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Sunday
Apr202008

Speculative Fiction on Screen


I'm not much of a television connoisseur, so it may not mean much for me to say (again) that I consider Firefly to be the best television show ever made. Why do I love it so? Because Joss Whedon put so much time and care into creating his world and characters. (The fact that he is a genius writer of dialogue doesn't hurt.) The series views like a great novel; for every line of dialogue and for every set, I get the sense that there is a ton of fascinating backstory underneath. Get the tragically cancelled series on DVD; you won't be sorry.

Why is it that speculative fiction is so much more accessible in movie or TV format than in print? I know many, many people who have never cracked open a volume of Tolkien or Philip K. Dick, but who love the movie adaptations of these greats' works.

It's probably because movies and TV are just more accessible in general. I wonder, for example, what the ratio of viewers of James Bond films to readers of Ian Fleming's novels is; I'm betting it's quite unbalanced.

Just because I feel like it today, here are some lists of stuff I like. Not all of the movies below are adapted from novels or short stories, but most are. I haven't ranked them because the rankings would probably change from day to day depending on my mood.

My Top Ten Science Fiction Movies:

Blade Runner
The Matrix
Galaxy Quest
The Lathe of Heaven (1980)
Star Wars (1977)
The Incredibles
K-Pax
Serenity
Donnie Darko
I Am Legend (2007)

My Top Ten Fantasy Movies:

The Lord of the Rings (I'm counting all three parts as one. Because I can.)
Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon
The Princess Bride
The Wizard of Oz
It's a Wonderful Life
Groundhog Day
Fanny & Alexander
Brazil
Monty Python and the Holy Grail
Spirited Away

Five Spec Fic TV Shows I Love (Other Than Firefly):

Star Trek (Original Series)
The Prisoner (Freaktastically brilliant 1960s paranoia)
The Wild, Wild West (Steampunk before there was steampunk)
Medium
(Not watching this season since it's on at 10pm now, but I'll catch up.)
Buffy the Vampire Slayer
(Really, Joss: if I were a pagan, I'd worship you.)

At some point, we'll borrow The X-Files DVDs from the library and watch them all. We could never make the commitment to give the series our full attention when it was on the air. Ditto for the new Battlestar Galactica and Lost.

Ten Spec Fic Books I Think Would Make Fantastic Movies:

Ender's Game, by Orson Scott Card
Treason,
by Orson Scott Card
Coraline,
by Neil Gaiman
Life of Pi,
by Yann Martel
The 13th Reality,
by James Dashner
Mistborn,
by Brandon Sanderson
Mister Monday,
by Garth Nix
Under My Roof,
by Nick Mamatis
Tigana, by Guy Gavriel Kay
The Doomsday Book, by Connie Willis

Ten Spec Fic Books I Adore, But Fear Would Not Translate Well into Film:

Jonathan Strange & Mr. Norrell, by Susanna Clarke
Beloved,
by Toni Morrison (I know they already made it into a movie; I have been afraid to see it.)
The Talisman, by Stephen King and Peter Straub
Neverwhere, by Neil Gaiman (I saw part of the BBC series and cringed.)
The Otherland series, by Tad Williams
Cryptonomicon, by Neal Stephenson
The Diamond in the Window, by Jane Langton
Winter's Tale, by Mark Helprin
Was, by Geoff Ryman
Little, Big, by John Crowley

What about you? Are you a viewer but not a reader of science fiction and fantasy? What do you think accounts for different tastes in different media? Give me your thoughts.

Reader Comments (20)

I loved the movie Serenity! The only reason I never watched the tv series is because I never heard of it. Maybe if they'd done better advertising... I don't know...
I LOVE most of your list, and the things I don't love are things I haven't read/seen so maybe I'll go check them out.
Have you ever read the Sookie Stackhouse books by Charlain Harris? Totally my guilty pleasure.

April 20, 2008 | Unregistered CommenterCrystal Liechty

Oh, I'm going to have to think on this for DAYS! What fun. And I agree with Crystal on the Sookie Stackhouse books, although the first one was the best by far, I think. And no Mirrormask? Have you seen Mirrormask? It's wonderful.

I think I may agree entirely on the rest of your fantasy movie list.

Hmmmm... I LOVED this post. It was exactly what I was craving and I didn't even know it. I'll be back...

April 20, 2008 | Unregistered CommenterJen of A2eatwrite

I lovelovelovelove FireFly. I tell you, the network was out to kabash it before it even got a chance. My all time favorite series and it only lasted most of one season.

And I have to say I'm not much of a SciFi fan when it comes to a literary genre, but I did love Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep.... but not nearly as much as I still love Blade Runner

April 20, 2008 | Unregistered Commentercablegirl

I love to read AND watch speculative fiction. It's my fav genre. When the movies get it right, it's spectacular but usually the movies have to cut so much that it diminishes the story.

I haven't seen Firefly because it was on cable when I didn't have it but I've heard good things about it. Plus, I love Buffy and Angel, so I know I'd love anything Joss did.

April 20, 2008 | Unregistered CommenterKarlene

I am printing off this post right this moment, because I adore 50% of your list and am ravenously curious about the rest.

April 20, 2008 | Unregistered CommenterKimberly

Hmm I really dislike speculative fiction.

You can't trap my attention than 5 minutes when star trek or lord of the rings or matrix or ....is up. I all find it weird, fake stupid stuff.

I seem to only be able to relate to fiction or movies when they could have been real.

Basically you've made up some lists of things I deliberately refuse to watch or read :p

April 21, 2008 | Unregistered CommenterGoofball

Excellent post! I'd add Doctor Who to the sci-fi stuff.

I guess people don't read in general, which is why they don't read speculative fiction as much. Plus, the nerd stigma.

Watching a movie is so much easier than reading a book. It doesn't require any of that nasty thinking stuff.

April 21, 2008 | Unregistered Commenterstrugglingwriter

I'm with Kim on this one--I love the ones on your list that I've seen or read, but there are a lot I've never cracked open.

Firefly was definitely a great show. Loved it. Plus, it had Alan Tudyk in it, who is brilliant. He's one of my favorite parts of A Knight's Tale.

One reason spec. fiction doesn't always translate well to film is that there's so much that takes place in the imagination. No one's visual representation with special effects will match the new world you've created in your head. If the film IS the original world (ala Star Wars) then the entire audience gets the same mental world at the same time. One theory, anyway.

April 21, 2008 | Unregistered CommenterAnnette Lyon

Crystal and Jen: putting Sookie on my library list right now. And Jen, I haven't seen Mirrormask yet, but I'm dying to.

Karlene! Didn't know you were a fan; so glad.

Kim, I know your taste; you'll love it all.

Goofball, this is good to know.

SW, Dr. Who ROCKS. He'd be #6 on my list.

April 21, 2008 | Unregistered CommenterLuisa Perkins

oh! you've read WAS! What a great book. I've seen it in play version, and loved it, but the energy on stage is WAY different than fil, and you've reminded me that brazil has been on my list of movies to see for well over a decade.

April 21, 2008 | Unregistered Commenterpainted maypole

I love reading science fiction and fantasy, and I enjoy watching it too.
My husband is not much of a reader. He reads really slow, so sometimes the only way to enjoy a good story with him is to watch it.
I am pretty thankful that so far our boys have picked up on my reading vibe and enjoy it too.
I love many of the books on your list, and I need to read some of them too. I think you are right about The Diamond in the Window not translating to film well. I don't know if film could do it justice. I have really enjoyed that whole series of books.
Now are you going to make a list of film adaptations that didn't work? The recently released Seeker, The Dark is Rising comes to mind. It was a great book and a somewhat lame film.

April 21, 2008 | Unregistered CommenterHeffalump

I am a huge fan of fantasy/sci-fi both literary and on the screen. Out of all the film adaptations of novels I think Princess Bride simply rocked. They did a great job with that. I would love to see the percy jackson series made into movies, but I hated the film adapation of the spiderwick chronicles. So much was lost that it felt empty.

April 21, 2008 | Unregistered CommenterJulie Wright

Much more a reader than a watcher. I finally caught up on your blogs--I cannot wait for Friday! I heart grammar as well; just ask Dave :)

April 21, 2008 | Unregistered Commenteranjmae

I almost couldn't get through the entire post because I was so impressed with your tastes :) Firefly was so addicting, and I am so sad that it was cancelled. Serenity was a nice surprise :)

My favorite Sci-fi shows are Babylon 5 and Battlestar Galactica (the newer one... yes, I caught on to the craze a few years ago).

Love this. And your lovely flowers from your post today for Earth Day.

April 22, 2008 | Unregistered Commenterpoodlegoose

hmm, I can't see Life of Pi as a movie. You and my husband would just enjoy movies together...you know I'm not sci-fi at all but I still love ya!

April 23, 2008 | Unregistered Commenterrjlight

I'm generally not much of SCI-FI Gal but I LOVE LOVE LOVE Firefly. So much so that I almost can't stand to watch it because it makes me so sad that there's so little of it.
But really, with the notable exception of the Lord of the Rings trilogy there aren't books that translate well onto the screen. Is there even one that you don't find yourself saying "the book was so much better."? Speaking of have you read "the Princess Bride"? you need to.

April 23, 2008 | Unregistered CommenterAlison Wonderland

Alison, welcome! Thanks for the comment.

Oh, my, yes: I've read The Princess Bride many, many times. I wrote a post a while ago about books and movies being two different languages, blah, blah, blah. Many times I'm happy when a book is made into a movie, and many times I am not.

Stop by any time!

April 23, 2008 | Unregistered CommenterLuisa Perkins

Dude, you read freaky stuff, yo.

April 24, 2008 | Unregistered CommenterBrillig

I think with TV and movies there is less work involved for the entertainment value (not talking turning the page here;-)). When I want to veg, reading is more effort than sitting in front of the TV and reading can put me to sleep so I don't get far before I am really tired and relaxed.

I liked the X-files and I like Medium but I am not watching it this season either. I like Ghost Whisperer also. Used to watch Star Trek the show all the time. I have not seen Firefly.

Good lists.

April 26, 2008 | Unregistered Commenterdawn

Just seeing the words 'Galaxy Quest' made me laugh. Must mean it's time to watch it again.

Re: Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon. Spotted today on http://twitter.com/akaMonty/statuses/798240533" REL="nofollow">Twitter: "Movie about my life: Crouching Dustbunnies, Hidden Laundry." Posted by the ever-clever http://twitter.com/akaMonty" REL="nofollow">akaMonty.

One more thing. Have you seen any episodes of the Firefly-fated TV series Threshold? Some way-fine science fiction slash speculative stuff, that.

Okay and WHAT is going ON with these UNREADABLE word verification strings? Blogger! DO. NOT. LIKE.

April 27, 2008 | Unregistered CommenterRadioactive Jam

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