I like watching movies. If I could, I would go out and see a movie several times a week (assuming anything worth watching was in the theaters), or curl up under my blue blanket with a big bowl of garlic popcorn and pop in a DVD. My reading preference leans to science fiction with a nod to fantasy. About the only non-SF/F fiction reading I enjoy is Tom Clancy–I guess it is the military brat in me shining through. I bring up my reading preferences because I would like to see more well-thought-out science fiction movies make it to the big screen. In this day of fully computer-crafted movies like Shrek and Final Fantasy, it is possible to translate some of the classic sci-fi books into well-created movies.
I would love to see several Robert Heinlein books turned into good movies. Time for the Stars would be a great film. In this story, two telepathic twins are used to bridge the distance between Earth and outwardly-exploring starships. One twin stays home and ages, while the other stays young due to the relativistic effects of traveling close to the speed of light. Farmer in the Sky, Tunnel in the Sky, and Have Space Suit – Will Travel would all make excellent movies. If you have not read them already, go and do so now!
Of all the Heinlein novels and stories, only a few have ever been made into movies. Destination Moon came out in 1950, and it was regarded as one of the very first realistic movies about space. I watched it for the first time a few months ago, and I was surprised at how well it has aged over 50 years. Granted, we know much more about space after the success of the Apollo missions, yet there is very little to nit-pick. Project Moonbase came out in 1953 and ran just over an hour long. Originally at 47 minutes to fit an hour timeslot for TV, it was extended to its current length without Heinlein’s knowledge or consent and was quickly disavowed by him.
The Brain Eaters was released in 1956. It was so obviously based on Heinlein’s novel The Puppet Masters, yet produced without his consent, that Heinlein received an out-of-court monetary settlement and was able to pull his intellectual property from the movie. In 1994 Robert A. Heinlein’s The Puppet Masters was released, this time with permission from Heinlein’s estate. While the first half of the film closely followed the novel, it departed significantly in the second half. This is one novel that could not be anything but an adults-only movie if it were done properly. Since the novel deals with alien parasites controlling people, the only way the characters could really verify someone was not controlled was to remove all clothing that could hide the parasite. Complete nudity, such as that discussed in the book, could not be part of a film with anything less than an R rating, if not NC-17. I do not foresee this story being filmed “by the book” any time soon.
Robert A. Heinlein’s Red Planet was released in 1994 as a three-part cartoon miniseries. This series only loosely follows the novel and is not really recommended by or for any Heinlein fan. I am curious to see if this series handles the gravity on Mars correctly, or skips over it since animating low-gravity effects may be difficult do properly by artists who are unused to it. Any of the novels and stories that take place off Earth would probably be achieved easiest through animation, whether drawn by hand or computer-assisted.
Starship Troopers has been made into a film three times now — once in 1989 as a Japanese production called Uchu no senshi, again in 2000 as a collection of half-hour CGI episodes, and worst of all, a big-budget movie in 1997 directed by Paul Verhoeven of Robocop fame. I usually call it “The Abomination.” While Verhoeven’s version had some of the flavor of the novel in his action scenes, the movie completely failed to understand the purpose of the novel. What can you expect from someone who never read the book?
Do not bother to see Starship Troopers unless you can enjoy the cool CGI bugs without noticing the incredibly stupid plot holes. I knew this would be a bad movie that would not follow the book even before I went to see it, but I claim temporary insanity due to my wife being out of state at the time. I noticed that the movie had a Fascistic flavor that was not in the book, which must have come from Verhoeven’s influence. In the movie, the military had become stupid and outright sadistic. Again, this had to have come from Verhoeven’s mistaken “vision” of a book he had never read. Christopher Weuve does a great job of dissecting this movie while comparing it to the book. If you’re interested, I strongly suggest that you read his “Thoughts on Starship Troopers“. I will point out one last thing from “The Abomination” that pretty much sums up Verhoeven’s sloppy direction. In one news scene, “Mormon extremists” were shown in their city, “Fort Joe Smith,” with a temple-like central structure topped by a trumpet-blowing angel. First, no Mormon would refer to the first latter-day Prophet and President of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints as “Joe.” He is always referred to as “Joseph Smith” or “Joseph Smith, Jr.” Second, while every LDS temple has a trumpet-blowing angel on top, he is not female. This poor attention to detail conveys as much respect for faith as would a movie referring to Pope John Paul II as “Johnny P.”
Several new films are coming out in 2004 that I hope will be good. Spider-Man 2 looks very good from the previews I have seen, but I have a hard time calling that a real sci-fi movie. Speaking of sci-fi movies, I, Robot is scheduled for a summer release, and is based on Issac Asimov’s robot stories. Also slated for a summer release is The Chronicles of Riddick. This is a sequel to the earlier film Pitch Black, and judging from the imagery in the preview, it looks to be visually stunning. But films have to be more than visually stunning. Verhoeven’s Starship Troopers was also visually stunning — stupid and uninformed, sure, but it looked good as it went nowhere.