A look at some books which deserve an adaptation
Whilst I love original stories, there are definite positives in adapting literature. Books give the blueprint for an often spectacular narrative, cinema is now the prevalent form of storytelling and film’s are far less time-consuming. As a lover of both literature and cinema, here are the books I hope to see hit the big screen in the near future:
The Drought (1965) by J.G. Ballard
J.G. Ballard was a true original, producing some of the finest books ever, including my personal favourite, Empire of the Sun. The Drought is true to form and is a riveting example of Ballard’s unique brand of nightmarish and harrowing sci-fi. Several of Ballard’s other novels have had adaptations, the most recent being High-Rise in 2015, and there’s no reason that The Drought should be an exception to this rule.
The novel takes place in a world on the brink of losing its low supply of drinking water. It contains a strong anti-pollution message as the process of evaporation has been hindered by plastic contaminating the ocean (maybe it’s a little far-fetched, but people watch movies about giant robots pummelling each other, so…). This message is pertinent to the modern day. What occurs after this exhaustion of supplies is all out warfare between different factions fighting for the dwindling water, with a huge cast of intriguing characters at the centre of the action. It contains the same tense, haunting, yet poetic writing style associated with Ballard’s novels.
Ballard’s genius is fully reflected in The Drought. It’s a tale warning humanity from destroying themselves through their carelessness and encourages a co-operative mindset, a moral perfectly in place in our modern times. With Brexit, Trump, North Korea, and a whole host of issues, this message is perfect for a modern audience. And if an adaptation could capture the tone of the novel it would make for a truly compelling film.
Who I’d like to direct this: Spielberg’s first real venture into serious cinema was his adaptation of Ballard’s Empire of the Sun, so I see no one better than the man who has proved himself as both a legendary filmmaker and a director with respect for Ballard’s source material.
Slade House (2015) by David Mitchell
David Mitchell is one of the most talented authors of the 21st century. He gained prominence through his smash hit Cloud Atlas, and since then has established himself as a force to be reckoned with. Slade House is a continuation of both his quality and his traditionally complex narratives. Whilst it serves as a companion to another Mitchell novel, The Bone Clocks, it also functions as a standalone story.
The book follows a pair of siblings who must feed on the souls of innocent, yet special victims every 9 years. It’s written in the usual David Mitchell manner, with each character having their own unique narrative voice, something which makes each character feel unique, fully fleshed and gives them their own individual sense of humour. We learn more and more about Slade House after each incident, building tension, whilst helping us to further understand the origins and nature of the antagonists. Like all good stories we come to understand, and to some degree, sympathise with them. The repetitive nature of the narrative is overcome by having such different protagonists, differing eras and therefore attitudes, and through the interesting revelations made in each chapter.
I don’t want to give away any spoilers, so I shan’t go into depth with regards to the nitty-gritty plot details, but the fast-paced narrative, playful tone, intriguing story, and consistently sharp wit make this a fantastic book, and one which could easily translate into a film. As Mitchell is a writer with great acclaim and popularity this would surely have a target audience, and I wouldn’t be surprised if we saw an adaptation sometime in the near future.
Who I’d like to direct this: I’m not personally a fan of the Harry Potter universe, but director David Yates is well-suited to directing adaptations of fantasy books. He would probably be a good fit if he didn’t aim it at a teenage audience.
Stranger in a Strange Land (1961) by Robert A. Heinlein
Stranger in a Strange Land’s author, Robert A. Heinlein, is most famous for his novel Starship Troopers, a book adapted into movie form. He clearly has a writing style which lays the groundwork for a successful film. If a director was willing to take the challenge this novel presents, then they’d have a great piece of source material to work from.
Stranger in a Strange Land is a fascinating novel, which explores politics, love, religion, media, wealth, and almost every aspect of our society through the eyes of an at first innocent alien, who is then contaminated by humanity. It’s fascinating to see the norms in the world analysed from a completely unbiased perspective, seeing how petty humanity can be, and how little the things we live, work and die for actually matter. It would be a great wake-up call to those who cause conflict for such trivial reasons. The major issue is – from a pragmatic viewpoint – that the book is so dense, and I can’t imagine that this would be adapted into the cinematic form because of this.
If a director could, against the odds, effectively explore the multi-layered message and the several complex themes on offer, it would make a fascinating movie. There is so much flesh on the bones here. In a world where we seem to be blinded and divided by our own ultimately meaningless constructs, this is a tale with an important message for a divided world. We need to rid ourselves of our prejudices and stubbornness and learn to really connect in order to bridge the divide. Don’t be surprised if this never materialises, however, if it does, I’ll be ecstatic.
Who I’d like to direct this: It’d be so interesting to see Park Chan-Wook handle this. He’s an ambitious, uncompromising director, and I think his bold style of filmmaking would help to excavate the subtle themes of the novel. He’s already handled Fingersmith, the historical crime novel, so why not take on another piece of Western literature? Okay, he’d likely never handle a novel like this, but it’d be great if he did.
2061: Odyssey Three & 3001: The Final Odyssey (1987 & 97) by Arthur C. Clarke
Yes, I realise that this is two books. Oh well. I’m not going to pretend that these books are necessarily masterpieces in the conventional sense. They don’t compare to books like Wuthering Heights or War and Peace in terms of both acclaim and quality. However, they do make a fitting end to Arthur C. Clarke’s Odyssey tetralogy, and since 2001 and 2010 have already been turned into film’s, it only seems fair that these books get their chance. As an avid sci-fi and Clarke fan, I would be more than happy.
These books are written in the same style as 2001: A Space Odyssey and 2010: Odyssey Two. 2061 continues the tale of Heywood Floyd, a character who fans of the series will have an affinity with if they’ve stuck with it this far. He lands on Europa, a moon humanity was warned not to visit. The message is that humanity must not contaminate and destroy all in its wake when it explores the depths of the universe, mimicking humanities previous exploits into uncharted territories. 3001 ties up the series, as the aliens controlling the obelisk attempt to wipe out humanity for not heeding their non-interventionist warning. It’s absolutely engrossing for fans also, as Frank Poole, the man deemed dead in 2001, is revived by a future society with far more sophisticated technology. Okay, it’s beyond believability. However, this is sci-fi, a genre designed to push the scientific and even moral barriers we have set up, and boy does this novel capture the imagination. Whilst these books are rather short if you exclude the tedious copy and pasted paragraphs Clarke frustratingly included, they definitely have enough substance to make a feature film out of. Especially when you think that 2001 was so long despite its rather thin premise.
So, whilst I’m not the type of fan to get carried away and be completely blinded to any negatives, I would love to see this set of novels wrapped up in movie form. Considering the reputation of 2001: A Space Odyssey as a film, and the reputation of Arthur C. Clarke, there would definitely be a fan-base for this, and there’s already a great piece of source material ready to be handled. Whilst it is hard to make a film in this series without it being compared to the first, as the sequel learned, there’s definitely something worth exploring here.
Who I’d like to direct this: Denis Villeneuve, whilst not quite at the top of his game just yet, is a promising sci-fi director. I think he’d admire the legacy of both 2001: A Space Odyssey and Arthur C. Clarke and handle this maturely and respectfully.
A Severed Head (1961) by Iris Murdoch
A Severed Head is a funny, dark, mad, convoluted waltz, in which there is no solid ground to be found. The boundaries of our sympathies and spite for the participants of this whirlwind narrative are forever shifting, much like the complexion of their lives. Whilst there was actually a 1970 film adaptation, it didn’t accurately convey the erratic nature of the book and its key themes, and therefore another adaptation would be welcomed.
Following our protagonist Martin, the book essentially is a trail of adultery and incest within a small group of middle-class Londoners. It’s a satirical novel, mocking the lack of genuine issues in the lives of these privileged and rather immature ‘adults’, who seem to want to dominate each other, and refuse to give up their hold on one another. Our loyalties are constantly reconfigured through staggering plot twists and subtle manipulations. This deep, gloomy exploration and liberation of sexuality, is made immersive through it’s likeable, yet flawed characters, and through its amusing, yet pathetic tone.
The fact that an adaptation has been attempted is a positive sign, signifying the potential of the source material. If the mad, unpredictable, fast-paced feel of the book could be captured by a director, then this could definitely be a popular, though by no means mainstream, film. In a world where people seem rather complacent and unappreciative of their lot in life, this is a story well worth telling.
Who I’d like to direct this: Ben Wheatley could make something good out of this novel. His signature blend of dark subject matter and humour would be perfectly in place, and his decision to veer away from mainstream cinema would mean that he would not have to yield on any of the rather taboo moments in the book.