Some Fantasies Belong On Film

The glut of remakes, sequels, and prequels from an idea-starved Hollywood has become overwhelming.  This is especially odd when it comes to the science fiction and fantasy genres, which provide so many summer and Christmas blockbusters.  There are decades of fantastic literature out there, just begging to go before a camera, and the masters of sci-fi have already done a lot of the intellectual heavy lifting for screenwriters.

After a day of grim news, I thought it might be fun to open a thread for suggestions.  Which of your favorite genre works do you think would make great movies?  Here are a couple of mine:

The Mote In God’s Eye, by Larry Niven and Jerry Pournelle: It’s baffling that this hasn’t been made into a movie yet.  It has everything you could ask for: thrilling action scenes, big space battles, great characters, an intriguing premise, and one of sci-fi’s most compelling extraterrestrial races.  In the far future, a galaxy-spanning humanity (organized into a feudal empire, because Niven and Pournelle make an interesting case that it’s the only way to run a huge interstellar civilization) finally meets an intelligent alien race, and all hell breaks loose when the incredible secret of their hidden world is revealed.  The costume work needed to realize the very odd-looking aliens might have been an obstacle in the past, but with CGI that’s just not a problem anymore.

The Compleat Enchanter, by Fletcher Pratt and L. Sprague de Camp: This would be a great new series to follow up on the success of Harry Potter.  It’s one of my favorite books from childhood – actually a collection of three short novels, with more eventually added by both the original authors and others.  A couple of modern-day psychologists discover that all the worlds of myth and literature are real alternate universes, which madmen, writers, and artists can dimly perceive.  They work out a method of traveling to these other worlds, and hilarity ensues.  Part of the fun is that bringing modern scientific discipline to the study of magic produces wildly unexpected results – when summoning dragons, don’t screw up the decimal place in your magical equation!  These aren’t children’s books, but they’re family-friendly.  They mix wacky humor, high adventure, and profound literacy in an intoxicating brew.

Ringworld, by Larry Niven: Niven linked many of his novels and short stories together into a fascinating future history, called “Known Space.”  Taken together, his work would make a great space-opera TV series, which we seem to be lacking at the moment.  If one book in this cycle were singled out for a big-budget movie treatment, I’d suggest Ringworld, a spectacular voyage to a vast and mysterious artificial world, circling its sun like a gigantic ring… or (cough, cough) “halo,” if you prefer.  The original novel is a masterpiece of science fiction that stands perfectly well on its own, but Niven developed the idea further through sequels – a perfect setup for a film series.

The Elric Saga, by Michael Moorcock: A lot of epic fantasy feels derivative of Tolkien, whose incredible achievements did so much to define the genre.  Elric of Melnibone doesn’t have that problem.  This is about as far from Middle-Earth as you can get, a gorgeous fever dream about an albino prince who sustains his fragile life with a soul-devouring demonic sword… and he’s the hero.  Storyboards for the Elric saga would look like a collection of the coolest album covers from the 1970s.  If someone wants to spend millions on a daring fantasy that pre-teen kids won’t be (officially) allowed to see, this is the way to go.

The Forever War, by Joe Haldeman: If Robert Heinlein’s Starship Troopers was World War II in space, The Forever War is Vietnam in space.  Now that we’ve had a film version of Starship Troopers that was essentially a goofy satire of the original novel, it would nice to see a faithful adaption of a serious and thoughtful meditation on the sheer hell of interstellar warfare.  (It would also be nice to see a serious and thoughtful version of Starship Troopers.)  The troopers of The Forever War use a method of space travel that causes huge amounts of time to pass on Earth during their missions, so they become increasingly alienated from the world they have sworn to defend.

The Night’s Dawn Trilogy, by Peter F. Hamilton: This is one of the more recent entries on my list, dating back to 1996.  It’s a big, sprawling space opera that takes science seriously without slowing down the fun, and it’s bursting with an immense cast of excellent characters.  A few hundred years from now, humanity has moved into the stars, joined up with a galactic federation, and entered a golden age of trade and exploration.  Of course, something goes horribly wrong, and it’s the last thing anyone expected: a bizarre accident causes the angry dead to return, unleashing a cosmic zombie apocalypse.

Anvil of Stars, by Greg Bear: Bear has written a ton of great “hard” sci-fi, but I think this would be the most filmable of his stories.  It’s actually the sequel to a novel called The Forge of God, in which the Earth is destroyed for uncertain reasons by a mysterious alien race.  The Forge of God is a fine book, but Anvil of Stars is absolutely fantastic.  I’d consider compressing the first novel (which would visually resemble the recent film 2012 in many ways) into a prologue so we could get to the best part of the story.  In Anvil of Stars, benevolent aliens rescue a handful of humans from the dying Earth, and inform them that under galactic law, planetary genocide is a crime punishable by genocide… and the children of Earth will be sent into space as the executioners, equipped with a mind-blowing arsenal of planet-smashing weapons.  The ensuing battle of wits and high technology is spectacular and utterly gripping.

The Saga of Pliocene Exile, by Julian May: It looks like these books are out of print right now, which is a real shame.  The basic idea looks to have been borrowed by the upcoming TV show Terra Nova: scientists in the not-too-distant future open a gateway back to the Pliocene era, a form of strictly one-way time travel they use to exile criminals and social malcontents.  Unknown to everybody back in the future, the exiles arrive to discover that ancient Earth is not uninhabited – two warring alien races have set up shop, and quickly absorb the humans into their cultures.  These aliens have developed a technology that unlocks their psychic powers… and when humans use it, some very unexpected things happen.  These books have great characters, stunning fantasy action sequences (with psychic abilities and alien tech standing in for magic) and some really startling plot twists along the way.

Nine Princes in Amber, by Roger Zelazny: A revered character-driven epic with plenty of juicy roles for skilled actors.  Our modern-day Earth, along with countless other worlds, is a distorted reflection of the one true and perfect world of Amber, where a bitterly feuding family of immortals rules over all Creation… except for the really nasty parts.  You can find a thousand fan pages for every one of the main characters with a Google search, so there’s clearly a ready-made fan base for a movie or TV adaptation.  The setting is easy enough to convey in a film – Zelazny had a wonderfully breezy writing style that keeps his stories popping along.  Modern special effects technicians and stunt people would have a field day capturing the superhuman powers of the main characters, who might lose a swordfight to a thousand normal men, if they get tired.  The plot is a festival of power plays, betrayals, and uncovered secrets.

The Chronicles of Thomas Covenant the Unbeliever, by Stephen R. Donaldson: These books were huge back in the Eighties, but the right time to film the saga might have only just arrived, because it’s essentially a deconstruction of Tolkien.  Now that mass movie audiences are familiar with worlds like Middle-Earth and Narnia, they might be ready for a much darker, complex take on traditional fantasy fare.  Thomas Covenant is a leper (both physically and spiritually, by his own reckoning) who finds himself transported to a fantasy world under siege, and gifted with an unpredictable magical power that might just turn the tide against evil… if he doesn’t ruin the world on his own.  Donaldson’s vivid imagination produced many scenes that would become legendary in the hands of a good director, and the anti-hero is such a train wreck that there’s real suspense over whether he’ll save the day in the end.  Things get much worse before they get better.  Then they get worse again.

Those are my suggestions for untapped blockbuster potential.  What are yours?