Novels and Movies

(Novels that should have been made into movies but haven’t, and movies which are arguably better than novels.)

Do Androids Dream of Movie Stardom?

Perhaps one of the best movies of any SF novel is Blade Runner. I grew up admiring most of Philip Dick’s novels, including “Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?”, but at the risk of uttering heresy I’d say that the movie is better than the novel. It tightens the plot and adds visual brilliance and a film noir atmosphere. At the risk of uttering even further heresy I’d argue that the original version of the movie is better than the later Director’s Cut. The original has Harrison Ford’s voice-over, which I know he detested, but it adds to the film noir mood; he speaks like a figure from an Edward Hopper painting, sitting alone in a bar with a dangling cigarette and a crumpled raincoat. Also, maybe the ambiguity of the original’s ending is more haunting than the bleakness of the Director’s Cut.

Usually I prefer original novels to movies, for the usual reason – even with CGI, no movie can out-imagine a reader’s imagination. But very occasionally a movie will expand or illuminate a novel. Blade Runner is one, and I’d like to suggest a few others, listed below.

2001: actually a short story originally, transformed by Stanley Kubrick’s movie and then turned into a novel. And (because I’m a fan of his, and therefore biased) I can think of two other Stanley Kubrick movies which are arguably even better than the novels, though both novels were very good:

The Shining: Jack Nicholson became a different being, without makeup or prosthetics – just by acting. Also, because Kubrick wanted steadier low-angle shots, he virtually invented the gyroscopic camera, and something he devised merely for his own convenience then became standard movie equipment. Rather like Newton inventing differential calculus just so he could do the sums for his Laws of Motion more easily…

Clockwork Orange: Again, the original novel is highly rated – but Kubrick’s vision expands it somehow. Also, Anthony Burgess’ Russian-derived street slang sometimes gets in the way of the text. Kubrick relegates it to a lower place in the movie. Then ther’s the music, and Malcolm McDowell’s performance.

And there’s one other case where I’d say the outcome is a draw. Neither the novel nor the movie are SF, but they both have such extraordinary features that I’d like to mention them anyway.
Joseph Conrad’s Heart Of Darkness is only 37,000 words long – hardly a novel at all, and yet what it says about nineteenth-century colonialism in Africa, and how it corrodes the European soul, would take a lesser writer a trilogy to say. And then Francis Ford Coppola took Conrad’s themes and moved them from nineteenth-century Africa to nineteen-sixties Vietnam. When I first saw Apocalypse Now, I thought why, after this, would anyone bother making another Vietnam movie?

Once you’ve decided which SF novels you’d most like to see made into movies, the more interesting question is the follow-up: for each novel, how would the movie be made? Which parts would be cut out, which parts expanded, maybe who would direct. But that’s only interesting if discussed face-to-face over drinks, rather than in a post like this. All I’ve put here is a list of titles.

Alfred Bester: Tiger! Tiger! aka The Stars my Destination (apparently there was to be a movie this year, but it’s been cancelled.)
Ursula LeGuin: The Left Hand of Darkness
Keith Roberts: Pavane
Jack Vance: The Demon Princes novels
Iain M Banks: a Culture novel (perhaps The Player of Games)
China Mieville: Perdido Street Station
John Boyd: The Last Starship from Earth
Brian Aldiss: Hothouse
William Gibson: Neuromancer
Robert Silverberg: Hawksbill Station (short story)

David Mitchell’s Cloud Atlas was on my list, but I understand a big-budget movie is due for release this year.

I’d also like to see a movie of Mervyn Peake’s Gormenghast trilogy (the entire trilogy – the BBC did a very good adaptation, though it was condensed and covered only the first two books). I know it’s not strictly SF (the previous topic refers) but maybe it’s not strictly anything except different, in which case it may belong here.

And I’d like someone to film some more Stanislaw Lem titles, though most of them are far stranger and more left-field than Solaris. Still, if Catch-22 can be turned into a film (arguably a very good one) then surely any book can.