Sunday, July 26, 2015

The Holy Grail Post, Part 2

Continued from yesterday's post of Holy Grail projects I'd love to see...
"The Pillowman" - Martin McDonagh's 2003 play about a writer of horrific children's stories standing accused of murder, quietly captured my imagination when it came to Broadway, and never really let go.  The black, black humor, the fascinating exploration of storytelling, and the twisted original fairy tales really appealed to me.  Because of the extreme nature of the material, this would be a hard sell as a film, but it wouldn't be a particularly costly project.  Most of the action takes place in a single room, and there are a lot of options for dramatizing the protagonist's stories.  I'd like to see some independent animators like the Brothers Quay or Michel Ocelot involved, though that would mean a much more complicated and lengthy production.
McDonagh has become a writer/director of feature films in recent years, responsible for "In Bruges" and "Seven Psychopaths."  Unfortunately, he's expressly ruled out revisiting his older work, preferring to create new stories for his movies.  However, he's stated no opinion on others taking a crack at his back catalogue. I can think of several directors who would be able to balance "The Pillowman's" acts of graphic violence with its childish whimsy and creepy jaunts into the fantastic. The play veers close enough to horror that the goremeisters might be interested in putting something together, but at the same time it's probably far too talky and cerebral to appeal to the usual genre fans.  I suspect that "The Pillowman" would never work onscreen as well as it does on the stage.  But I'd still love to see somebody try.
Snow Crash - Of the cyberpunk classics that have yet to be adapted, I think that "Snow Crash" is one of the biggest long shots because of its sprawling, freewheeling story and difficult core concepts.  Still, pizza delivery badass Hiro Protagonist is far too magnificent a character to never reach mass audiences in some form, and the novel's satire just gets closer and closer to reality every day as the internet continues to take over our lives.  I've dreamed of seeing the opening pizza delivery sequence fully dramatized, along with the full glory of the Metaverse and the franchise-dominated shopping mall of a world that the characters inhabit.  I have no idea what it would look like - but Terry Gilliam or Luc Besson or someody out there does.  And I really want to see it. 
Vincenzo Natali, of "Cube" fame, has been leading the charge to adapt "Snow Crash," "Neuromancer," and other science-fiction favorites, but has run into no shortage of pitfalls.  He's convinced that "Snow Crash" can only be done as a series rather than a film, and he's probably right.  However, I don't see the "Snow Crash" universe being done justice on a TV budget.  In addition to all the usual dystopian spectacle, a lot of the fun of the book is in the wild, almost cartoonish level of action.  This is also a rare science-fiction property with a black hero (technically half-black and half-Korean Hiro), and it would be a monumental shame for a role like this not to be given the highest visibility possible.  I'm convinced there are the pieces of great movie here somewhere, though it may take a genius to get them all to fit.
Paradise Lost - The idea of the epic struggle between God and the Devil playing out on biggest celestial canvas that Hollywood can provide holds plenty of appeal for me, but I can't quite wrap my head around it actually happening.  Yet, more than one director has already tried to make this a reality, the latest being Alex Proyas in 2011, who actually got to the casting stage before the plug was pulled.  The concept art looked pretty keen.  I have a fascination with depictions of Old Testament Christian mythology, which can be fertile ground for weird and wonderful spectacle, like Darren Aronofsky's "Noah."  "Paradise Lost" offers that in abundance.  Angels and demons, heaven and hell - and of course one of the greatest literary characters of all time at the forefront: Milton's Lucifer.
The trouble is, of course, that whenever you have any kind of media based on the Bible, the politics of the Christian faith inevitably get in the way of the art.  It often feels like there's no room for anything in mainstream film except the safest, blandest, and most insular Christian pablum.  Milton's poem is old enough and revered enough that a straight adaptation probably wouldn't kick up too much controversy, but there's still a risk involved.  And a big Hollywood film dramatizing war in the heavens would already require a significant financial commitment.  The potential returns are also huge, which is why Proyas's project got as far along as it did, but I can certainly understand why the people in charge balked when they did.  The subject matter is still a tempting one, and there's still a good possibility this could happen one day. 
Domu  - This one came across my radar about fifteen years ago, through AICN.  "Domu" is a Japanese graphic novel written by Katsuhiro Otomo, best know for "Akira," about a psychic old man who terrorizes the inhabitants of a massive apartment complex.  And frankly, "Domu" is a much better candidate for a film adaptation that "Akira."  The concepts are simpler, the characters more universal, and the potential for jawdropping spectacle is about on par.  I especially enjoy the villain, a senile old codger who is childishly vindictive, but escapes notice because of his age and stature.  It would also be very easy to transplant the story from a Japanese setting to a Western one.  Similar films like "Dark City," "Chronicle," and "Looper" have all been well-received here.
Guillermo Del Toro had his eye on turning "Domu" into a feature fifteen years ago, but ran into trouble when trying to acquire the rights.  Katsuhiro Otomo himself is reportedly working on a version, and there were reports of test-footage being shown to investors back in 2013.  Alas, no news on the project has surfaced since.  I'm iffy on Otomo directing this himself, since his live-action work hasn't been nearly as good as his animated films, but on the other hand nobody knows the material better.  Frankly, there are a lot of directors who could do "Domu" justice, and in the age of CGI-aided disaster porn there's no better time for the manga to be adapted.  I think this has a very good chance of reaching the big screen eventually, once a few hurdles are properly cleared.
Repent, Harlequin! - "1984" -esque dystopian stories have gone out of style, replaced by the more audience-friendly fables of adolescent rebellion like "Hunger Games" and its imitators.  Nearly all of the famous ones like "Brave New World" and "Harrison Bergeron" have been adapted in one form or another anyway.  One exception, however, is "'Repent Harlequin!' Said the Ticktockman," Harlan Ellison's short story about a glum future society obsessed with everything running on time.  The hero, the Harlequin, is considered terribly dangerous for causing disruptions to the schedule with silly pranks.  I've wanted to see his jellybean operation brought to life in some form since I first read the story in high school.  "Jelly for God's sake beans!"
There has always been one significant barrier to any kind of adaptation, and his name is Harlan Ellison.  The notoriously litigious Ellison is fiercely protective of his work, knows how to hold a grudge, and his ire is a mighty thing to behold.  He was ready to go after the Andrew Niccol film "In Time" a few years ago for having superficial similarities to "Repent Harlequin!" before he even saw the picture. He has been involved in some notable science-fiction media, though, like "Star Trek," "The New Twilight Zone" and "Babylon 5," on his own strict terms.  And last year, after decades of saying no to everybody, he granted "Babylon 5" creator J. Michael Straczynski the rights to "Repent Harlequin!" out of the blue, which is a huge step toward a film or TV version being made someday.  Probably not for a long while yet, but someday. 
"Creature Tech" - Here's another one from AICN.  Back in 2008, Drew McWeeny posted a gushing review of Doug TenNapel's "Creature Tech" graphic novel, about a scientist who finds himself bonded to an alien symbiote, and struggles with questions of faith, identity, and his place in the universe. I went out and bought the book on the strength of that review and loved it.  This would absolutely make for a great live action science-fiction comedy in the same vein as "Men in Black" or "Guardians of the Galaxy."  FOX apparently acquired the rights some time ago.  However, "Creature Tech" has some tricky material, particularly the hero's crisis of faith.  I love the thoughtful conservative Christian voice that TenNapel brings to his work - and yes, I know about his homophobic side.  I'm still struggling with that, but at the same time his talent is undeniable.
Whether his work is palatable to the mainstream, however, is another matter.  Faith-based films and splashy genre blockbusters have mostly been cordoned off into their own spaces, with the exception of a few old-fashioned Bible epics rolled out around the holidays.  "Creature Tech" is definitely not one of these.  It's a high energy action movie romp full of cartoony aliens, silly situations, and nerdy, nerdy dialogue.  More importantly, it has a big heart and a sense of wonder that I more commonly associate with PIXAR films.  And it's unabashedly Christian, using religious concepts and imagery in ways that would probably make some people, both believers and non-believers, a little uncomfortable.  Not a big problem if this were an indie project, but "Creature Tech" is a property that needs a big budget to adapt properly.  It's probably better if it just remains a weird, wonderful comic.

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