Monday, Jun 25, 2018
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The Next Chapter: Books we wish would become movies


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It's a common complaint so we're a little ambivalent about this project:

"The movie wasn't nearly as good as the book."

Even a movie as great as the 1962 classic To Kill a Mockingbird doesn't quite measure up to Harper Lee's novel, but it's an example of coming really close. Usually lots of good stuff gets left out of the film version of our favorite books for the most obvious reason: a novel is a multilayered, plot-dense art form that requires readers to fill in lots of visual blanks on their own and that process is uniquely satisfying.

Consequently, even a book that seems like it would make an excellent film falls woefully short. Dune anyone?

With that caveat, Blade features' staff writers chose four books -- and one Japanese anime series from Kirk Baird because he's a pop culture guy and that's how they roll -- that we'd like to see turned into films. Yes, we know we should be careful what we ask for, lest it really happen.

'Lives of the Monster Dogs'

Imagine Rottweilers and Doberman pinschers, German shepherds and samoyeds swaggering around New York on their hind legs, wearing 19th century Prussian army uniforms or bustled skirts.

They have prosthetic arms, pince nez glasses, and the snooty air of Eastern European aristocracy. They're highly intelligent and can talk and they live the lives of reclusive millionaires when they're not showing up at high society events. Oh, and they are tragically dying, the last of a "monster race" that was created after a series of bizarre experiments.

Who wouldn't want to see a movie based on that premise? Lives of the Monster Dogs by Kirsten Bakis is a 1997 novel that is part Frankenstein and part gothic sci-fi tragedy (if such a thing exists) with dialogue like this:

"At this point I take off my pince nez and wipe the lenses on the fur of my thigh."

Most excellent. Which is why, no doubt, Ice Age director Chris Wedge has bought the rights to the book, although he still hasn't begun production on the movie.

Bakis' story set in the near future is told through letters, co-narration by one of the monster dogs and a human who works with them, and it's actually a thoughtful, tragic tale of scientific experimentation gone awry and what it means to be human. Plus it has talking dogs that are not cute, but rather creepy and vaguely threatening.

For the main human role of Cleo, Natalie Portman's mixture of frayed beauty and simmering intelligence would be ideal. And given that I'm no expert on special effects I don't know how you'd actually do this (Wedge can figure it out), but the dogs should somehow be melded with real human faces through CGI wizardry to convey the innate intelligence they have in the book.

Among my dog characters: Ron Perlman as a malamute, George Clooney as a German shepherd, and Tilda Swinton would make a great Doberman.


'The Wishbones'

Author Tom Perrotta has had considerable success with the movies made from his books. The 1999 satire Election, about students running for high school class president, was a darling of the critics, and the 2007 drama Little Children, which was about irresponsible adults in the suburbs, was nominated for three Oscars.

Perhaps his most cinematic novel is his first, The Wishbones, and fans cheered when they learned it was going to be turned into a movie. But then, like so many other projects, it fell apart.

That's a pity. The often-hilarious story is about a 30-ish guy, Dave Raymond, who has managed to avoid growing up. He still lives with his parents and has a nothing job, and only comes to life when he performs with his better-than-average (but not quite great) wedding band. A brush with mortality forces him to ponder the future, and he impulsively proposes to his longtime girlfriend. Almost immediately, he meets a poet who may be the girl of his dreams.

Ryan Gosling would be perfect as Dave, because he's the right age and because he's Ryan Gosling. Anna Kendrick could do marvels with the part of Julie, the girlfriend, and Krysten Ritter would be great as the agreeably odd poet.


'The Mystic Arts of Erasing All Signs of Death'

Charlie Huston has a splendid knack for urban settings, fast-talking characters, dark humor, and realistic violence and its consequences.

It's surprising that none of his books -- especially his fantastical vampire P.I. series featuring Joe Pitt in a genre that is on fire now -- has been made into movies.

Huston's 2009 novel The Mystic Arts of Erasing All Signs of Death would be a great place to launch his work onto the big screen.

A series of events causes Webster Goodhue to lose his zeal for life. But he meets a woman named Soledad who changes everything. He just happens to meet her while working for a crime scene cleaning crew hired to tidy up her father's house after his ghastly suicide. Soledad talks Web into using his unique skill set to help her Hollywood wannabe brother, Jaime, which leads to trouble: gun-toting bad guys and a rival trauma cleaning squad.

Huston takes us for a ride through L.A.'s grisly underbelly that would be perfect in the hands of directors Quentin Tarantino or Michael Mann. Quick and witty (and hopefully brooding) Joseph Gordon-Levitt could handle the task of playing Web, and after seeing Mara Rooney in the U.S. version of The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo, it's hard to picture anyone else playing Soledad. Alex Pettyfer would make a great on-screen version of Jaime.


'Star Blazers'

One of the contradictory joys of growing up in the 1970s was the lack of animated shows on TV. With no cable channels dedicated to cartoons, there was an understandably heightened appreciation for what little animation was available -- especially weekday afternoons. And nothing captured my post-elementary school attention more than Star Blazers, a Japanese half-hour soap opera set in perilous deep space with Earth's future at stake.

This 1974-75 cult anime series originally broadcast in Japan as Space Battleship Yamato predates Star Wars, and yet shares many similar sci-fi elements, including dogfights in space and a planet-destroying super laser.

Star Blazers featured a ragtag crew aboard the battleship Argo -- the real-life ship Yamato retrofitted for space flight -- on a yearlong cosmic journey to acquire a machine to eradicate Earth-wide radiation from powerful bombs. The bombs originated from the blue-skinned Gamilons, war-mongering aliens that sent wave after wave of their finest starships to stop the Yamato on its desperate voyage.

The first season of Star Blazers was devoted to the overarching story of saving our planet -- a novel concept for an animated series at the time. The lengthy plotline is also what makes Star Blazers so difficult to translate to a two-hour film, though there have been at least two attempts by Hollywood, and one Japanese film produced in 2010.

Given the proper budget, a smartly condensed script, and a resourceful director, however, Star Blazers could absolutely work on the big screen.

We've already sat through Hasbro films based on morphing toy robots and a board game; could a 1970s Japanese anime series really be any worse?


'19 Minutes'

19 Minutes deals with the hard and sometimes disturbing issues that are so common in the lives of many families, but that are often swept under the rug or chalked up as growing pains.

The movie version would follow childhood best friends Josie Cormier (played by Amandla Stenberg, in a few years), who never knew her father and Peter Houghton (Khelo Thomas would be ideal for this role), who was bullied. The two kids from middle-class families spend much of their childhood together, with Josie often rescuing Peter from school bullies.

Once the two reach high school, Josie dumps her BFF for the in-crowd and even teases Peter, along with her boyfriend Matt (played by Michael B. Jordan), to protect her new reputation. It's the classic tale of bullying, but don't expect a happy ending -- the one where the teen triumphs over his tormentors. After a shooting at the high school, Peter is found standing over the bodies of Josie and Matt, gun in hand. Only Matt is dead. Both Josie and Peter have flashbacks about the events that led up to the killings -- teasing, abandonment, Matt's physical and verbal abuse toward Peter and Josie, teenage emotions, and more, much more. Numerous plot twists follow.

19 Minutes hits close to home for a lot of people. Anyone who has been bullied or knows someone who has been bullied, can relate to this tale. As a movie, 19 Minutes would bring to the forefront (and the big screen) the issue of bullying and the traumatic effects it can have for everyone involved.


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