Book To Screen Wishlist (Part I)

I love movies almost as much as I love books. And few things are as heartbreaking, for me, than a novel poorly adapted into a film. To be clear right up front, I’m not the kind of person that thinks books should be adapted exactly as written or not at all. No, there are many ways to bring a story to screen that work for me. Choices have to be made, things need to be cut (scenes, characters, etc). I’m okay with changes being made, in fact its necessary most of the time. Film is a different story telling medium than print, and it requires different story telling techniques. But certain things need to stay true. The heart of a story must be respected, and that is no easy thing to do.

A lot of people get their hands on a film before it reaches audiences. It’s a true collaborative art, which also means there are so many more ways to fail on the way from script to screen. Poor writing, poor casting choices, poor art direction, production problems, conflicting artistic visions, the invasive hand of studio executives that only see dollar signs and know nothing about real story telling, etc. Two recent failures were particularly sad for me… Ender’s Game and The Giver. And they were sad because they didn’t have to be bad. In fact they could have been sooooo good, if only… But then there is The Lord of the Rings, Stardust, Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy (2005), Gone Girl, L.A. Confidential, Game of Thrones, the list goes on! Many people may disagree with me on how well these films/shows were adapted (and that’s a conversation I’m ALWAYS up for, btw), but for me, the heart and soul of these stories remained intact despite the changes AND made excellent movies/shows as well.

Due to my love of film I frequently think about whether a book I’m reading could be adapted, who should do it, and what I’d like to get out of it. So I have a little list about it, though to be fair, my mental list is really much longer than this. This list is for books with either no deal right now, or books that have been optioned but nothing else has happened yet (I have a separate list for films that are currently in development that I’m excited about).

97803160981202312 by Kim Stanley Robinson

An epic space opera in which humankind has populated the entire solar system from Mercury to Pluto, and achieved lifespans nearing 200 years. An interplanetary conspiracy is afoot, allegiances must be made and it’s no easy task to tell friend from foe. There are many challenges in translating this story to screen, not the least of which would be conveying the concept of quantum computing (a major part of the plot) to a mainstream audience, not to mention that gender and sexuality in this novel is both diverse and fluid. Categories go far beyond masculine and feminine and many characters are “gynandromorphs”, having been conditioned with life extending therapies that alter their chromosomal makeup in utero. It would be possible to adapt it without this, I suppose, but would do a disservice to the complexity of the characters that Robinson created, and really would make things much less interesting.

I’d love to see this as a mini-series on SyFy, possibly produced by Ronald D. Moore (creator of the new Battlestar Galactica). There’s not quite enough material for a full series, but four 1.5 hour episodes would be great. And the darker tone of Battlestar or Stargate Universe would be ideal. Regardless of who takes this on, they have to not be afraid of pushing some serious boundaries.

Why you should read it: From a literary standpoint this novel blows most other space operas I’ve read out of the solar system. It’s beautifully written and impeccably researched. Robinson is also extremely passionate about ecological sustainability and economic justice… both ideals are well represented in this novel.

9780441007318The Left Hand of Darkness by Ursula Le Guinn

This one, I admit, would be very difficult, but in our current cultural climate would be well timed.  The Left Hand of Darkness tells the story of a lone human emissary to Winter, an alien world whose inhabitants can change their gender. His intention is to ascertain if they are ready and willing to join the Ekumen – an interplanetary coalition of humanoid worlds (note: this is also the first time the citizens of Winter become aware that there is intelligent life elsewhere in the universe). When the ruler of the planet becomes suspicious of the emissary, both he and his on planet advocate, Estraven – a citizen of Winter – are exiled. On their journey to escape they develop an intimate friendship.

I would definitely go for a feature film adaptation on this one. Alex Garland, after his masterful adaptation of Kazuo Ishiguro’s Never Let Me Goand who has also demonstrated his abilities with heavily psychological stories (Sunshine), would be my pick for screenwriter. Director is a little more difficult, but either Alfonso Cuarón or Spike Jonze would do an excellent job with delicate psychological material like this. But someone like Tarsem Singh would take a hyper-stylized approach, which could also be interesting.

Why you should read it: It’s beautiful and dark, tragic and hopeful. A vision of the future that looks at the ways we humans cope with things we don’t understand, or that make us uncomfortable. Someone once said to me that this was the most important sci-fi novel they had ever read. And I agree.

9780679743460Hard-Boiled Wonderland and the End of the World by Haruki Murakami

Taking place across two planes of consciousness, the waking mind and the subconscious one, a data encryptor finds he has a unique ability, and his only way of dealing with its consequences lies in the hands of a mad-scientist and his seventeen year old granddaughter. Written in the 80’s, the story lends itself to be updated to current technological standards (e.g. mobile phones and the internet did not exist at the time of the writing). Though the analogue process of data encryption used in the novel, in my opinion, should remain the same, or the entire premise of the novel would fall apart.

This might be my absolute favorite novel of all time. So, I have to be honest, I would personally like to adapt this for film myself except for the fear of seriously messing it up (seeing as how I’m not an experienced screenwriter and all). So other than myself, I could go a number of ways with this. Rian Johnson  or Darren Aronofsky to write/direct. They can both clearly handle some very high concept stuff. Jeff Nichols, writer/director of Take Shelter could also be an interesting choice. His frequent collaborator, Michael Shannon would be great as The Gatekeeper. I’m clearly envisioning an English language version of this film made for Western audiences. However, I would absolutely watch a Japanese language version of this film.

Why you should read it: It’s an excellent introduction to the work of Haruki Murakami, and a prime example of the way he implements magical realism into his stories. There’s Japanese folklore, Jungian psychology, and a hint of a corporate run future dystopian state just outside the events of the story. The protagonist is simply trying to live his life when he’s thrust into this bizarre conspiracy, and how he gets out of it (if that is, in fact, what happened), is fascinating.

9780399158445The Peripheral by William Gibson

This is a crime-mystery-thriller that takes place between two timelines, with members of the past timeline able to travel to and exist in the future time by way of a Peripheral, a cybernetic body they control remotely in their time via a virtual reality device. When Flynn steps in for her brother, Burton, to beta test a “new virtual reality game”, she witnesses a murder. And when people start trying to kill them they realize it was no game, but in fact the future she witnessed through a drone’s camera. Investigators from the future timeline need Flynn and her brother’s help to both solve the murder and stop something much more sinister.

I have a special place in my heart for William Gibson. Sadly his previous works have not been adapted well (sorry Johnny Mnemonic), though I have high hopes for Pattern Recognition. Most people don’t know how to handle cyborg stuff that’s not an action movie. However, director Joseph Kosinski proved himself to me with his handling of Tron: Legacy (an amazing film, I don’t care what the reviews said. I will defend it to my death). As for the writer, after some research I came up with Laeta Kalogridis, who penned screenplays for Night Watch (also an amazing film adapted from a novel), Terminator Genysis, and the upcoming Altered Carbon. As for casting… Flynn, the main protagonist, I see Danai Gurira of The Walking Dead, and for Wilf Netherton, the other main protagonist, I see someone like Martin Freeman.

Why you should read it: Gibson’s visions of the future have always been both extraordinary and simultaneously grounded in reality. This book is the culmination of his visionary imagination (as seen in novels like Neuromancer) and the character based work he did on his Blue Ant trilogy. Combined, for me, it represents the most mature work he’s ever done. He’s masterful in the way he slowly pieces the puzzle together for you one tiny bit at a time. But a word of caution, Gibson doesn’t take the time to explain his concepts to you. If you don’t understand, at least at a conceptual level, how virtual reality works, or have some knowledge of time-travel tropes, you might get frustratingly lost.

9780375866227Seraphina by Rachel Hartman

In the kingdom of Goredd, dragons and humans live and work side by side – but since the war tensions are only kept in check by a shaky treaty. The newest member of the royal court, a uniquely gifted musician named Seraphina, holds a deep secret of her own. She is half-dragon, something thought to be impossible. When a member of the royal court is murdered in a way that implicated dragons, she must both assist in the investigation and hide who she really is.

This is a family friendly story that could do well as an animated film in the style of Titan A.E. But could also work well as live action, ala The Hobbit. I’m not sure who should pen it, or direct it, but Seraphina should be played by Game of Throne‘s  Maisie Williams!

Why you should read it: This is YA Fantasy at its best! Seraphina is a well-written and complex female character. It’s both a coming of age novel, and a murder mystery. Hartman doesn’t dwell on teen romances (that can get quite tedious in this genre) and she keeps the pace up for the entire novel so it never drags. Plus, you’ve never seen dragons quite like these before.

Stay tuned for Part 2 of my Book to Screen wish list! Do you have an opinion about who you’d like to make any of these movies? Please share in the comments section! Let’s talk!

2 thoughts on “Book To Screen Wishlist (Part I)

  1. Hi!
    Your struck a chord with me and I will look at your recommendations, but I can come up with a few films that were better than the books. L.A.Confidential (as you mentioned), Jaws (The book had Hooper hitting on Sheriff Brody’s wife since she used to date his older brother and on the boat they all hated each other), The Shawshank Redemption (Rita Hayworth and the Shawshank Redemption was the name of the short story, which appeared in a Stephen King collection called “Different Seasons”—btw, that same collection had “The Body” which became Stand By Me, and “Apt Pupil” that also became a same titled film), and “We’ll Remember it for you Wholesale” by Phillip K. Dick ( It became Total Recall with Ahhnold, before he became governor of CA).
    I look forward to checking out the titles you mentioned.
    Thank you!


  2. I have to admit, I have never read Jaws, so I can’t make the comparison personally. The L.A. Confidential film is exceptional, and for me stands apart from the book, though I don’t know if I can call it better per se. But I agree with the King short story adaptations for sure. Apt Pupil was great as a film, as was Stand By Me (classic!). And of course, Shawshank is incredible. But I disagree on We’ll Remember It For You Wholesale. Neither film, imo, lived up to the book (and I LOVE the Verhoeven Total Recall -though let’s be honest, that was an adaptation in the way Lynch’s Dune was an adaptation, i.e. not much of one, as great as they both were… as for the new Total Recall, while closer to the book, the film was just okay).

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