Commissioning Ideas, or, Don’t Screw These Up
Given how utterly risk averse the big studios have become in recent years the number of literary titles that have been adapted into one form or another. By and large though the results haven’t been good. Quite often they’ve been very not good and to be honest it’s getting more than a little frustrating. Reboots and remakes have been dominating the box office and it would be beyond nice to see an adaptation done well. It can, after all, happen even if lately it seems to be only classics that can be translated from one medium to another with any skill. So I kicked around a few ideas for new films and TV shows based on books that could work well in a different format. Any ideas of your own? Think I’ve missed something obvious? Let me know and join in in the comments.
Brave New World
I’m not sure what’s behind it but has anyone noticed that recently we’ve stopped doing sci-fi? And I don’t mean pieces of disingenuous lens flaring fan service but proper high concept film making that tried to do something smart. I mean, Blade Runner is widely considered to be one of the best films ever made, and whilst the Matrix trilogy had serious issues it was at least packing some serious philosophical and intellectual ideas. Lately though it seems like the ideas have just dried up a little – Oblivion was dull, Source Code and In Time were good ideas but not given nearly enough attention and the Ender’s Game movie? Yeah, I wouldn’t hold your breath if I were you…
That’s why Brave New World could be a great idea – first published in the 1930s by Aldous Huxley it’s the dystopian vision of a world were humanity has achieved happiness. Sex, drugs, technology and genetic engineering has made the world stable, safe and completely horrifying. The one person who seems to feel out of place is the intellectual Bernard Marx, who goes to the Savage reservation to find someone who doesn’t live the way that everyone else does. I’m reluctant to spoil it as this is one of favourite novels and if you haven’t read it, you really should. It’s a high concept work of art that contains a powerful warning against mindless consumption, the benefits of language and solitude, the power of poetry and even the upside of being unhappy. It would have been hard to make because of the high level of world building necessary and, as it’s a dystopia, it does not have the traditional happy ending but there is a smart, scary intelligent thriller here waiting to get out – (and be better than the made-for-tv movie starring Lenard Nemoy, yes, really…)
Potential Director: David Cronenberg and his skill with body horror could be an interesting choice or failing that, Duncan Jones deserves the chance to do a real sci-fi epic
From sci-fi to the very mundane and the setting of small town Scotland. Following his recent announcement of terminal cancer the Scottish author Iain Banks won’t be around for too much longer so it would be nice to see an adaptation of one of Scotland’s brightest literary talents. Banks first came to national prominence on the back of The Wasp Factory, a deeply unpleasant and unsettling portrait of a disturbing young man called Frank. Reading it is like stepping into another world, and it’s the same here with Stonemouth. The story follows a young man who returns home to a small town in the North of Scotland for the funeral of family friend after being forced to flee town years earlier by the local crime lords. It’s a Scottish soap opera, full of sex, drugs and violence. Banks captures what it’s like to go home after leaving and the strange combination of familiarity and melancholy, especially if you’ve never fit in all that well in the first place. The book is compelling readable thanks to Banks’s ability to ratchet up tension and the story is told from the point of view of a flawed, but sympathetic protagonist trying to deal with the one night where he made an incredibly bad decision.
Potential Directors: Given his work in Scottish cinema Peter Mullan would be the obvious choice. It’d just work.
If there’s one thing that there just isn’t enough of on TV it’s something that can provide chills and scares for the whole family. Yes, I know there’s Doctor Who but when that’s off the air the choices are few. This novel from the exceptionally talented Sarah Waters would be perfect. Set in rural Warwickshire in the 1940s the story follows a young doctor called in to help the family who own the dilapidated stately home. Strange things start happening as the family, and the doctor himself start to entertain the idea that the house is haunted. The story is aching for the BBC treatment, elegant costumes, beautiful but faded locations and things that go bump in the night. It helps that Waters’s has had book adapted previously – the excellently received Tipping the Velvet and Fingersmith were both done so it wouldn’t be too much of a stretch for this to be put into production. With some great characters, strong dialogue and a setting that could(would) look stunning if done right this could be a brilliant six part series to liven up a schedule somewhere.
Potential Directors: Tom Hooper. After the success of Les Mis he may well be too much in demand but with his penchant for beautifully arranged and artfully shot films something like this would be the ideal project to return him to the small screen where he started.
If there’s one thing that has been popular at the box office it’s the idea that we need someone to come and save the world. That life as we know it is on the brink of completely falling apart and the only thing that can stop it is some heroes (masked or otherwise…) Still, an interesting question to ask is what would really happen if the world really did ‘end?’ Jose Saramago breathtakingly brilliant book could be the wake up call that the horror genre needs. The premise is wonderfully simple. Everyone starts to go blind. A man goes to the doctor but the doctor loses his vision when he tries to read his textbooks. The afflicted are rounded up and imprisoned but escape when the asylum they are trapped in catches fire. Society collapses and chaos reigns. There have been a few films that have tried to look at society in this way but they tend to get respect rather than audiences. The Road was probably the last film released that looked at societies collapse but audiences found it hard to watch, too bleak and too small scale. Given the bloated and butchered World War Z it seems that there is appetite for a horror film that tackles these themes but the execution has thus far been lacking. Blindness could be a chance for a filmmaker to experiment with translating literary language into cinematic language and making something new, fresh and scary – it may have been done once already but it didn’t quite hit the heights it could have and it ended up being rather predictable and slightly staid. So, given to an auteur filmmaker it could be exceptional rather than just another mediocre thriller.
Potential Directors: John Hillcoat would be the best bet. After all, he’s already documented the end of the world once – maybe he’d be up for doing it again?
So, what do you think? Do you have a favorite book you’d love to see on the big or small screen? Join in!
- Stonemouth (tednellen.blogspot.com)
- Losing Iain Banks (themillions.com)
- Want a Mind-Blowing Literary High? Watch ‘Naked Lunch’ (Review) (popmatters.com)
- James Franco: “I really felt I was in conversation with Faulkner” (salon.com)