Okay, Hollywood, there’s good SF and bad SF: ‘Martian’ and ‘Robots’ news

06.24.10 8 years ago 10 Comments


Part of me hopes that the next big gold rush for development people in Hollywood involves the thousands of amazing SF novels and short stories out there that have never been optioned or filmed before.

Another part of me realizes that I might regret that wish if it actually comes true.  I’m not sure I want Brett Ratner’s “The Stainless Steel Rat” starring Zak Efron, and that’s exactly the sort of worst-case-scenario that could happen.

There are two stories breaking today that started me thinking about all of this.  The first is a rumor from Pajiba that Wolfgang Petersen is attached to develop a bigscreen version of “Rock ‘Em Sock ‘Em Robots.”  This is the director of “Das Boot.”  This is a guy who started his American career with acclaim and respect, and who is now the director of “Poseidon.”  Petersen confuses me.  Did the studio system really treat him so badly that the only option left for him now is “Rock ‘Em Sock ‘Em Robots”?  Or does he think if he makes that, it will allow him to finally get “Ender’s Game” made as a film or some other personal pet project?

Because I think that’s a dangerous gamble, and Petersen may be fooling himself, the same way I suspect Ridley Scott is fooling himself if he thinks making two 3D “Alien” prequels is going to get Fox to pull the trigger on the much-more-difficult “The Forever War,” based on Joe Haldeman’s brilliant book and theater piece.   The only way these smart and challenging books are going to end up handled right onscreen is if they’re not treated like they’re vegetables or medicine, something for the studios to endure between making big dumb movies that will actually sell tickets.

I remember hearing the news that Martin Scorsese and Leonardo Di Caprio were interested in making “Hyperion” together, and I still can’t really wrap my head around what that film might be… but the sheer notion of them trying to crack it is exciting.  I’m less thrilled with the notion of what Roland Emmerich has planned for a 3D event movie version of “Foundation,” but still… just trying to figure that book out is the sort of thing good development people should be doing.  That’s how you distinguish yourself… you take challenging material and you aim high and you do the hard work with smart people to get the thing right.  Or you could be just like every other lazy, fear-driven development exec and only do the easy things, only attach your name to sequels and comic books and video games, things that will all turn out to be exactly the same, even if the best-case-scenario comes together.  There is a homogenized sameness to so much of our popular culture these days that I’m starting to feel like going to the movies is walking down some hall of mirrors, past the same thing, over and over and over.

Over at Fox, John Davis has evidently decided to take a shot at “The Martian Chronicles,” which was last set up at Dreamworks, I think.  That book’s been handed around town more frequently than Lindsay Lohan at this point, and I’ve read various drafts and heard various ideas for how to crack it as a feature film.  It’s really a collection of short stories more than a cohesive story, so any film is going to have to figure out how to graft a structure onto these individual movements.  I wish Davis and whoever he hires to develop it luck, but I would be lying if I said I was encouraged by “I Robot” or “Alien Vs. Predator,” some of the SF films that Davis has produced for the studio previously.

In the end, there’s so much good stuff waiting out there that hasn’t been filmed that it just seems ridiculous to me to watch our pop culture eat itself.  All it will take is one studio executing one of these classic books the right way, and then hopefully that drive to imitate will kick in, and at least the studios will be using good source material in their race to rip each other off.

In the meantime, this pretty much says it all:

That might look like comedy to some of you, but that’s a horror film to me.  And a documentary.  Both.

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