By C.J. Bunce
When pondering what I want to see in the movie theater that hasn’t arrived yet I think a lot about several Philip K. Dick short stories, or TV series that I’d love to see continued on the big screen, like a big screen Magnum, P.I., or Simon & Simon or Chuck—although if it is as underwhelming as the last X-Files movie then maybe not. I’d love to see some early twentieth century biopics of Bix Beiderbecke or Karl King (who, among other things, composed the circus themes for Ringling Brothers and played in Sousa’s band). And it would be fun to take a bunch of Herb Alpert & the Tijuana Brass songs from South Of The Border and The Lonely Bull and make them the soundtrack to a modern spaghetti Western, sort of like Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers with She’s The One. A good Green Arrow or Bionic Man movie, or a good sequel to Return of the Jedi would all be fun. And some things have been done already, but not quite right. Space Ghost had his own cartton then interview show, but how about an adaptation of the serious origin series by Joe Kelly? A big budget movie based on Jon Krakauer’s Into Thin Air could be awesome (the TV version suffered a bit despite a good cast). The Russian story of Lieutenant Kije was filmed more than half a century ago with music by Prokofiev, but it needs a good updating. We’ve seen four Tom Clancy novels about Jack Ryan, but the creepiest of the series, Debt of Honor, has yet to be made.
A lot of films have been made, and in coming up with this list one of my ideas–a film featuring Super Grover and the cast of Sesame Street–seemed long overdue. I figured Sesame Street got bypassed for the Muppets, as shown in a funny scene from The Muppet Movie where Fozzie the Bear offers Big Bird a ride to the west coast to break into movies, and Big Bird says no thanks, he’s trying to break into public television back in New York. Well, apparently they made that movie back in 1985 and I missed it, Sesame Street Presents: Follow That Bird. You can’t know everything.
For me this list was tough until I moved away from books as source material. I think the movies I see in my head are better than how some of my ideas would likely turn out produced by the studios. But let’s get on with it–with a nod to Art Schmidt for his idea with DC Comics and Jason McClain for mentioning Connie Willis.
From the comic books: DC Comics’ Dark Knight Returns and Hard-Traveling Heroes
At lunch in high school my friends and I fantasy-cast Batman: The Dark Knight Returns over and over. Ultimately we arrived at (the now late) Paul Newman as the ideal retired Batman, in the graphic novel another wealthy race car driver type. In real life Newman was very much the Bruce Wayne interpreted in Frank Miller’s four-issue series-turned required-reading—as suave guy, well-liked, a wealthy philanthropist. In a different universe Clint Eastwood would be great fun as a superhero coming out of retirement to have that last hoorah with the Batman cowl. Probably too late now. Of all the Batman stories, The Dark Knight Returns is #1–it is so well-established as more than a cult favorite, even beyond Watchmen, you just have to ask DC Comics and the Hollywood machine: Why can’t someone just put it on the big screen?
I’ve said over and over here at borg.com that the best Green Lantern story ever is his team up with Green Arrow and Black Canary in Neal Adams’ and Dennis O’Neil’s classic Green Lantern Issues #76-87 and 89, the so-called “Hard Traveling Heroes.” Imagine Black Canary pulling up on her motorcycle. Imagine Green Arrow defending the kid robbing the slumlord. Imagine Green Arrow catching Speedy. Imagine Hal, Ollie and Dinah driving across America in their pick-up truck. And harpies. And encountering a religious cult. And more harpies.
I’ll echo Art Schmidt: DC Comics needs to catch up with Marvel Comics movies, with Iron Man (the first one), Captain America: The First Avenger, and with Fantastic Four’s brilliant realization of Human Torch and The Thing, maybe my favorite heroes to screen so far. OK, they nailed it with Christopher Reeve’s Superman and Michael Keaton and Jack Nicholson in Batman. Hopefully with The Avengers, Marvel Comics sets a new bar that DC Comics will have to work toward with a multi-hero story, maybe even with the Justice League or Superfriends. Art’s recommended Cry for Justice, which we have discussed here before, is a great choice for this.
From the sci-fi novel: Remake, by Connie Willis
If you haven’t read Hugo and Nebula award-winning author Connie Willis’s books then you are in for a great ride through one of several fun and varied works. For me, the concepts and Hollywood prophesies in her novel Remake are too cool to pass up and I have no doubt represent a foreshadowing of the future of film only slightly touched on in the Ralph Fiennes film Strange Days. Remake is science fiction at its best, and was nominated for a Hugo Award in 1996.
In our near future, Hollywood no longer needs to make new productions. A film technician rearranges classic films via computer manipulation, so that the viewer can select who he wants to watch the next time he watches Raiders of the Lost Ark. How about John Wayne? How about Humphrey Bogart? Why not edit out all the cigarettes so we no longer encourage smoking for future viewers? What other movies would be fun to manipulate? This is the world of our future where Viacom and Paramount are now Viamount, where actors are reduced to stand-ins. OK, so it probably won’t really be our future as totally envisioned by Willis.
The technician falls for a strange woman who wants to dance in a musical and he is continually sidetracked as he pursues her through the novel. The love story is well done—but it’s the world of our future that would be fun to see, finally, on the big screen. And you would not need to film an entire movie, simply clips, like the old soda pop ads that blended dead celebrities with living ones, and that allowed Nat King Cole to star in a modern music video with his grown daughter, the singer Natalie Cole. Hollywood has the technology today—so why not see how far CGI can go?
I’d frankly love to see any Willis book adapted to film, and in addition those mentioned by others in this series, Bellwether and To Say Nothing of the Dog would be great picks.
From the sci-fi novel: Fantastic Voyage 2: Destination Brain, by Isaac Asimov
When the original Fantastic Voyage was in theaters in 1966, Isaac Asimov created the novelization. He was not happy with it because he was adapting someone else’s work (it was based on a Jerome Bixby story). The original film reflected Hollywood basically at its infancy with special effects related to the future of medicine. In its day it was a good effort. With the 1987 novel Fantastic Voyage II: Destination Brain, which was not a sequel but an entirely new story, Asimov created the world inside a microscope that only he could envision. The book is like Dennis Quaid in Innerspace, but with a serious mission and tone. A group of scientists, such as you would find in the typical multi-disciplined problem solving team from a Michael Crichton novel, shrink themselves down to microscopic size to enter into the brain and try to diagnose the condition of a colleague, Dr. Pyotor Shapirov, the creator of the very technology that finally allows man to transport to such a miniscule size.
In 2001 Imax theaters featured a documentary on its giant-sized screens called The Human Body. Audiences were able to see (and sometimes be grossed out by) the inner workings of the body. Filmmakers would hardly need much by way of CGI to show a voyage through the cells. Maybe this would be fun to attempt for some creative producer, and a project showing yet another frontier of science to science fiction fans.
From the art gallery: the cinematic paintings of Edward Hopper
How about a story for stage or screen where each scene begins or ends as an Edward Hopper painting? And the focal character is the girl from his Automat, maybe also the same girl from his Chop Suey painting? New York Movie, First Row Orchestra, Summertime, Cape Cod Evening—they all tell some secret story. Or at least they all could, in the right filmmaker’s hands.
Hopper’s cinematic compositions and use of light and shadow has caused filmmakers to mimic his style before. House by the Railroad supposedly influenced the house in the Alfred Hitchcock’s Psycho and the home in the Terrence Malick film Days of Heaven. Director Wim Wenders’ film The End of Violence incorporates a tableau vivant of Nighthawks. Surrealist horror film director Dario Argento recreated the diner and the patrons in Nighthawks as part of a set for his 1976 film Deep Red. Hopper has inspired both Blade Runner and Road to Perdition.
Turner Classic Movies uses animated recreations of Hopper paintings as introductions to classic films and in That ’70s Show the producers recreated the diner from Nighthawks. But how about a full-scale movie showing us something about these characters we don’t know? That’s something I’d love to see on the big screen.
From the ancient history books: the world briefly changed by Akhenaten
I could find a non-fiction work for the adaptation, but it’s the story itself I really want to see here. The pharaoh Akhenaten was the leader of Egypt for about 17 years from circa 1353 B.C. to 1335 B.C. He was married to Nefertiti and had six or seven daughters and at least one son–Tutankhamen. In his reign he revamped the religion of his country like never before, moving from a polytheistic pantheon of gods to the worship of a single god, the Aten, or sun-disk. Following his reign the empire was returned to its prior state and for Akhenaten’s blasphemy his name was chiseled out of a significant part of the written record. Art during his reign became more expressive and naturalistic. Images of the pharaoh show a realistic image that hid no flaws, a long face, not the typical glorification and heroic imagery of Egyptian leaders before and after. Akhenaten is so interesting from a number of levels that it would be a great challenge to reflect his reign in film. Certainly a rebel and not a traditionalist. A stunning wife. How do you show all the Egyptian relationships—including accepted inbreeding as a norm–without coming off as judgmental? As pharaoh he was “one with the god Aten.” How do you portray daily life in an interesting way where the ruler is God and what could you show about his family on film? A great pandemic swept across the Middle East during this period, taking out the Hittite ruler Suppiluliuma, and how did they manage through that? But even more interesting, with all the stories of the history of conflict in Egypt, what did life look like during the years of Egypt’s own version of Camelot? This all would be incredible to depict.
From fantasy opera: Richard Wagner’s The Ring of the Nibelung
I have only seen one version of The Ring that comes close to clarifying this odd and complex story composed of four epic operas for a general audience: P. Craig Russell’s two volume graphic novel of The Ring of the Nibelung. A few years ago I discussed The Ring with Russell and he said it was a great effort to produce it and it became a sort of magnum opus for him. But even an adaptation of Russell’s adaptation would need streamlined for mainstream audiences—yet, it would be a great starting point. Predating that other famous fantasy ring series (the one by J.R.R. Tolkien) by decades, Wagner’s opera is epic in scope and length, taking four nights or 15 hours to perform the full opera. We already have a superb soundtrack from Wagner, but can someone make a feature-length, meaningful adaptation in the English language that conveys the energy and power of the original without all the nonlinear bits and pieces? The reward would be a giant vision of gods, heroes, mythical creatures and magic.
Other operas due for a good movie? The Magic Flute, The Barber of Seville, The Marriage of Figaro.
More than any of the above I would love to see our own Elizabeth C. Bunce’s retelling of Rumplestiltskin, A Curse Dark As Gold (maybe a classic PBS/BBC series or Hayao Miyazaki anime film would be fun) or her fantasy noir Thief Errant series on-screen. A Curse Dark As Gold has already been performed superbly in a full-length audio CD version by a Broadway actress so I’ve had a little taste of what it would be like to witness it fully played out. And speaking of ECB, tomorrow she’ll give us her take on stories that should be adapted for the big screen.