By Art Schmidt
For my top five list of stories I’d like to see turned into motion pictures, I have tried to be somewhat realistic. Some of my favorite stories, whether novels or games or comic books, I have left off as just being beyond realization. The wish of their being turned into a movie is, in itself, a fantasy, due to various factors.
For instance, since I was a teenager, I’ve been dying for someone to make a movie from Grand Poobah Dungeon Master Gary Gygax’s original storyline thread from the first D&D modules: “The Village of Hommlet” modules (T1-T4), the Slaver series (modules A1-A4), the “Against the Giants” series (modules G1-G3), and the “Drow of the Underdark” series (modules D1-D3 & module Q1 “Queen of the Demonweb Pits”). Of course, this would be for the die-hard gaming geeks almost exclusively, and at twelve modules (adventures) it would be difficult to pack into a motion picture trilogy or quintology (!), even if anyone would be so crazy as to provide the funding for it.
I’m stoked for a movie adaptation of Ernest Cline’s recent novel, Ready Player One, but I’m not including it because it’s already in pre-production at Warner Bros. No need to wish for that which is likely to already happen. Then there’s the Wheel of Time series, which isn’t quite over. The final book, currently titled A Memory of Light, is scheduled to be published in January of 2013. And as the fifteen-volume series will clock in at an estimated 11,000 pages, it could never conceivably be condensed down to make any real sense in a few motion pictures.
Trivia: A series of three books is called a trilogy. A series of five books is called a quintology. A series of seven books is called a heptalogy. What is a series of fourteen books called?
Answer: Too damned long!
Note: No offense to Robert Jordan, may he rest in peace, the series is great, but it could have probably ended after eight or ten novels. I really enjoyed the first ten Wheel of Time books! And all of your Conan novels were great, too!
So, too, would I love to hear of a big screen adaptation of some of R.A. Salvatore’s Drizzt Do’urden novels, especially the Icewind Dale Trilogy, but alas, it is not to be. I could name some Star Wars and Conan novels that I’d like to see adapted, but those subjects have already been masterfully done on the big screen, so there is no use wasting our time.
Same goes for the less well-known but equally awesome Deathgate Cycle heptalogy from the great fantasy team of Margaret Weis and Tracy Hickman. Too many books in the series (few of which really stand entirely on their own), and likely too hardcore (i.e. small) of a fan base. Anyhow, the powers that be (being in power, as they are), would most likely take a run at Dragonlance (ho-hum) before considering Deathgate. Too bad.
In the “slightly unrealistic” column, however, I have included the Elric of Melnibone saga in my list, despite the main character being an anti-hero and thus a difficult win for a motion picture, even with the hard-core fantasy crowd. Strangely enough, this may be the one wish that I am granted (read more in my Elric entry, below).
A lot of fantasy, I know. I’m a fantasy kind of guy. There are a lot of good horror, sci-fi, and other fiction out there crying to be made into films, but really, we get a lot of good stuff from those genres already. But there is a dearth of good fantasy films out there, and they come along so rarely; The Fellowship of the Ring came out over ten years ago, after all.
Man, I’m getting old. Somebody please make a couple of these before I croak.
Other honorable mentions. I’d love to see something done with Gaiman’s Sandman series, but probably too difficult and definitely niche. Same goes for Marvel 1601, one of my favorite graphic novels (also Gaiman). But niche. The books of Michael Crichton have been done (and done, and done) as they are so interesting and have such strong plotlines, but my favorite novel of his is one of his non-fiction works, Travels. He chronicles some of his real-life travels had some great insights into his own life from them. But again, probably too tight of an audience for something like that.
Neuromancer would totally rock, but the conventional wisdom is that cyberpunk is way over. I’m no good at conventional wisdom, though. Maybe it’s so over that it’s ready to be hip again? Disco and bell bottoms keep coming back, after all. On second thought, maybe not.
Anyway, on with the real list.
#5 – The Gaean Trilogy (Titan, Wizard and Demon) from John Varley
A mix of fantasy and sci-fi, this is the first thing I thought of when I saw Avatar. And I wasn’t alone. Space farers explore a foreign planet where magic seems to happen in nature, strange creatures abound, and some of them are intelligent/sentient. Then humans come along and really muck it all up. That’s the Gaean Trilogy’s premise (not the plot) in a nutshell.
Of course, there is much more to it than that. There are far more significant differences between these novels and the movie Avatar than there are broad similarities. The combination of sci-fi and fantasy is what would make this appealing, and the titanides and eventual revelation of the Gaea intelligence (and what follows) would make for a great movie.
#4 – Fallout: New Vegas (video game)
My favorite game in recent years (besides Star Wars: The Old Republic, which I’m itching to play even now while writing this), FNV was a great game because of the amazing, engrossing storyline.
In a nutshell:
In the late twenty-first century, America and China fight a prolonged war over resources that ends with a nuclear exchange. The nuclear warheads and subsequent fallout kills most everyone except a chosen few who retreat to underground ‘vaults’ to ride out the Earth’s recovery from global fallout (hence the title of the series). Life as we know it ends.
Some two hundred years later, people begin to emerge from the vaults, and find some still living humans, along with irradiated creatures, mutants, and all sorts of crazy stuff living in the burnt-out shells of our former civilization. Las Vegas was spared from direct nuclear attack by the defenses of wealthy industrialist and casino owner, as was the nearby Hoover Dam. People died, but the core of the Strip survived (what irony).
A lone traveler enters the area, gets shot in the head and buried, but survives and is nursed back to health, although with amnesia from the wound. He sets about trying to learn about himself and his assailants, and in the process discovers that Las Vegas (dubbed “New Vegas” by the current residents) is being contested over by a growing civilization from California (the New California Republic, or NCR), an army of brutal slave-owning tribals calling themselves Caesar’s Legion, and the wealthy citizen who kept Vegas from annihilation (or is it him?) who runs New Vegas with an army of killer robots and calls himself Mr. House.
The story is compelling, and locations are fantastic, the inhabitants are diverse and interesting, and there are stories aplenty for the traveler to encounter and deal with on his way to the game’s climactic battle between these competing forces over who will control Hoover Dam, the one source of electricity and life-giving water amidst a world of death and dust.
A great movie that would make. We’ve seen shades of this with The Book of Eli (a great movie, but more of a morality tale than a straight-forward action/adventure flick) and The Road (a great example of how really good books can be terrible movies), but nothing like the tale spun in New Vegas.
#3 – The Elric of Melnibone novels by Michael Moorcock
An island of anemic sorcerer kings who rule the world. A savage world of monsters and heroes who strive daily to survive. Magic that allows people to cross into other dimensions and sail through space to other planets. Stormbringer. What an absolutely epic fantasy movie that would make!
Of course, the main problem is that Elric is an anti-hero. In fact, Elric is the very embodiment of the modern-day anti-hero. He’s not a nice guy. He’s not even rough-around-the-edges-but-basically-moral-in-an-immoral-world (like Conan) kind of guy. He’s a self-important, selfish, power-hungry elitist. At times, he’s a murder, though he does begin to show some humanity and regret after a while. But he has a goal, and purpose, and oh, the adventures he has, the places he goes, and the things he sees! All fantastic, and all while wielding what can easily be called the most powerful magical sword in all of fantasy (save perhaps for Shieldbreaker from Fred Saberhagen’s Swords novels, but I digress…)
I would absolutely love to sit in a theatre and watch the albino sorcerer-king travel the planes swinging the Black Sword of legend. Ever since I saw Conan the Barbarian, I have longed for someone to make movies out of the Lord of the Rings trilogy and the Elric saga. One down, one to go.
Apparently, I am a little late to the party on this one. Director/Producer brothers Chris Weitz (About a Boy, The Golden Compass) and Paul Weitz (American Pie, Little Fokkers) were reportedly in “pre-production” on a movie trilogy based on Moorcock’s dark, brooding novels about my second-favorite anti-hero (see #1, below, for my fave), but that project has been side-tracked and is lately talked about by the brothers in wistful terms of ‘someday’.
Here’s hoping that “someday” actually comes.
Side Note: I’m not 100% certain, but I believe “Pre-Production” is a fancy Hollywood term for people emailing and texting back and forth about great ideas for a movie, then meeting in coffee shops and chatting about how great it would be to make said movie, before moving on to work on real movies that are actually being made.
#2 – Justice League / The Dark Knight Returns
DC Comics is sitting on a goldmine, but they have had some trouble translating the shiny stuff in their mine into coin of the realm. The Batman movies of late being the obvious exception, DC Comics has not enjoyed the great success of Marvel in translating their characters to the big screen. Superman was ground-breaking back in the seventies, and the first couple of Batman movies of the late eighties / early nineties paved the way for what was to come. And then there is Batman Begins, The Dark Knight (of course), and this summer’s Dark Knight Rises.
But taking the long view, that’s maybe six or seven hit movies over a thirty year span. Not horrible, but not that great. But compare that with Marvel’s run in just the last twelve years, and you can pick twice that number of successful movies based on their characters. The X-Men movies (at least two of them), the Spiderman trilogy (again, at least two), The Fantastic Four, X-Men: First Class, and the movies leading up to and including this summer’s The Avengers (Ang Lee’s Hulk and Iron Man 2 notwithstanding).
I’m not bashing DC here, don’t get me wrong. Their characters are iconic, to say the least. And maybe they don’t value movies as much as Marvel does, which is fine. There is certainly more money to be made in movies, but money isn’t everything; no movie is better than a bad movie, when the protection of a brand is essential to the company’s success.
But DC has such a wealth of great story that it’s hard to fathom that there hasn’t been more translation from the inked page to the lighted screen. Just imagine this movie trilogy, my friends…
The Justice League – A movie centering on the core of the League, Superman, Batman, Green Lantern, Wonder Woman, Aquaman, Green Arrow and the Flash (possibly also Hawkman and/or the Martian Manhunter, depending on the ability to introduce the movie-going public at large to these characters), coming together to form the group to thwart Prometheus along the lines of Justice League: A Cry for Justice, except using the central characters rather than a competing alliance / ideology, with internal group conflict as to how to deal with the situation as would be natural. Prometheus is murdering foreign superheroes, then planning to destroy cities of the League’s superheroes (maybe limit it to three key cities, rather than the sprawling destruction in the mag). After being defeated he negotiates his escape, proving he’s not bluffing by detonating one bomb as in the book. In this adaptation, Superman is the negotiator and Batman (along with Green Arrow) wanting to make him pay no matter what. End with the Green Arrow scene (no spoiler here), with the barest hint that Batman helped him (but didn’t necessarily know what he was going to do).
The Justice League: Legion of Doom – The League battles the formation of the Legion of Doom. The Legion is forming along the lines of the backstory from the Justice series in 2005-2006, with Brainiac (and Lex Luthor) fooling even his fellow baddies and planning to get the League to wipe out his ‘competitors’ of evil. But unlike in Justice, their motivations are to take over the American government (as depicted in Miller’s The Dark Knight Strikes Again). The League wins the apparent victory against the facade, but Brainiac and Lex succeed behind the scenes with their real master plan. At the very end, the League is disgraced and talks of disbanding. Superman is called away on an emergency he won’t discuss… (Lex has Kandor and is going to blackmail him, but don’t reveal that until the last movie in the trilogy).
The Justice League Returns – The movie everyone wants, Superman vs. Batman, pull out all of the stops. This movie would basically blend The Dark Knight Returns with a little bit of The Dark Knight Strikes Again, blending the emancipation of Batman’s fellow Leaguers a-la DKSA into the main storyline of DKR (yes, it might be sacrilegious, but this is Hollywood we’re talking about). The Justice League disbanded after their failure in The Legion of Doom, and Brainiac and Lex have taken over America and put a computer President in place. With Kandor held hostage, they have forced Superman to help capture or banish the other League members (similar to the backstory of DKSA and DKR both: “Diana returned to her people; Hal left for the stars…” Leave Shazam out, he makes things too complicated). This bit could be the prologue to the movie itself (before credits). Batman is the bitter retiree in DKR and follows that storyline back from retirement to defeat the Mutants gang and/or the return of Two-Face, then sets about freeing his fellow Leaguers (DKSA), which leads to the confrontation with Superman as the puppet of the Braniac/Lex regime (weak not from the DKR nuclear missile but from the faux ‘catastrophes’ that Brainiac/Lex cook up for him in DKSA; the asteroid, the volcano in Hawaii, etc.) along with Batman’s fellow Leaguers (similar to Green Arrow in DKR, but with Hal Jordan and Barry Allen also assisting as in DKSA). No Kara, though, and no Dick Grayson craziness, and take out all of the future media “super babes” hype and whatnots.
Ok, I’m done geeking out. And I realize that the fanboys would cry FOUL (and worse) and this kind of hacked together plot from what may be their favorite series(es). Me? I’m not a purist, I just like good story. Perhaps that’s why I seem to be one of the small minority who absolutely loved both the Watchmen comics and the spectacular movie equally.
Hollywood can ‘just’ make DKR and I’d be ecstatic.
I know there was (is?) a JL movie in the works, announced as being in “pre-production” (oh, boy) last year by Warner Bros., but couldn’t find anything recent on the subject. Anyone have any fairly recent scoop on where that one is at? Still in pre-production? Man, those guys drink a lot of coffee.
#1 – The Chronicles of Amber novels from Roger Zelazny
This would make a great movie trilogy, no question. The great thing about this story and why it would translate to the big screen is the beginning: the hero is a seemingly normal human being on planet Earth in the current day. He awakes in a mental institution, not knowing how he got there, but it’s apparent he’s being kept sedated and held against his will. He escapes but has amnesia (I know, it’s a tired plot device, but here it absolutely works). He finds out he has a sister, goes to her home to investigate, and finds some things that are… weird. He confronts her, and then meets more family. And things get a bit weirder.
As his journey progresses, the audience learns things as the protagonist does; bit at a time, little by little, slowly building up this incredible picture of the hero as a long-lost prince of a magical kingdom in another dimension. Sound like a book for young adults? Hang on to your britches, cause it’s anything but. Don’t let the terms “long-lost prince” and “magical kingdom” fool you. This is hardcore fantasy at its absolute finest.
Once the hero, Corwin, loses his amnesia, he finds that he is a talented swordsman, a gifted military leader, and a cunning strategist. He’s also an able sorcerer and in line for his absent father’s throne. However, his family is currently vying against each other in cabals and alliances for the crown, and there are as many of them as there are books in the Wheel of Time series.
It has the fantasy swordplay of Conan (the original), the magical flair of The Matrix (if you haven’t read the books, it’s hard to explain that reference, but believe me, it’s apropos), the political in-fighting of A Game of Thrones, the gritty war drama of Braveheart and Platoon (again, the reference works, trust me) and the narrative genius of the multiple Hugo and Nebula award-winning author, Zelazny.
Yeah, it’s that good. At least to me. That’s why it makes the top of my list of stories I’d love to see made into movies.
Come back tomorrow, and Jason McClain will give us his take on adaptations and being true to the source material.
I’m with you on a really brilliantly-made Justice League movie!