Tuesday, March 08, 2005

Movies That Might Have Been


We were mourning the way movies sometimes hack up, or miss the crucial point of, or simply fail to recreate the sense and feel of the book from which they were adapted. (The specific case was the bug-smashing video-game SFX-fest that was made from Heinlein's Starship Troopers.)

A recurrent theme began to emerge: movies that might have been made, but never were. There are so many great books out there, novels that have a visual quality or gripping plots, stories with endearing characters and a ready-made fan base. Why haven't they made it to the big screen?

Robert Heinlein was a prolific writer, but only The Puppet Masters and the disastrous Starship Troopers have been adapted to the big screen. (Other "movies" credited to Heinlein's work were actually made for TV.) According to BlogCritic (and ElitistPig blogger) Dave Nalle, while RAH was alive, an adaptation of ST was planned to star Martin Sheen and Charlie Sheen. Alas, the author died, and his novel fell into the hands of Verhoeven.

On the other hand, Heinlein's iconic Stranger in a Strange Land has been ignored for decades. In today's politico-religious climate, its message would resonate strongly—which may explain the lack of interest from Hollywood.
[Stranger] underscores the original message of the Christ: love each other; and tells us in a less-brutal (because fictional) way than Mel Gibson's The Passion of the Christ, the consequences of preaching love to those focused on money, power—or scripture.
DrPat, Christmas Rereading—Fictional Messiahs and Jihads, 12/13/2004.

Frank Herbert's Dune has been made into a movie and a TV mini-series, but other books—the 70s shocker about human genetic engineering, The Eyes of Heisenberg, for example—have been ignored. Herbert, like Heinlein, was a prolific writer, yet only Dune has been adapted. Alan Dean Foster is another writer with an impressive list of original novels. I, for one, would love to see the flying mini-drag Pip in a movie. Foster even has an "in in Hollywood (novelizing films), yet no Pip and Flinx film is even rumored.

Sometimes, an author's desire to control his brainchild impedes adaptation. Ayn Rand was famous for insisting on control over both the adaptation and casting when her novels were made into movies. A fascinating movie that might have been is Atlas Shrugged—the link is to a post written by a past collaborator with Rand, and names actors the two discussed for roles in AS while Rand was alive, and who might play those roles today. Ayn Rand preferred Robert Redford for the central role of John Galt. But imagine Brad Pitt as John Galt, Russell Crowe as Rearden, and Dustin Hoffman as Wesley Mouch! Oh, and Brendan Fraser as Ellis Wyatt.

Legal issues and fear of plagiarism charges may block movie-makers from considering some "properties," as they refer to original novels in Hollywood. Years ago, as I was reading N. Lee Wood's Looking for the Mahdi, I kept seeing Arnold Schwartzenegger in the news-anchor "fabricant" covering jihadism in the Middle East. (This was years before 9/11 and "Ahnold" as a politician.) I wrote to him to suggest he look into a film treatment of the book, with himself in the central role. I received a polite "not opened/not read" note back from his office, stating that the actor could not consider unsolicited scripts.

There are so many books out there, books we've read and loved, whose stories have played already on that cinema in our heads. What are your movies that might have been? Who do you want to see play the main roles? Anyone have Alan Dean Foster's phone number?

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