At least one writer has looked at the clamor to adapt SF and fantasy works a half-century old or older, and used that as evidence that the Speculative Fiction genre is so tapped out that Hollywood can't find anything new to adapt.
To me, it's straightforward. Why are all these movies coming out now? Why has it taken more than half a century for some of thse works to reach the screen?
Simple. It wasn't possible before now.
The convergence of animation and special effects has finally reached a point where entirely new realities -- or surrealities -- can be portrayed convincingly on the big screen, without recourse to full cel animation. Works that were simply unfilmable before now offer new opportunities to exercise this technology, to entice an audience eager for larger-than-life spectacle.
The question isn't why Hollywood is dredging up old works to adapt. The question is, why aren't they adapting more of them, the really good stuff?
In other words... the stuff I like?
Well, Your Obedient Serpent had a list of "Books That Oughta Be Movies" simmering on the back burner for a long while, and I'm in the mood to start posting about'em.
Farmer Giles of Ham
J.R.R. Tolkien, 1949
Hook: A mock epic by the author of the biggest fantasy trilogy of all time!
Line: Middle-Earth Was Just The Beginning!
Sinker: A hapless farmer lucks into a magic sword -- and has to deal with a dragon.
= Farmer Giles: John Goodman
= The King: Kelsey Grammer
= Chrysophylax the Dragon (V): David Hyde-Pierce
= Garm: ...Who would make a good, craven, sarcastic talking dog? Besides Eddie Murphy, that is.
Why: Unlike The Professor's better-known works, Giles is eminently filmable. It's exactly the right length: you wouldn't have to leave anything out, you wouldn't have to add anything. It's well-paced. It's really, really funny. And, of course, it has one of the three best-written dragons in literary history. Who eats people, and makes it funny. You've gotta respect that.
How: Live Action, with CGI for Chrysophylax and however they managed the talking dogs in Underdog for Garm. As an homage to the original illustrations, let's add some transition scenes and exposition in actual animation, done to look like an old tapestry.
The Down Side: I know, I know: a quintessentially British tale, and I picked a quintessentially American actor for the protagonist. Sue me. Otherwise, the only problem I can see comes from audience members wondering where the Hobbits are, and the occasional ill-considered comparison to Shrek (which is why I wouldn't want to do it full-CGI). There's some similarity to Dragonheart, too: Dragon and Dragonslayer team up against a less-than-regal King. On the other claw, DH is a dozen years old at this point, and only remembered by rabid Sean Connery fans and refined, discriminating dragon aficionados.
The Stars My Destination
Alfred Bester, 1956
Hook: The Count of Monte Cristo -- In Space!
Line: More Cyberpunk Than Cyberpunk!
Sinker: Shipwrecked in space, Gully Foyle is driven to obsession when an interplanetary liner comes close enough to rescue him -- and pulls away, leaving him to die.
Starring: Gulliver "Gully" Foyle: Vin Diesel
Why: Cyberpunk has Megacorporations that rival or replace the government. Stars has a centuries-old aristocracy of corporate families, with trademarks serving as heraldic coast-of-arms. Add bionic enhancements, telepathy and teleportation, a ruthless anti-hero driven to achieve his goals without regard for cost or consequences... Can you really tell me this wouldn't sell? QUANT SUFF!
How: Say what you may about movies like I, Robot and Minority Report: they present vividly realistic CGI cityscapes as the background for human drama. That's just what Stars needs. Play it straight, visually. The one bit of stylization would be the "documentary hand-cam" feel used so well in Firefly and Battlestar Galactica, particularly in the opening scene, as Gully is trapped on the derelict ship Nomad.
The Down Side: The protagonist spends part of the book trapped in a lightless, underground prison. It doesn't matter who plays Gully -- people are going to think of Riddick. Vin Diesel came to mind after seeing XXX; I didn't make the Riddick connection until much later.
15-20 years ago, I wanted The Governator for Foyle, but Vin would do a much better job. Oddly, as I was writing this, Christian Bale crossed my mind as another possibility, just as an example of someone who could carry off the role without being the Big Muscleman type.
Elric of Melniboné
Hook: Lord of the Rings meets Hot Topic! With Johnny Depp!
Line: A doomed prince. A dying land. A demon blade. He never asked to save the world.
Sinker: The last prince of a dissolute, decadent race must bind himself to the cursed sword, Stormbringer, to save his beloved and the world.
Starring: Elric: Johnny Depp
Why: It's a high fantasy epic on a scale that few equal, starring the ultimate adolescent's D&D character: misunderstood and brooding, powerful and yet tossed around by cosmic forces, caught in a doomed romance. He's a Champion of Chaos, for Pete's sake. Elric is hero for every subculture! Goth, emo, geek, stoner, rocker, you name it. Once again, you can't tell me this wouldn't sell. Visually, it's a chance for production designers to go for broke -- or baroque -- and create an exotic, unique world.
Besides, I want fan art of Elric kicking the crap out of Drizzle Mo'Mizzle.
How: Green-Screen Epic! Elric needs that not-quite-real/more-than-real feel of movies like 300 and Beowulf.
Here's the important part: lose the Obligatory High Fantasy Wagnerian Orchestra Soundtrack. John Williams has plenty of work. Elric's soundtrack has always been rock: Moorcock wrote lyrics for Blue Öyster Cult, Hawkwind, and The Deep Fix. Elric needs Power Chords and pounding drum rhythms in the background. The howling of the Black Blade is Hendrix-style guitar wailing. This is not a minor point, but an essential element.
It's almost tempting to propose Elric as a Rock Opera, but that might sneak just a hair over the top.
The Down Side: It may just be Too Weird for Prime Time. On the other claw, making it a Johnny Depp vehicle might carry it because of that: Depp has a good track record with eccentric, off-kilter roles -- and if you're not a little off-kilter with Moorcock, you're doing it wrong.
(I'd originally suggested Orlando "Legolas" Bloom for Elric, but Depp could bring that essential Deppness to the project.)
There's a lot of material to arrange and condense -- the original saga is a compilation of novellas and novelettes that Moorcock wrote over a decade and a half, and in the '90s, he went back and added three more full-length novels that shoehorn in between the previous volumes. A few years ago, I would have said, "sell it as the Next Big Franchise, like Harry Potter and Narnia, but the studios are getting more reluctant to commit to those these days. Besides, Elric is aimed at an older age group -- it's not really a "family fantasy".
Nowadays, I'd pitch it as either a big, three-hour epic, or a trilogy. If the trilogy does well enough for more films, we could do what Moorcock did originally and "backfill". In any case, though, the fans would bitch and moan about the stuff that got cut.
Honestly, I'd really want to see a three-hour animated Elric rock opera directed by Peter Chung, but that kind of thing has always tanked in the U.S. box office.
It would work great as anime, though...
Argue about my casting choices or directorial dictates in the comments.
Hey, kids! You know you have a list of your own, so why not treat it as a meme?
Title (Bonus points for making it a Wikipedia link)
Hook: The pitch given to the studio execs. Make it short, sweetheart; the suits have no attention span.
Line: The tagline on the posters or in the trailer.
Sinker: A quick summary of the plot.
Starring: Your Casting Choice
Why: Why you think this would make a great movie.
How: How you think it should be filmed.
The Down Side: Production hurdles, problems finding an audience, why the fans will hate you. Nobody recognizes your genius!