A friend posted this on Facebook recently.
Hollywood has had an ongoing love affair with the works of Phillip K. Dick for decades now. Sometimes it’s a healthy relationship, giving us masterworks such as Blade Runner. Sometimes it’s downright abusive when it produces flicks like Screamers or Paycheck. And sometimes it splits the difference and serves up enjoyable silliness such as Total Recall. Still, as many times as the movies have returned to Dick’s catalogue, you’d think he was the only SF writer out there. We all know better, of course, and pretty much any SF fan has their dream list of books they’d love to see brought to the silver screen. With this recurring feature, Attention Hollywood, we here at GFR will take a look at some of the science fiction authors who haven’t been given their cinematic due yet.
To kick things off, we’re taking a look at a writer that we loved growing up: Robert Heinlein. While people have been kicking around the idea of adapting some of Heinlein’s best-known works such as Stranger in a Strange Land or The Moon Is a Harsh Mistress for years, we were more interested in talking about some of Heinlein’s “juveniles.” Ostensibly written for young readers during the 1950s, any of these books could make for an amazing, all-ages big-screen adventure. Attention Hollywood: allow us to introduce the works of Robert A. Heinlein.
The Star Beast
Written in 1954 The Star Beast was probably intended to be the youngest of Robert A. Heinlein’s young adult novels, but even Heinlein at his most juvenile is more adult than just about anything you’ve seen in Hollywood’s movie theaters recently. It’s the story of a boy and his friend Lummox, an alien pet who isn’t actually a pet and ends up taking his human on an adventure to escape from nefarious forces and reunite him with his family amongst the stars. Think of this as a cross between E.T. and Flight of the Navigator and you’ll get the kind of high-flying, young-adult adventure a movie version of The Star Beast should be shooting for. We stopped making movies about friendly aliens a couple of decades ago. How many more alien attack movies do we really need? The Star Beast would be a great way to bring things back to a hopeful future where every alien we meet doesn’t necessarily want to kill and eat us (though Lummox is only too happy to eat just about everything else).
Have Space Suit — Will Travel
In 1958’s Have Space Suit — Will Travel, Clifford “Kip” Russell enters a jingle-writing contest hoping to win a trip to the Moon. Instead of the grand prize, he gets a beat-up, obsolete space suit. Kip repairs the suit, but decides to be responsible and sell it to pay for college. Taking one last walk in the suit, he broadcasts over the suit’s radio…and receives a response. Before he knows what’s happening, Kip gets a trip to the Moon after all…as a captive of a nasty alien crew he nicknames “Wormfaces,” and in the company of a preteen genius girl called Peewee and a benevolent alien named the “Mother Thing.” Before Kip’s journey is over, he’s been to Pluto and beyond, eventually speaking in defense of all of humanity before a galactic tribunal determining whether or not mankind is a danger that should be exterminated. Have Space Suit is a rousing all-ages adventure, and if done right the Mother Thing could be a cinematic marvel on the order of The Lord of the Rings‘ Gollum. And while the book was set in a universe where space travel within our system was established, you could easily reset it in the “not too distant future” and have Kip acquire the suit a less dated way than the jingle contest.
Tunnel in the Sky
Think Lord of the Flies with alien monsters and college students and you’ll have Tunnel in the Sky. Heinlein’s 1955 novel is about a group of college students who are sent on a ten-day-long survival mission to an alien planet. At the end of their week, the door that took them there is supposed to open and allow them to go home. They spend their time on what amounts to a mostly uneventful camping trip and when their days are up…the door doesn’t open. With no way home they must find a way to survive for years in a rugged alien environment that rapidly changes from uncomfortable to deadly and dangerous, as group dynamics shift and they struggle to build a society in a place they’d never intended to do more than simply visit. Tunnel is unexpectedly brilliant, a taut battle for survival against impossible odds. It’s a deep examination into the nature of human relationships and systems of governments as the characters in its story struggle to build a society from scratch.
While I would love to see “Have Spacesuit,” “Citizen,” or any other of the Heinlein juveniles made into a movie, I don’t think that it’s going to happen. For reasons that have more to do with how movies get made these days and the amounts of money involved. The problem is that Hollywood, like the traditional publishers, has killed it’s midlist. Look at this video from the podcast series Creature Geek and you can see what has happened.
In the middle of the video Mr. Thatcher discusses how he went to pitch a property to Columbia and was told that they did not make $20 million movies. I don’t think that any of the larger studios in Hollywood make $20 million movies. which is a shame. Look at Mr. Thatcher’s career, with Star Trek and Jim Henson on his resume. Does anybody believe that whatever movies he made would NOT be worth watching? Of course not. Because those movies aren’t big budget the studios don’t know how to deal with the differing issues involved. There’s also the problem that the overhead is probably the same for a $100 million as it is for each $20 million movie but it takes five of the smaller movies to get the same impact as the big picture. Of course the five small movies spread the risk but that doesn’t seem to be the issue. I suspect that that’s because the risks are diminished by using existing properties.
The problem is that by killing b movies and the midlists the big media company have stifled creativity and bringing in new talent and growing it. At some point the existing properties aren’t going to have the magic anymore. There’s only so much Star Trek, Star Wars, Marvel and DC movies before nobody cares. What happens when the well is run dry? Somehow corporate types never seem to have the imagination to deal with that. Which is why there will not be a Heinlein juvenile movie. Or any Heinlein movie.