, Heinlein mentions multiple times how women move in low-g. “Fems don’t move that way on Earth, they are tied down by six times too much gravity”. He doesn’t describe it as walking, but as undulating.
This is one reason I’d like to see this done (not just women, but everyone in low g). I can’t think of a single movie or TV show that depicts people moving around in low gravity when they’re in an enclosed, pressurized, non-spacesuit environment. not even 2001.
When you’re out on the lunar surface in a space suit, then everyone’s in low gravity. But indoors on the moon, gravity is Earth-normal. That’s been true in space:199, 2001, Destination Moon, and every other movie set on the moon I’ve seen.
Of course, it’s because it’s expensive and a pain in the neck to shoot, and your audience won’t appreciate it. But if it’s part of the plot (and it is when the Earth Troops invade), then there’s an excuse. And you can convey low-g by a combination of acting, slowing the motion, and CGI assists, I’d think.
If nothing else, the combination of low G and clipped lunar speech will create a bit of culture shock/interesting environment that will either send your audience to the exits, or enthrall them.
To sweeten things up, include some Flying Scenes lifted from The Menace from Earth. That’ll get people’s interest, and get them talking.