Thursday, June 23, 2011

Unadaptable

Coming up later this year is a film based on the book The Rum Diary by personal hero of mine Hunter Thompson. It stars Johnny Depp (always a good sign) and directed by some guy none of us have ever heard of (his last movie was in 1992). It seems odd to me, because while I like the book, it's not very well suited to a conventional adaptation, partially cuz for the first 2/3rds, nothing happens. All the real event is in the last third, with the rest devoted to world and character building. It'll be out in October supposedly, so we'll see then.

But it got me thinking about books I don't think could be adapted and since I've been updating relatively slowly, I figured I'd list a few for you and the reasons why.

American Gods by Neil Gaiman

The Book:
A genre defying, masterpiece by the modern master of genre defying masterpieces, Neil Gaiman. The plot is primarily concerned with an ex con named Shadow who, after his wife dies on the day before he is to get out of prison, takes a job with a Mr. Wednesday and gets caught up in a war between the Old Gods and Legends (Odin, Anasazi, Kali and some others who are MUCH more obscure) and the new American Gods of Television, Technology, Money etc. Easily one of the (if not the) best novels of the last 20 years.

Why It's Not Feasible:
Because...well it's weird. Not only does the mythology run the gambit from the well known (Kali, Odin, Anubis) to the ABSURDLY obscure (Who here knows who the Zorya are? How about Mad King Sweeney? That's what I thought) but the book takes it's damn time with the story and never once bothers to stop to explain who any of the gods are. It's also entirely on Neil Gaiman's own absurd wavelength, and while it's that wavelength that make him the amazing writer he is, a lot of people are going to put off by it.

It also moves at it's own pace, cutting away from the main plot every few chapters for digressions with either the modern gods and myths living in America, or asides about people first coming to America in different ways. And I imagine a lot of modern American audiences would take offense at the rather frank and uncompromising examination of the American psyche.

That combined with the obvious R-Rating (explicit sex, an absurd amount of violence and cursing, some required nudity) and the sheer amount of money required to realize some of the important and impressive visuals, means that a lot of studios would balk, or require it be toned down before they'd invest. So you'd either be looking at a neutered compromised version, or a studio would be risking more than their usually  willing to on an R-Rated fantasy art film (anyone else think this would appeal to Terry Gilliam?). Still, if you could find someone with the balls and the money to make it, it would be amazing.

Wicked: The Life and Times of the Wicked Witch of the West by Gregory Maguire

The Book:
Don'tcha just love that title? Ahem. A semi-revisionist story of the Wicked Witch of the West from The Wizard of Oz, making her out to be the heroic party in an unjust war. Part political commentary (on what I do not know), part revision of an American Fairy Tale, part fanfiction, there's never been anything quite like it.

Why It's Not Feasible:
I want to be clear on one thing: I think Wicked the musical would make a great movie, smash hit and all that, very cinematic. But it's partially because of the musical that the book would never translate to directly to the screen. Unlike the musical, the book tends to run on the cruel side of thing, being often nastily cynical and well...cruel. The book features no happy endings, more than a couple non-consensual sex scenes (that might be the sequel, but the point stands) and a large amount of homosexuality, both directly and under the surface. As such it would tend to alienate people familiar with the more cheerful musical or the lighter movie and would likely flop at the box office. Which would be fine for an arthouse piece, but a lot of money would have to be used to realize the world, much less effects and I doubt it would pull in the awards (genre bias and all that).

Stranger in a Strange Land by Robert Heinlein

The Book:
JRR Tolkien and CS Lewis rightly get credit for shaping the modern fantasy genre, but few people give Robert Heinlein and Frank Herbert credit for shaping the modern sci-fi genre and this is probably Heinlein's most important book. This one is devoted to a human born and raised on Mars trying to fit in with modern society. Oh and he has psychic powers.

Why It's Not Feasible:
I'm loathe to keep bringing up how weird all these books are, but this one is actually normal compared to the first two. On the other hand, it's also...well let's call it controversial. It's main themes are sexual freedom, the effect of religion and consumerism on modern society and individual liberty. It became a big hit among the counterculture movement of the 60's and until American society as a whole has moved past our (rather childish) obsession with punishing that, it's not going to be a big hit.

This is actually acceptable though, since it could be done on a relatively small budget if you were willing to put in the effort (watch Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind for a guide on how to do this) and it's well known enough among sci-fi fans that it could make a smallish budget back, and an important enough work that it could win a few awards (or at least grab nominations) so maybe this one is feasible? I dunno who owns the rights, and since the only major adaptation of a Heinlein book was the in-name-only Starship Troopers, people might expect something different.

Well that's it for me for now, though I do have others (Mists of Avalon comes to mind). Hope you enjoyed it.

No comments:

Post a Comment