After going out on a whim to watch World War Z last Friday, I got to thinking about works of fiction, and even non-fiction, and how they usually suck when translated to the big screen. And I knew going in that World War Z was probably going to suck because, having read the book, I couldn’t think of any way it made sense for a 2 hour movie. And sure enough, it sucked. As many have pointed out, it shared virtually nothing with the book save the title.
So, this got me thinking about the state of translating a book to the screen. And the model I think we should be looking more towards is television. Everybody kind of admits we are living in a golden age of television right now. The Sopranos kicked it all off, which was followed up with The Wire, and has, in quick succession, been followed up on non-pay TV with cable shows like Breaking Bad and Mad Men. There were other shows that didn’t make it as big, but were still better than any of your scripted network shows. The Shield, for example. The Sons of Anarchy for another. I never watched those shows, but they looked like they were well put together.
None of these are shows based upon books. They are just very well written shows. But even this has changed. The most obvious example of this is Game of Thrones, which I think is awesome, and is based upon a book series. But this isn’t even the limit – Band of Brothers was simply an amazing mini-series, and that was based upon non-fiction. The Walking Dead is another scripted show based upon written material (a comic book, I think).
The point is, there are some good written words out there, and we don’t need them to be on the big screen for a 2 week run. We should have more of these awesome TV shows, or limited run mini-series. The British were kind of on to this already – rather than a sitcom like the American version of the Office, the British version was only 2 “series” (seasons). You don’t need to make something that just hangs around – you can make something to fill a time slot for a year or two or three. With non-traditional companies now trying to get into the repeated viewing space (i.e. Netflix with House of Cards and now Arrested Development), it seems like there are some really, really cool opportunities out there.
I also think that if your show is done as a set of 10 1-hour episodes per year, you will get the super high quality of acting and writing. It’s got to be easier to give your all for 10 episodes instead of 22, right? And the actors in these newer shows end up with plenty of time to do movies or other TV.
With that in mind, here is my list of books I would like to see turned into TV.
- The Harry Potter series. Yes, I know we just went through a blockbuster run, and it made a bajillion dollars, and people are probably tired of it, but let’s face it, the movies had to throw some things overboard for the sake of time. We lost a lot of Dobby, for example. And I just think it would be really interesting to see a 4-6 year run of a TV show with the kids aging as the show goes on.
- The Lord of the Rings. Again, it’s made a bajillion dollars, but clearly this is calling out for a more extended story telling. The Hobbit, the shortest book in the series, is going to be three freaking films. Clearly, this is a tale that can make a good TV show.
- The Stand: Yes, it has been done as a TV mini-series, but it kind of blew chunks, frankly, because of the perceived limits of what a TV miniseries was back in the day. Redo this with some amazing actors? And redo IT, too.
- Dune. A shitty movie, a relatively shitty TV miniseries on the Sci-Fi channel (SyFy? seriously?), this is calling out for a new run. I’d even throw book 4 in there (God Emperor of Dune)
- The Hitchiker’s Guide to the Galaxy. This has been a radio play, so serialization isn’t a problem. The movie was, eh, awful. Plus, it’s British, and it seems like the best way to make a really awesome TV show is to cast it with British actors (see Thrones, Game of). The one or two episodes actually spent at the Restaurant at the End of the Universe would be must-see-TV.
- World War Z. The book was very geopolitical and covered lots of ground. It was not your typical zombie tome. It should be done right… on TV.
- The Percy Jackson series of books. Pretty crappy movie, and I don’t care for the books, but my kids loved ’em. Great way for The Disney Channel to fill some time.
- “Space” – the James Michener book. There are probably a whole bunch of Michener books that could be mini-series. I remember Space because I was such a geek for the space program. No way that could be a 2 hour movie, but would be a really good series I think.
- 50 Shades of Grey. Women love this
pornseries of books. Don’t make it a movie, put all that nudity and sex on HBO or Showtime.
- There was a series of books, whose name escapes me, about the Roman Republic from about 122BC to Caesar. That part of the Roman Republic is just begging for a dramatic treatment, because the story is almost better than fiction. HBO made a very good miniseries (2 years) detailing the very end of the Republic showing the rise of Octavian to become Augustus. And I will watch I, Claudius over… and over… and over…
- Ender’s Game – looks like it will be a crappy movie, would probably be a good TV series. I don’t know anything about it, though. Never been a fan.
- For the heck of it, let’s throw out Isaac Asimov’s Foundation series. That’s kind of got a World War Z vibe.
- Mila 18 by Leon Uris. Amazing book. Screams “10 hour mini-series on HBO”
I”m sure I’ll think of more, but that’s it for now. What are your thoughts? Do you have a favorite book or book series that you think would be awesome if it were given time to be told long-form?