Today, io9 put up a blog post “10 BOOK SERIES THAT WOULD MAKE EXCELLENT TV SHOWS” and it got me to thinking. Top on their list of possibilities is Kim Stanley Robinson’s Mars Trilogy. A personal favorite of mine, one that I go back to time and again, and re-read because it is just that good.
This ambitious, huge series is nothing but political conflicts and complex worldbuilding, with a huge dose of philosphy thrown in. The first colonists land on Mars and debate the ethics of terraforming the planet, and incidentally humanity’s place in the universe. Over time, the series also gets into questions about how to organize scarce resources and the best form of government. HBO or Showtime could turn this series into an addictive, bleak, hypnotic drama — like BSG, only even more adult and grounded
Now you might imagine that I’d be giddy and happily agreeing with the author CHARLIE JANE ANDERS, but I’m not. After reading a story I rarely, if ever, want to see it produced on any screen. My experience tells me, that any film treatment of one of my favorite stories will invariably fall so far short of my expectations that I won’t just be disappointed, but downright angered. And frankly, I don’t need any more opportunities for anger in my life.
So, I understand that this is going to be an unpopular opinion. As an author, I also understand that this is where the money is. Selling the rights to a story you’ve written is a lot like finding a never ending seam of gold buried under a mountain you own top to bottom. But raise the question of film remakes with me and you’d better have a comfortable seat. There are just so many mistakes that are made in the process of transforming a story into a screen play.
Start with Peter Jackson’s treatment of J.R.R. Tolken’s masterpiece trilogy THE LORD OF THE RINGS. Say what you will about Tom Bombadil and the bog wraiths, but that is fully a third of the first book hacked from the first film as if it were so much dross. Trolls? How are you going to manage trolls in the HOBBIT after you’ve already portrayed them as mindless, hulking beasts in the RINGS? And don’t even get me started on the masterbatorial CGI yank fest of every single battle scene in every single film thereafter. These films are what happens when you take a perfectly wonderful story and add a mountain of cash and a stinking pile of dumb.
And author involvement seems to be little remedy for the outrage that will invariably occur if directors, film crews, and production people get their hands on a story. I’m sorry Mr. Martin and Sir Pratchett, but your written words are far superior a medium than the lackluster renditions of your works that make their way onto my television screen. I find myself wanting to enjoy these stories on the television as much as I did when I read them in their written form. Desperately wanting that much enjoyment, but what is painted on the screen never seems to get me there, and I go to bed, after every episode, unfulfilled.
I know I may have infuriated a potentially large cross section of my readership, so at this point let me take a moment to point out that this is my opinion, nothing more. You can like film remakes of any story all you want and your love for these won’t be any skin off my back for certain. Hollywood and major broadcasters will likely continue to create abridged film versions of stories I love despite my feelings on the topic. And just to be clear, if someone ever picked up one of my stories and said, “Well hey! This is wonderful. I’d like to make a film about people racing paragliders on Mars,” I might actually take them up on an offer. If they offered me the industry-standard, J.K. Rowling sized swimming pool of loose twenty dollar bills I would probably jump on it, the story be damned.
However, I think it is important to understand that we lose something in the telling of stories when our attention is focused solely on the screen. And too, we are losing something vital to our humanity if we fail to read, or if the narrator is unable to convey the importance of the words. Here is where the deficit occurs. Sure a director can capture a few good threads from the fabric of a complex and well woven tale, but this is like reading the Cliffs Notes to Tolstoy’s WAR AND PEACE and pretending that you understand the entirety of the tale.
Maybe it is my imagination, or the fact that as I read I can picture some scene and hold it in my mind. Or maybe it is that by allowing a director and his film staff unfettered access to a story they invariably imagine things differently than I do, and I am unable to find common ground with their version, or surrender my vision of the story scape. But I want to close my eyes and imagine Saxifrage Russell tip-toeing through the Martian tundra as I see him fully in my mind’s eye.