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Sat, Apr. 17th, 2010, 12:38 pm

I reread Anathem just recently (so good!). I'm reminded that probably a lot of my love for writing clever people bickering is from Neal Stephenson. He writes about the kind of person I want to be/become/know; for good or for ill, he writes about people like that in Interesting Times. Not a bad role model as writers go. The thing is, as I reread Anathem, I found myself picking things out for the inevitable movie trailer.

CORD: "Give me an adventure. I don't mean a big one, just something that'll make getting fired seem small."
RAZ: "I'm afraid it has to be a huge adventure or nothing."
CORD: "Great!"
MOYRA: "He doesn't believe in the existence of time."
PAPHLAGON: "I don't recommend we get sidetracked on the question of whether time exists."
ARSIBALT: "Avoid the ends of the poles, they're hot."
JESRY: "Hot as in radioactive?"
ARSIBALT: "No, hot as in ouch. That's where it radiates its waste heat."
ARSIBALT: "But they're also radioactive."
OROLO: "So you're worried that a pink dragon will fly over and fart nerve gas on us?"
LIO scuffles with a man and takes a gun from him.
BARB: "He carries a gun. It is a local tradition. They don't consider it threatening."
LIO: "I'm sure he won't feel threatened by my carrying this one, then."

That vein of imagination, though, led to a different place. It is reasonably easy and pleasant to speculate about cinema adaptations of Stephenson's works because Stephenson is of an era where things like that are common, and to a certain extent is incapable of writing things that are unfilmable. This is less true of other authors: I have in mind Roald Dahl.

Dahl comes to mind this way: there have been two adaptations of Charlie And The Chocolate Factory, as well as several other adaptations of Dahl's work. But I didn't imprint on Charlie and the Chocolate Factory as a lass: I imprinted on Charlie and the Great Glass Elevator, a deeply weird work that is an immediate sequel to CATCF. CATGGE is a work that I would consider, in the cultural/economic matrix that we live in, genuinely unfilmable. It starts off in the cheery tone of CATCF channeled through political satire, and then it takes a hard right and becomes Roald Dahl's Aliens for a while. They fight run away from shoggoths on a space hotel. Then they come back to earth, there's time travel, casually ignored causality violations, drug experimentation, age regression, and a trip to the land of ghosts which sits directly beneath Wonka's factory and is basically the maraschino cherry on the sundae of OSHA violations that was CATCF.

It is worth noting that CATGGE was first published in 1972, and the Gene Wilder adaptation of CATCF was released in 1971. The movie so angered Dahl that he refused to license film rights to CATGGE; one can't help but suspect that the narrative acquired a certain amount of Take That towards the idea of a cinematic adaptation in the process.

Continuing in this vein, we find The BFG, which I'm kind of surprised never found a mainstream American cinematic adaptation. When farts are a major plot point of a work, you have to kind of expect that the Hollywood scum will be all over it. On the other hand, the covert, enormous child-eating giants might be enough nightmare fuel to keep it from profitability; I'm fine with that.

Could you guess that the protagonist of Matilda resonated strongly with me? I bet you could.

The point here, to paraphrase Stephenson, actually, is that Roald Dahl was a deeply weird guy (see his autobiography, whose first half is basically a litany of British boarding-school child abuse) and that that is impossible to separate from his works. That inseparability is the same reason that even though Dave Sim wrote some brilliant comics, the fact that he's a complete scuzzbucket of a human being makes one reluctant to approve of Cerebus. In a similar way, I anticipate that, Neal Stephenson being who he is, it's only a matter of time until we see adapatations of his canon. Myself, I strongly fancy Snow Crash and The Diamond Age as anime, while Zodiac, Cryptonomicon, and Anathem would make engaging normal cinematic works. Still haven't gotten around to the Baroque Cycle. Someday.

What do you think is unfilmable - and what do you think should stay that way?

Sat, Apr. 17th, 2010 08:08 pm (UTC)

Well, you already brought up Dahl, so, I have nothing to add.

I think some of the films based upon his works are successful in their own right, but The Movies Are Always Different. I think that's why I was disappointed with A Scanner Darkly, from a few years back, it was interesting visually, but it felt like it was for people that had read the book, rather than something that could stand independently.

Holy crap, and it was a such a relevant work, too. Insane drug-related law-enforcement policies, a critical analysis of junkie-but-not-total-bombouts microcultures, surveillance, not to mention the implications of the ending... Honestly, there could have been a film based upon this book that could have been the most influential political fiction movie of the past decade, but, well.

I guess it's the Ralph Bakshi effect. He made the first attempt at a Lord of the Rings film. He screwed up really bad. Legendarily bad, in fact. It's still worth taking a look at it, if just for some of the more bizarre visuals that resulted from an equally bizarre production process. It isn't a good movie, though, because it tried to stick too close to the source. For all the spectacle, it's confusing, dense, boring, and dreamlike in a bad way.

So I guess what I'm kind of saying here is that good movies can come from fiction, whether that was the intention of the author or not. It's just not always obvious or the easiest project to pull off.

Sat, Jun. 19th, 2010 05:56 pm (UTC)

I wish to note that now I'm actually reading A Scanner Darkly, and it's quite good but gets more difficult to read as it goes along.

Sat, Apr. 17th, 2010 08:14 pm (UTC)

Most manga and comics, I think, are unfilmable, though they are frequently filmed. By their very nature they're often long-running, sprawling, intricate things: try to compress that into the standard budget you have for an anime series, or worse, a 2-hour movie, and the end result is often horribly garbled.

I recently watched the anime adaptation of a manga that I really rather like. The manga is, for being essentially a gay romance with heavy BDSM undertones, actually fairly literary, layered and clever. The anime is a huge steaming pile of unresolved mysteries topped off with "someone we thought was good might actually be evil! Or might not be. We're not really sure. The End."

I must admit, I sound horribly lowbrow here, but Anathem sounded fascinating and wonderful to me as a concept yet I had a hard time reading it. I think that because of the vaguely ADD-ish way that I read, there are certain narrative styles that are very difficult for me to get through. It's really a shame. :(

Sat, Apr. 17th, 2010 08:18 pm (UTC)

Other comment later - but Anathem is certainly a book that will punish you for skimming or for starting in the middle.

Speaking of possibly fundamentally unfilmable things, this is probably a good place to mention Alan Moore, who I kind of imagine drinking himself into a stupor every time another of his works that he doesn't own the rights to gets made into a movie. Speaking of deep weirdness connected to a creator's work ...
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Sat, Apr. 17th, 2010 08:22 pm (UTC)

I didn't know that Dahl hated Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory, although I suppose I shouldn't be surprised. Do you know specifically what his objections were?

I remember reading Charlie and the Great Glass Elevator a few years after Charlie and the Chocolate Factory. It was an extraordinary discovery: I had no idea that Dahl had written a sequel, and I loved it. I reread it last summer, however, and didn't enjoy it nearly as much as I expected to.

Sat, Jun. 19th, 2010 06:01 pm (UTC)

I have no idea what his specific objections were, sorry. If I had to guess, it'd be about the changed ending?

But both works have in some respects aged poorly. I'm okay with that, overall, while still accepting that the heavy-handedness was equal to the task of getting my younger self to notice the editorializing at all.

Sun, Apr. 18th, 2010 12:39 am (UTC)

I've always been of the opinion that Iain M. Banks is wholly unfilmmable, simply because it requires a fucking huge budget to do right, but the plots are to intellectual for the average person that big hollywood films want. I'm shuddering at the very thought of the attempt of putting Excession on the big screen, let alone in a visual medium. I'm not even sure you could put it in Comic Books/Manga because of the lack of visuals at times.

Iain Banks' fiction, on the other hand, would be interesting to see on the big screen. I'd love to see The Business on the big screen, simply for the sheer insanity of the sets they'd need to build.

Sat, Jun. 19th, 2010 05:59 pm (UTC)

I keep meaning to read Banks, and haven't! Where would you recommend starting ?

Sat, Jun. 19th, 2010 09:44 pm (UTC)

For fiction, The Business is a first book. Not very strange or deranged, but very interesting. The Algebraist is non-Culture, so it can be picked up at will, and is a good solid read. Some of his fiction is pretty strange, but it all makes sense in the end (for the most part). I haven't read much of his other fiction, beyond Complicity and The Wasp Factory are both fantastic, but you have to be in the wrong frame of mind to enjoy them.

If you want a culture novel, Consider Phlebas, Excession, and Matter are good starting points. Don't pick up Inversions until you've read The State of the Art and The Use of Weapons, as it'll make more sense in that order.
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Sat, Jun. 19th, 2010 05:57 pm (UTC)

Hah! Ha ha, ha ha. Very clever, and now I see that too in it. Fucking Reagan.

Tue, Apr. 20th, 2010 04:56 pm (UTC)

To be honest; there are a great number of film-adaptions of it, but I honestly feel that Alice's Adventures In Wonderland, and Alice Through The Looking Glass, are unfilmable. I loved Tim Burton's recent film; I've loved many other adaptions as well. But they are NOT the original. The originals are a series of strange vignettes, without a whole lot of plot; they are intentionally dreamlike and done in the style of the time, which is to have one character encountering strange situation after strange situation. It doesn't do very well for popular ratings in a film.

Speaking of Roald Dahl, I am STILL waiting for a George's Marvelous Medicine film >:[

Tue, Apr. 20th, 2010 04:57 pm (UTC)

Also: you cannot discuss unfilmable books without discussing HGTTG. It was WRITTEN to be unfilmable! :D

Sat, Jun. 19th, 2010 05:57 pm (UTC)

This is a good point to note! I really should actually check out the radio versions at some point.

Sat, Jun. 19th, 2010 05:59 pm (UTC)

Considering the War on Some Drugs, I think it's unlikely that Medicine would get a film.

As for Alice: yeah, I definitely get a bit of that. I think that's part of what makes the story so amenable to remixes and riffing on. So that's good. But it's also much more culturally specific than sometimes realized? I really need to pick up The Annotated Alice.