Feature: Three books that should become films and three that really shouldn't

Hollywood is bereft of ideas. Anyone can see that originality is not something American cinema specialises in. However, whilst books tend to fit neatly into genres, there is at least some innovation present. As such, Hollywood Execs are clamouring over literary properties in the hope of finding the next Harry Potter or Sex and The City. Neuromancer, The Hobbit, Where The Wild Things Are and even Flanimals are all set for the screen.

Ever helpful, I thought I'd offer some advice with three suggestions of books that would make great films and a warning about three that should never be attempted.

Three books that should be films

1) Soon I Will Be Invincible by Austin Grossman
Grossman is the son of two writers. When taking a creative writing class in college, he decided he didn't want to write detective stories or romances, he wanted to write about superheroes. He began a series of short stories that eventually became Soon I Will Be Invincible.

The plot is one that was almost unique until copied by Joss Whedon for Dr Horrible's Sing-along Blog, focusing on the plight of a struggling supervillain whose simple dream of conquering the world is constantly foiled by an airheaded jock superhero and his superfriends. This time, however, the great superhero Corefire has vanished and the way is open for Dr Impossible to finally shine, meanwhile, amnesiac cyborg Fatale has just got her big break in superheroics, teaming up the big boys to take Impossible down. Can a superwoman make it in a superman's world?

Combining both humour and pathos with a wry pastiche of superhero conventions, SIWBI is one of my favourite novels and its blend of comedy and superheroics would lend itself perfectly to film, think a cheerful Watchmen!

2) Lost Souls by Poppy Z Brite
Brite's two best novels are unfortunately not available to film. Her addition to The Crow mythos, Lazarus Heart, was disastrously butchered as the third film in the franchise Salvation, which removed all the good concepts from her book. Her stand-out original piece Exquisite Corpse, on the other hand, would never make it past the censors, being a love story about two gay, necrophiliac serial killers...

Her first full-length novel Lost Souls, however, is as close to mainstream as Brite gets. The novel gives a, for once, genuinely-original spin on the vampire mythos; and its goth sensibilities, along with its sexual ambiguity, would appeal to an older, more-hardcore Twilight crowd. Likewise, the book's sombre tone and emotional, pathos-based horror would suit a simmering low-budget production perfectly.

3) Snow Crash by Neal Stephenson
Flat out my favourite novel of all time could be described as Douglas Adams meets William Gibson; seeing the black-Japanese main character, Hiro Protagonist - the world's greatest hacker and also master of samurai sword fighting - join with the mafia to stop an evil corporation from taking over the world using a computer virus that can infect humans. As if this wasn't cool enough, real-life computer expert Stephenson ensures that everything that happens is at least plausible under current science!

There is no way in hell this could be brought to the screen intact, there are too many ideas and gags to even begin to talk about in this article, let alone put on screen! However, a Zack Snyder-style, loving, but firm-handed, retelling could bring the core elements of the story to film. The scenes of skateboard messengers skitchin onto the back of rocket powered cars would make the film worth watching alone.

Three books that should never be films

1) Ulysses by James Joyce
Joyce was a poet, and it shows in his greatest work. Far more care is taken here over the sound of the language than over plot or character. In fact, a large chunk of the nigh-on unintelligible text is written in stream-of-conciousness. People have gone mad trying to finish Ulysses, its beautiful prose struggling against a bog of unclear motivations and indistinguishable characters. So, why would you want to remove the book's saving grace by transplanting the events to the screen? Heaven knows, but someone once tried, please don't do so again!

2) Wicked by Gregory Maguire
It isn't often that revisiting another author's work is worthwhile. You only need look at the furore around the Salinger sequel to know what trouble it can cause. Still, MacGuire pulls off his expansion of the Oz universe by giving a postmodern, antifascist spin on the idea.

Setting up the Witch as the hero seems obvious and dull, but making her a terrorist was a stroke of genius. MacGuire tracks her from birth to death, managing to make her transition to villain both plausible and sympathetic. His retelling of the Cinderella story wasn't as successful, still, the sequel to Wicked, Son Of A Witch is an equally-surprising treat.

Nevertheless, whilst MacGuire achieves his results without resorting to Elphaba's internal monologue, I still don't think the film medium would be able to convey such a transition effectively. The musical kept some small elements of anti-fascist symbolism, but still felt the need to dumb the story down and cut out all its edginess, replacing this with a couple good songs and some impressive effects, along with boundless optimism, and carried it off. The cinematic version would feel similarly compelled and manage to cheapen the entire prospect. Drop a house on it before it gets started.

3) Franny and Zooey by JD Salinger
Like Joyce, Salinger's books work because of a particular aspect of his talent. In this case, however, it is his understanding of people. The manner in which he relates the simple actions of his characters makes them seem completely real, even when their motivations are unclear, especially to themselves.

Never is this more evident than in Franny and Zooey, two conjoined short stories that relate the mental breakdown of a family trapped by its celebrity. Salinger makes the irrational actions of his protagonists work, but no-one else ever could. Leave it to the master, please.

1 comment:

  1. Couldn't agree more re: Invincible. I LOVE that book!