Clous Atlas came out recently and, despite concerns that the complex and layered book would prove “unfilmable,” Americans were willing to shell out over 10 million dollars to see how it turned out (which isn't great news for them, by the way, since it cost about 10 times that much to make). Below are five more sci-fi/fantasy books that were called unfilmable, but made it to the big screen all the same. Let’s take a look at how they did it.
Dune by Frank Herbert, directed by David Lynch
The Problem: Too big, too complex. Herbert’s sci-fi classic was not just the tale of a young man coming to power as the unexpected leader of an oppressed desert people. It was a story of politics, religion, technology, philosophy, and exacting fictional history.
The Solution: Put the movie in the hands of a director who doesn’t give a crap if the audience is confused—enter David Lynch.
The Outcome: Dune is visually striking and filled with Herbert’s characters, technologies, and dialogue, but beyond that, it’s pretty much doing its own thing. But hey, it's got a young Sting in it!
Naked Lunch by William S. Burroughs, directed by David Cronenberg
The Problem: Too insane! If you have read this book (or tried), no explanation is required. If you haven’t, then no explanation that we can give will be sufficient to explain how thoroughly unfilmable this thing is. For one thing, it’s non-linear, to the point of sometimes using cut-up technique (meaning the writer physically cuts up a text and rearranges the pieces to form a new text). Try putting that on film.
The Solution: Crazy director (you’ll notice this is a theme), and even more content. Cronenberg mixes in parts of Burroughs’s other works, including his autobiography, to further blur the lines of reality and imagination in the film.
The Outcome: See it if you haven’t. This thing is custom made for a late night hanging out with friends. There’s plenty of weirdness going on and you aren’t going to ruin the plot by talking over it. Oh yeah, and there are talking bugs.
Watchmen by Alan Moore and Dave Gibbons, directed by Zach Snyder
The Problem: Too big, too complex, too beloved. Alan Moore is earth’s greatest natural resource, and most movies based on his writing have been abominable crimes against geekmanity. Even those that end up being pretty good films entirely miss the point of the source material. There is no greater sacred cow in the AlanMooreiverse (or comicverse, for that matter) than Watchmen.
The Solution: Slavish and exacting reproduction by fanboy director (and slow-mo effects visionary) Zach Snyder.
The Outcome: It seemed like everyone came away “meh,” and nobody came away thrilled. The intense faithfulness to the pacing and visuals of the comic didn’t seem to resonate with a general movie going audience. Meanwhile, various changes to dialogue, characters, and events made die-hard comic fans painfully aware that Snyder had still missed the point of the original series.
The Lord of the Rings trilogy by J. R. R. Tolkien, directed by Peter Jackson
The Problem: Too big, too complex, too beloved. Tolkien is synonymous with intricately developed worlds, and let’s keep in mind that even though we're all used to seeing it as three books, whereas Tolkien treated it as a single giant novel. The man could write!
The Solution: Make it looooong (The extended version is about 11.5 hours!) and spend a quarter of a billion dollars making it look amazing.
The Outcome: Seventeen academy awards, nearly three billion dollars, and more films to come. You really don’t get more successful filming the unfilmable.
Where the Wild Things Are by Maurice Sendak, directed by Spike Jonze
The Problem: Too short, too directly connected to Sendak’s unique style of illustration. The entire book is only 10 sentences long!
The Solution: Get Spike Jonze! Jonze was well known for telling a lot of story in a short time, and for having a good control of visual style, so it could have been worse.
The Outcome: Not half bad; most critics liked it, and it made some money. The thing everyone seemed to agree on, though—this is not a kid’s movie.
What have you seen that should never have been filmed?