SF in film and TV
June - July 1998
Two works by Australian hard SF writer Greg Egan are currently in production. Betaville, a Canadian production house, has begun principal photography for a TV version of Egan's short story ''The Extra''. And Egan's story ''The Walk'' is about about to commence shooting as a short film by an independent French/US filmmaker, aimed at festival release.
''The Extra'' was first published in the Australian magazine Eidolon, Winter 1990, and reprinted in the January '93 issue of Asimov's. It's currently available in the Jack Dann/Gardner Dozois anthology Clones. ''The Walk'', first published in Asimov's, December 1992, was most recently reprinted in Egan's collection Axiomatic (HarperPrism 1997).
(Thu 30 Jul 98)
An article in today's Los Angeles Times reveals some of the changes being made in Gus Van Sant's remake of Alfred Hitchcock's 1960 classic Psycho (from the novel by Robert Bloch). Though it was first announced that Van Sant would be filming Hitchcock's original script word for word and shot for shot, the filmmakers discovered that at least some minor changes were necessary. Universal Pictures hired Joseph Stefano, writer of the original Psycho script (and creator of the TV series The Outer Limits), to polish and update it for Van Sant.
Some changes are minor: the amount of money character Marion Crane steals, from $40,000 to $400,000. Others reflect changing values. For example, says Stefano, ''in the original movie there was some sense that being in a hotel room on your lunch hour was morally wrong. I didn't think that would fly today.'' And ''I've made Sam [Crane's boyfriend, played in the original by John Gavin and in the remake by Viggo Mortensen] a little different in the new version--a little more open. A little more, frankly, sexual. I think he's a little more interesting this time around. We'll see.''
(Wed 22 Jul 98)
Contact screenwriters James V. Hart and Michael Goldenberg did not win the Humanitas Prize. (See three items down.) Good Will Hunting's Matt Damon and Ben Affleck did.
(Fri 10 Jul 98)
Much of the criticism of the film Armageddon -- which has been received far less kindly than its predecessor Deep Impact a couple months ago -- focuses on its extremely fast-paced editing. Roger Ebert compares it to a two and half hour movie trailer. An article [link unavailable] in Tuesday's Los Angeles Times describes the controversy with perspectives from film editors and movie historians. Armageddon producer Jerry Bruckheimer defends director Michael Bay (whose background is in music videos and TV commercials) but acknowledges that the short attention spans of younger filmgoers is a factor in making today's action pictures. More to the point, says USC professor Todd Boyd, ''Many of the films we see today are not about story. They are about spectacle. The story is secondary to the style and look of the piece.'' Film editor Paul Seydor notes that fast cuts are useful for obscuring story line deficiencies in poorly scripted films. ''If it were any slower, there might be a chance to say, 'What are we doing here anyhow?''' Seydor defends fast cutting in sequences ''tied to character, structure and the overall meaning of the story'' in such classics as Sam Peckinpah's The Wild Bunch. By comparison, says Seydor, today's action filmmakers are guided by ''the absolute fear that anybody will get impatient for so much as a single second, that something might not be happening all the time.''
(Wed 8 Jul 98)
NASA at the Movies
The premiere of Armageddon, the $100-million asteroid-threatens-Earth picture that opens next week, will be a lavish, invitation-only affair Monday night at the Kennedy Space Center in Florida. Stars will dine underneath an actual Saturn V rocket inside NASA's visitor center.
The event signifies the cooperation NASA has given to Disney's Touchstone Pictures in the making of Armageddon, as the agency has earlier cooperated in the making of Contact, Apollo 13, and Tom Hanks's series From the Earth to the Moon. Of course cooperation in these instances primarily means NASA's giving filmmakers access to facilities and sites -- not necessarily any technical overview of scripts or special effects.
The latest request to NASA, the Los Angeles Times reports, is from James Cameron, who earlier this week approached the agency about making a movie about the building of the International Space Station. NASA has yet to respond. It sounds as if Cameron is still undecided about his next project.
(Sun 28 Jun 98)
Sci-Fi Wire reports that Variety reports that Warner Bros. has paid more than $500,000 to purchase Alfred Bester's 1953 short story ''Time Is the Traitor'' for Matthew McConaughey and Denise Di Novi to produce.
The Hollywood Reporter reports that the screenwriters of Contact, James V. Hart and Michael Goldenberg, are finalists for the Humanitas Prize. Their competitors are The Education of Little Tree's Richard Friedenberg and Good Will Hunting's Matt Damon and Ben Affleck. The Human Family Educational & Cultural Institute gives the prize each year in various TV and film categories for productions that recognize and celebrate human values. The feature film prize is $25,000. Winners will be announced July 9th.
(Fri 19 Jun 98)
The American Film Institute's list of ''100 greatest American movies'' was released Tuesday to much fanfare (including a TV special) and some grousing, since the list was compiled frankly as a mechanism for generating video rentals and sales. SF, fantasy, and horror films on the list include:
6. The Wizard of Oz
The AFI 100 Movies website has the full list, plus the initial list of 400 candidates.
11. It's a Wonderful Life
15. Star Wars
22. 2001: A Space Odyssey
25. E.T. The Extra-Terrestrial
26. Dr. Strangelove
43. King Kong
46. A Clockwork Orange
49. Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs
60. Raiders of the Lost Ark
64. Close Encounters of the Third Kind
65. The Silence of the Lambs
(Wed 17 Jun 98)
CNN reports that the first lawsuit has been filed against Paramount Pictures concerning The Truman Show. Mark Dunn alleges that Paramount infringed on the copyright of his 1992 off-off-Broadway play ''Frank's Story'', about an orphaned boy unwittingly made the hero of a TV soap opera with actors playing his family and friends. The suit claims that Dunn submitted the play to Paramount, which rejected it, and cites more than 100 examples of alleged similarity between the play and the movie.
Precursor update: Among the many reviews and analyses of The Truman Show is this well-informed Feed magazine essay by Amanda Griscom, ''Dick Defeats Truman!'', that explores the world of Philip K. Dick. Time Out of Joint, she notes, is set in 1998.
(Wed 17 Jun 98)
Truman Show Precursors?
The success of The Truman Show, the new film directed by Peter Weir and written by Andrew Niccol (and starring Jim Carrey), has film critics scrambling to find precursors for the film's striking central idea. Film projects are routinely pitched in Hollywood as variations of previous successes; true originality is suspect. Of course, it seldom occurs to film types to look for antecedents beyond other movies, or perhaps TV.
An article in the June 8th Los Angeles Times focuses on the principal suspect identified thus far: an obscure 28-minute 1966 film by Paul Bartel called ''The Secret Cinema'', which was remade by Bartel as an episode of the Amazing Stories TV series in 1986. (Bartel may be best know for writing and directing Eating Raoul in 1982.)
The sigh of relief at identifying a source for Truman Show's concept was obvious in remarks from Esquire film critic David Thomson -- ''There are only so many stories'' -- and Daily Variety film critic Todd McCarthy -- ''There is no such thing as a totally original idea''.
Niccol, as it happens, has denied having heard of or seen of Bartel's film. But his general familiarity with SF ideas is evident both in The Truman Show and in last year's Gattaca, which he wrote and directed.
Other commentators have seen similarties between ''Truman'' and the Patrick McGoohan TV series The Prisoner; the films Being There, The Stepford Wives, and Brazil; and the Twilight Zone episode ''A World of Difference'', written by Richard Matheson.
It has been left to SF folk and letter writers to point out the obvious literary precursors, most prominently Philip K. Dick's 1959 novel Time Out of Joint and Frederik Pohl's 1955 story ''The Tunnel Under the World'', both about people in artificial worlds being manipulated by outsiders. Less familiar but just as relevant is D. G. Compton's 1974 novel The Unsleeping Eye (aka The Continuous Katherine Mortonhoe), about a terminally-ill woman whose last weeks are broadcast live via a pursuing reporter whose eyes have been replaced by TV cameras. Compton's novel was filmed in French as La Mort en Direct (1979). Marc Scott Zicree in the LA Times article cites Robert A. Heinlein's solipsistic 1941 short story ''They''. And a recent notable treatment of these themes is last year's Paul Park story from Omni Online and F&SF, ''Get a Grip''.
Fiction vs. Reality: There are those who choose voluntarily to broadcast their lives over the Internet with home web-cams. The pictures are typically updated every minute or two. Examples: JenniCAM and Sean Patrick Live!. Others: check out EarthCam for a list. And on Tuesday morning June 16th, a woman has agreed to give birth live on the internet.
(Sun 14 Jun 98)
Stanley Kubrick's much-anticipated Eyes Wide Shut has reportedly been delayed from this Christmas to a release in the second quarter of 1999. The film, which stars Tom Cruise and Nicole Kidman, has been in production for a year and half.
The June 13th Los Angeles Times reports that James Cameron is still undecided on his next film project following his mega-success Titanic. At a news conference in Toronto, Cameron indicated he's in no hurry to get another feature underway. Possible projects named include a remake of Planet of the Apes, a live-action adaption of ''Spiderman'', or perhaps a small drama rather than a big-budget action movie.
No mention was made of Cameron's interest in Kim Stanley Robinson's Mars trilogy, widely reported several weeks ago. But far more literary projects are optioned by Hollywood producers than are ever made. An option purchases exclusive rights to develop a literary property over a limited period of time, e.g. a year; it prevents other producers from developing the work during that time, but in no way obligates the purchaser to pursue development. Some famous SF works, e.g. Childhood's End and Stranger in a Strange Land, have been optioned on and off for several decades, and remain unfilmed.
(You've heard the joke about Cameron and the Mars project? The real planet is so far away he plans to build a full-size replica in Earth orbit.)
Thomas Narcejac died at age 89 in Nice, France, this past week. With coauthor Pierre Boileau he wrote more than 40 thrillers, including works adapted for the films Les Diaboliques (1955, directed by Henri-George Clouzot) and Vertigo (1958, Alfred Hitchcock).
(Sun 14 Jun 98)