Five (Additional) Novels Hollywood Needs to Adapt

Back in 2007, when the third row was just in it’s infancy, I wrote an article titled Five Novels I Want to See Adapted. So far, the only one actually filmed and coming to theaters is The Great Gatsby and I can only assume Baz Luhrman decided to pursue such an ambitious project because he read it (he even took on my suggestion of casting Leonardo DiCaprio, although I had him more in mind for Nick Carraway at the time). Adaptations of Stephen King’s The Dark Tower and Cormac McCarthy’s Blood Meridian have been discussed in the years since, but nothing has actually come to life. A couple of years later, I decided on six more books that I wanted to see adapted. Again, due to my influence, Hollywood took note and has moved forward in the production of The Graveyard Book, based on Neil Gaiman’s bestselling young adult novel.

Now, dear readers (and Hollywood producers), I have come to you with five more novels that must make their way onto the big screen in the coming years. Like before, I don’t ask for much, only a “Special Thanks” in the credits.

Gun, With Occasional Music
by Jonathan Lethem

I think it’s best described as Blade Runner meets Who Framed Roger Rabbit? written by Raymond Chandler. In a near dystopian future, evolution therapy has made it possible to skip childhood – but it’s also provided animals with advanced intelligence. Populations are controlled with mind-altering drugs and it’s illegal to ask questions to anyone without a proper (and nearly impossible to get) inquisition license. In this world, Private Inquisitor Conrad Metcalf finds himself being trailed by a trigger-happy kangaroo after a solemn rabbit makes a case to Metcalf that he has been framed for murder. The book is a pulpy, goofy noir that was made to be adapted for the big screen. It’d be ambitious. It’d be weird. But in the right hands (someone like Duncan Jones), it could be pulled off.

While reading, I couldn’t help but picture Bogart in the role of Metcalf, but I could easily picture someone like Daniel Craig or Michael Fassbender in the role. Get Doug Jones to don some suits created by the minds behind Pan’s Labyrinth and we’d have ourselves an instant classic. With witticisms like “Tell him next time he wants to talk to me, don’t send a marsupial,” I don’t know how any filmmaker could resist.

Coal Black Horse
by Robert Olmstead

While the horse plays a central role in the story, I assure you, this is no War Horse. Far more brutal, this Civil War set story follows a 14 year old boy named Robey Childs who leaves his home to track down his soldier father and bring him back at his mother’s request. The tale follows Robey on his dangerous, violent, and often horrific journey. This was written for someone like Ridley Scott, a director with an epic scope who is not afraid of portraying violence in the midst of humanity.

Despite there being a lot of movies set during the Civil War, most of them are mediocre at best. This would provide Hollywood with a chance to tell a human story set in a pretty abysmal time in U.S. history.

The Orchard Keeper
by Cormac McCarthy

There is a reason people keep filming (and trying to film) adaptations of Cormac McCarthy’s books. They’re fucking awesome. Although All the Pretty Horses was a failure, the next three efforts – No Country for Old Men, The Road, and The Sunset Limited – were all huge successes. James Franco is currently working on filming an adaptation of Child of God. Hollywood needs to keep rolling with the trend and The Orchard Keeper, Cormac’s first novel, is a perfect choice.

Set in a rural Tennessee town during the 1920s, the novel explores the budding friendship between a young boy and a bootlegger who, unknown to both, has murdered the boy’s father – a fact known only to the readers. Like most of McCarthy’s stories, it takes its time being told, intertwined with harsh bursts of violence and a complex exploration of humanity. This would be great for John Hillcoat (he has already directed a film of McCarthy’s and a film about bootleggers) and it could provide a great opportunity for Hillcoat to reunite with Guy Pearce, who’d be perfect as the grizzled, violent bootlegger.

The Stars My Destination
by Alfred Bester

There is a reason this hasn’t been adapted and, as one of the most important sci-fi classics of the 20th century, it’s because many deem it to be unfilmable. I disagree. While it’s difficult to explain the central plot, this futuristic story of the uneducated peasant Gully Foyle is more or less The Count of Monte Cristo in space. It is, besides a negative examination of corporations, a tale of revenge at all costs.

The problem is that a film like this would be a big risk for a studio: this is one of those films that is going to need a James Cameron sized budget to pull off effectively. Perhaps now that Tom Hardy’s star is rising, this would be a great chance for a big name studio to take a big risk in making a huge sci-fi blockbuster, one of which hasn’t been done effectively in quite some time. Maybe I’m crazy. But maybe it’d work.

American Rust
by Philipp Meyer

Set in the recession-ridden rustbelt of Pennsylvania, with shades of Steinbeck and McCarthy, this is the tale of two young men and old friends: Isaac English, who cares for his emotionally crippled father after the suicide of his mother, and former high school football star Billy Poe who seems to be drifting to a life of nothingness. Soon after, there lives change after one unforgettable violent act.

I could see Anton Yelchin easily pulling of the young, battered Isaac. While a little old for the role, maybe, this could give Chris Hemsworth to show off his more serious chops (and use his star to promote the film) by playing a “glory days” former football star. For this one, I don’t think it’s a matter of if, but a matter of when.

Jonathan is a writer and teacher constantly in pursuit of his fortune and glory. In the meantime, he graciously volunteers his genius to the internet, providing his insight on cinema and showering lessons of life upon all of those who stumble into the third row.


    • Is there a single GOOD adaptation of Crime and Punishment? Or adaptations of any of his books? I’ve only read Crime and Punishment, Notes from the Underground, and The House of the Dead and I have a tough time seeing anyone adapting them effectively.

      • the American adaptation of Notes From Underground starring Henry Czerny is an abomination.

        There is a british C&P that is supposed to be great.

        BEST Dostoevsky adaptation is Visconti’s White Nights with Marcello. Notte di Bianche or something like that.

      • Robert Bresson’s Pickpocket is the best evocation of Crime and Punishment I’ve seen, but it’s not at all what you’d call an adaptation. I don’t see a straight adaptation of it working at all (I love it, but haven’t read any other Dostoevsky yet).

      • I’ve not seen it, but I’ve heard good things about Aki Kaurismaki’s debut feature which is supposedly a fairly straight up adaptation of Crime and Punishment. We just picked it up from Finland this week – when I’ve watched it I’ll let you know.

  1. There are half a dozen China Mieville novels just waiting for Hollywood to take chances on….

    I’d love to see Perdido St. Station or The City & The City get the Blockbuster Budget Treatment. (David Fincher for the former, Thomas Alfredson for the latter…)

    • I just finished reading The City & The City – brilliant. And yes it’d make a great film – it’d be interesting to see how a decent filmmaker would play with the ‘unseeing’ idea. I guess just playing with focus, but it could still make for an interesting visual experiment.

      • I just finished EMBASSY TOWN and can decisively say that it is probably Mieville’s first truly UNFILMABLE novel. It’s like a hard-sci-fi version of Pontypool with a planetary scope and a huge cast of characters and some of the weirdest aliens ever put into a novel. Damn if I’d still love to see somebody try (say Neil Blomkamp or Shane Carruth or hell, Brandon (Son of David) Cronenberg after Antiviral)

          • I cannot bring myself to read Ready Player One. It sounds like it is simply 1980’s pop culture pandering.

            Looking forward to your book reviews in Cinecast.

          • I’m an absolute sucker for noir style detective stories so I was always going to love that side of the book and the political conspiracy angles just push it into great territory for me. Powered through the book in two weeks.

          • David, if you love noirish detective stories, you should really check out my first book listed above, Gun With Occasional Music. It’s a whole lot of Raymond Chandler-ish fun.

          • Yep, Ready Player One, page one – the quote, “Cats and Dogs, Living Together! Mass Hysteria”.

            I indulged anyway.

          • Jonathan – cool, I’ll try and track it down.

            I’m loving all the book recommendations by the way guys. I only read The City & The City after hearing some of you banging on about Meiville previously. I love to read, but don’t follow the book world enough to know which authors are worth checking out, so I tend to stick to classics or the same authors I know and trust most of the time. It’s recommendations like these that make my library grow more interesting, so cheers!

          • I’m a book guy as well, but it’s impossible to keep up. I figure I read roughly 30-40 books a year – which means I have to be highly selective seeing as there is a list of about 2,000 books already that I want to read.

          • Yeah it’s crazy. I don’t read nearly as regularly as that these days unfortunately (I read a lot in 6th form), but I’ve been having a bit of a renaissance this year and must have read about 8 since Christmas which is a lot for me. I just bought myself a Kindle too which will hopefully get me into a regular habit again.

          • I’m one of those assholes who won’t buy a Kindle because of things like “hearing the turn of the page” and “the smell of an old book.” I know once I finally cave and get one, I’ll love it, but until then I’m fighting the good fight of resistance.

          • My love for gadgets overtook my nostalgia. Plus I found it was easy to *ahem* ‘acquire’ lots of ebooks for nothing and my love for free shit overtakes everything!

          • antho, that will probably be the case eventually. I’m really not anti-Kindle. I think they’re pretty neat actually. I figure if I resist long enough though, my girlfriend will get it for me for my birthday or Christmas. Win win.

            And David, can you get free e-books for your Kindle at your public libraries like we can in the States?

          • Yeah, er, public libraries, that’s the one 🙂

            Seriously though I should check that – we’re usually behind on stuff like that, but they might offer such a service.

  2. Random shout out to Rusty James who always bitched about the film adaptation of Ghost World… Finally read the comic and the film perfectly renders the spirit of it. Some characters conflated but whatever, it is impressive how close it gets to the source while still being enjoyable in the other medium

      • Henrik (filmjunk):
        antho there is no need to miss me, I am always right here on filmjunk. Kinda stopped going to rowthree, since there isn’t much there I’m interested in… Can’t keep up with the shows, and a lot of the writers tend to push my buttons.

        Posted by Henrik on July 10th, 2012


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