There seems to be a compulsion in filmmakers to make movies out of just about everything in science fiction and fantasy that has any kind of success into a feature film. Producers see dollar signs, writers see easy work, and directors see the opportunity to probably ruin something a lot of people liked just fine the way it was. And the viewers pay to go see it, so everybody wins. There are certainly a few films in the canon of classic science fiction, however, that simply should not be adapted into film form:
- The Left Hand of Darkness by Ursula K. Le Guin – This Hugo and Nebula award winning novel is not only one of the greatest science fiction novels of all time, but is arguably the first great feminist sci-fi novel ever written. It essentially follows the story of a representative of an interplanetary alliance making a visit to a cold planet called Gethen where all of the inhabitants change genders at will, and thus have no defined gender roles in their society. The Left Hand of Darkness is the perfect example of brilliant sci-fi with a message, and I can just see the fabricated action sequences jammed into the middle of the story, as well as the necessary plot elements lifted, in order to make a film out of it.
- Foundation by Isaac Asimov – Readers will point out that there are already plans to adapt Foundation into a film, and those readers would unfortunately be correct. Asimov is the master of intellectual tales; most of the sections of Foundation have to do with politicians standing around discussing a problem that has come up. Despite the strength of writing, the novel is certainly dry at times, and would surely be ruined with some kind of action added in. Frankly, a faithful adaptation of Foundation would not please the average moviegoer, and it is easy to see for anyone who has read the novel that it won’t work as a film without so many changes that it is unrecognizable as the source material.
- Rendezvous with Rama by Arthur C. Clarke – Essentially, Rendezvous with Rama should never be a film because it would make for a painfully boring one. Even if it was faithfully adapted, it would end up being two and a half hours of waiting for an alien first contact that never actually manages to happens. That’s what the book is. Many science fiction fans swear by the quality of this novel, but the truth is that it just isn’t all that, and it is hard to imagine anyone liking a film of it.
- The Man in the High Castle by Philip K. Dick – The many works of Philip K. Dick have been frequent sources of material for science fiction films, and it is almost always a botched job that involves very little of the actual plot presented in the books. Blade Runner basically borrowed the aesthetic of Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? and the main character’s name but little else. Total Recall is essentially completely different from “We Can Remember it For You Wholesale”, the short story it is allegedly based on. In the case of alternate history classic The Man in the High Castle, it is hard to imagine a film at all. It is science fiction but there is no action, and alternate history in general is not a genre that often finds it way to film (Inglourious Basterds is the only film that even comes to mind). It is likely that it will eventually be done anyway because it would seem that slowly but surely all of Philip’s works are being adapted, but let’s hope it never happens.