Fantasy bibliophiles and lovers of lush cinema are facing acute overstimulation via the epic-length Cloud Atlas trailer, which surfaced last week. Even attempting to translate David Mitchell's award-winning book—its interlocking stories, its sprawling landscapes—into a standalone production is crazy ambitious. But considering co-director Tom Tykwertackled the unfilmable Perfume: The Story of a Murderer and the Wachowskis wrote the solid screenplay to V for Vendetta, I think we're in for something special.
Were there a “Most Daunting and Badass Literature-to-Film Adaptations” award, I'd vote for David Cronenberg. He practically defined “body horror,” but Cronenberg balanced gore with ballsy, bookish films like Naked Lunch and J.G. Ballard's paraphilic voyage Crash. His adaptation of Don DeLillo's Cosmopolis (young multimillionaire/recovering vampire cruising across Manhattan via limo for a haircut) premiered at Cannes 2012. Should Hollywood ever consider another go at James Joyce's Ulysses, Cronenberg's the one to helm it.
The nine-plus hours of Hobbit-sized heroism igniting Peter Jackson's Lord of the Rings films deserve even the most elf-averse filmgoer's respect. Now that Jackson has confirmed that The Hobbit prequel will indeed grow by half, his Rings legacy usurps Scott Pilgrim vs the World's cheeky tagline: “an epic of epic epicness.”
On the flipside, there's Philip K. Dick. His sociopolitical sci-fi sired a succession of big-screen adaptations, ranging from the superlative (Ridley Scott's Blade Runner, based on Dick's 1968 novel Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? and backed by the author) to the splashy (Paul Verhoeven'sTotal Recall, née “We Can Remember It for You Wholesale”, and its unnecessary remake) to the wildly aberrant (Minority Report, The Adjustment Bureau).
Here we have the double-edged sword, for what appears compelling on page could become a cinematic shitshow. Minority Report's steroidal action obscured the original story's metaphysical elegance, and though I was stoked as a kid to see a live-action version of Masters of the Universe, Gary Goddard's goofy result epitomized '80s schlock-cinema. That Jon M. “Step Up 3D” Chu is plotting a He-Man reboot does not bode well.
Sci-fi literature is particularly rife with “unfilmable” gems. I doubt William Gibson's seminal cyberpunk classic Neuromancer will ever make it to the big screen, though Vincenzo Natali has been pursuing the project for eons. Neal Stephenson's Snow Crash—a decade younger than Neuromancer and a billion times more irreverent—is equally enticing and elusive, in its mix ofronin action, virtual reality, and cryptic archaeology. It's telling that Natali considers Snow Crash unadaptable as a commercial film.
Should Cloud Atlas' emotional takeaway not equal its gorgeous visuals, Ang Lee's adaptation of Yann Martel's fantasy-adventure quest Life of Pi will be waiting. This fall's cinematic options are looking truly sublime.