Some of the best book-to-screen adaptations of all time come from SCI-FI Novels.
The recent star-studded release of DUNE reminds us that Science Fiction stories are just as popular now as ever. With so many amazing book adaptations out there, we have selected a few Stand-Outs — essential for any SCI-FI Fan to experience.
PLANET OF THE APES (1968)
Novel — Based on La Planète des singes (known in English as Planet of the Apes in the US and Monkey Planet in the UK) — a 1963 Science Fiction novel by French author Pierre Boulle.
After optioning the novel’s film rights, American film producer Arthur P. Jacobs spent over three years trying to convince filmmakers to take on the project. He engaged a succession of artists to create test sketches and hired veteran television writer Rod Serling, creator of The Twilight Zone, to pen the screenplay. Production costs were estimated at over $10 million, a risk no studio in either Hollywood or Europe would assume. Jacobs and associate producer Mort Abrahams persevered and eventually persuaded Charlton Heston to star. The team recorded a brief “screen test” featuring Heston with actors in primitive makeup — which ultimately convinced 20th Century Fox the film could succeed.
2001: A SPACE ODYSSEY (1968)
Novel — 2001: A Space Odyssey is a 1968 Science Fiction novel by British writer Arthur C. Clarke. It was developed concurrently with Stanley Kubrick’s film version and published after the release of the film. Clarke and Kubrick worked on the book together, but eventually only Clarke ended up as the official author.
This classic movie is beautifully shot and extremely well made. HAL is actually terrifying to watch, as the machine slowly turns on the humans that it is supposedly meant to protect. Innovative production, as well as photography techniques, had to be pioneered in order to make the special effects believable. The film’s star Keir Dullea later revealed: “Not one foot of this film was made with computer-generated special effects. Everything you see in this film or saw in this film was done physically or chemically, one way or the other.”
Kubrick’s scientific consultant Frederick Ordway once revealed that Kubrick had almost all of the props for the film destroyed, (including blueprints, unseen footage and miniatures) because he didn’t want to ruin the illusion of 2001 for people — and, reportedly, so they wouldn’t wind up in future films. A small percentage survived.
In 1982, Clarke published the sequel Novel — 2010: Odyssey Two.
It was adapted for the screen by Director Peter Hyams and released as a film in 1984 — 2010: The Year We Make Contact, starring Roy Scheider, John Lithgow and Helen Mirren. (With American production values, it is in many ways a far superior film.) Since most of the original props were destroyed, the production team had to reconstruct everything by studying prints of 2001.
CLOSE ENCOUNTERS OF THE THIRD KIND (1977)
Novel — by Steven Spielberg (based on the film screenplay)
The film’s origins can be traced to Spielberg’s childhood, when he and his father watched a meteor shower in New Jersey. At age 18, Spielberg completed the full-length science fiction film Firelight. Many scenes from Firelight were incorporated in Close Encounters on a shot-for-shot basis. In 1970 he wrote a short story entitled “Experiences” about a lovers’ lane in a Midwestern farming community and the “light show” a group of teenagers see in the night sky.
Spielberg first considered doing a documentary or low-budget feature film about people who believed in UFOs. He decided “a film that depended on state-of-the-art technology couldn’t be made for $2.5 million.” Borrowing a phrase from the ending of The Thing from Another World, he retitled the film “Watch the Skies”, rewriting the premise concerning Project Blue Book.
After several more rewrites, friends of Spielberg suggested the plot device of a kidnapped child. Spielberg then began to write the script. The song “When You Wish upon a Star” from Pinocchio influenced Spielberg’s writing style. “I hung my story on the mood the song created, the way it affected me personally.” During pre-production, the title was changed to Close Encounters of the Third Kind.
J. Allen Hynek, who worked with the United States Air Force on Project Blue Book, was hired as a scientific consultant. Hynek felt that “even though the film is fiction, it’s based for the most part on the known facts of the UFO mystery, and it certainly catches the flavor of the phenomenon. Spielberg was under enormous pressure to make another blockbuster after Jaws, but he decided to make a UFO film. He put his career on the line.” USAF and NASA declined to cooperate on the film. In fact, NASA reportedly sent a twenty-page letter to Spielberg, telling him that releasing the film was dangerous. In an interview, he said: “I really found my faith when I heard that the Government was opposed to the film. If NASA took the time to write me a 20-page letter, then I knew there must be something happening.”
BLADE RUNNER (1982)
Novel — Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? (retitled Blade Runner: Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? in some later printings) is a dystopian Science Fiction novel by American writer Philip K. Dick, first published in 1968.
After years of rewrites, the screenplay by Hampton Fancher was optioned in 1977. Producer Michael Deeley became interested in Fancher’s draft and convinced director Ridley Scott to film it.
Although Dick died shortly before the film’s release, he was pleased with a 20-minute special effects test reel that was screened for him when he was invited to the studio. He said, “I saw a segment of Douglas Trumbull’s special effects for Blade Runner … I recognized it immediately. It was my own interior world. They caught it perfectly.” He also approved of the film’s script, saying, “After I finished reading the screenplay, I got the novel out and looked through it. The two reinforce each other so that someone who started with the novel would enjoy the movie and someone who started with the movie would enjoy the novel.” The motion picture was dedicated to Dick. Principal photography of Blade Runner began on March 9, 1981 and ended four months later.
The film follows Rick Deckard (Harrison Ford) as he falls in love with a replicant, Rachael (Sean Young), and realizes that the human clones of his world are more real than he originally thought. As it explores what makes humans human, the film also manages to visually amaze with its stark and futuristic scenes.
JURASSIC PARK (1993)
Novel — Jurassic Park is a 1990 Science Fiction novel written by Michael Crichton. A cautionary tale about genetic engineering, it presents the collapse of an amusement park showcasing genetically re-created dinosaurs to illustrate the mathematical concept of chaos theory and its real-world implications.
Before its publication, Steven Spielberg learned of the novel in October 1989. Spielberg recognized what really fascinated him about Jurassic Park was it was “a really credible look at how dinosaurs might someday be brought back alongside modern mankind”, going beyond a simple monster movie.
Spielberg brought in Stan Winston to create the animatronic dinosaurs; Phil Tippett (credited as Dinosaur Supervisor) to create go motion dinosaurs for long shots; Michael Lantieri to supervise the on-set effects; and Dennis Muren of Industrial Light & Magic (ILM) to do the digital compositing. Paleontologist Jack Horner supervised the designs, to help fulfill Spielberg’s desire to portray the dinosaurs as animals rather than monsters. Certain concepts about dinosaurs, like the theory they evolved into birds and had very little in common with lizards, were followed.
Muren told Spielberg he thought the dinosaurs could be built using computer-generated imagery; the director asked him to prove it. ILM animators Mark Dippé and Steve Williams developed a computer-generated walk cycle for the T. rex skeleton and were approved to do more. When Spielberg and Tippett saw an animatic of the T. rex chasing a herd of Gallimimus, Spielberg said, “You’re out of a job,” to which Tippett replied, “Don’t you mean extinct?” Spielberg later injected this exchange into the script, as a conversation between Malcolm and Grant.
Although no go motion was used, Tippett and his animators were still used by the production to supervise dinosaur movement. Tippett acted as a consultant for dinosaur anatomy, and his stop motion animators were re-trained as computer animators. The animatics made by Tippett’s team were also used, along with the storyboards, as a reference for what would be shot during the action sequences. ILM’s artists were sent on private tours to the local animal park, so they could study large animals – rhinos, elephants, alligators, and giraffes – up close. They also took mime classes to aid in understanding movements.
Novel — Contact is a 1985 hard Science Fiction novel by American scientist Carl Sagan. It deals with the theme of contact between humanity and a more technologically advanced, extraterrestrial life form. The novel originated as a screenplay by Sagan and Ann Druyan in 1979; when development of the film stalled, Sagan decided to convert the story into a novel.
During the development of Contact, the production crew watched Stanley Kubrick’s 2001: A Space Odyssey (1968) for inspiration.
After countless rewrites and production delays, Robert Zemeckis, who previously turned down the director’s position, decided to accept the offer. Warner Bros. granted Zemeckis total artistic control and the right of final cut privilege. The director cast Matthew McConaughey as Palmer Joss. The characterization of Ellie Arroway was inspired by Jill Tarter, head of Project Phoenix of the SETI Institute; Jodie Foster researched the lead role by meeting her. Tarter served as a consultant on the story, realistically portraying struggling careers of women scientists from the 1950s to 1970s.
Despite being diagnosed with myelodysplasia in 1994, Sagan continued to be involved in the production of the film. For the cast and main crew members, he conducted an academic conference that depicted a detailed history of astronomy. (He died in December 1996, six months before the film’s release in July 1997.)
MINORITY REPORT (2002)
Novel — The Minority Report is a 1956 Science Fiction novella by American writer Philip K. Dick, first published in Fantastic Universe. In a future society, three mutants foresee all crime before it occurs. Like many stories dealing with knowledge of future events, it questions the existence of free will. The title refers to the dissenting opinion of one of the precogs.
Dick’s story was first optioned by producer and writer Gary Goldman in 1992. Novelist Jon Cohen was hired in 1997 to adapt the story for a potential film version. Tom Cruise read Cohen’s script, and passed it onto Spielberg, who felt it needed some work. He was not directly involved in the writing of the script, though he was allowed to decide whether the picture’s screenplay was ready to be filmed. Spielberg was attracted to the story because as both a mystery and a movie set 50 years in the future, it allowed him to do “a blending of genres” which intrigued him.
In 1998, the pair joined Minority Report and announced the production as a joint venture of Spielberg’s DreamWorks and Amblin Entertainment, 20th Century Fox, Cruise’s Cruise/Wagner Productions, and De Bont’s production company, Blue Tulip.
Production was delayed for several years. Spielberg said the story for Minority Report became “50 percent character and 50 percent very complicated storytelling with layers and layers of murder mystery and plot.” In 2002, the film was released — directed by Spielberg and starring Tom Cruise, Colin Farrell, Samantha Morton, and Max von Sydow. It follows a character, played by Cruise, who is arrested for the “Precrime” murder of a man he hasn’t even met yet.
THE HUNGER GAMES (2012)
Novel — The Hunger Games is a 2008 dystopian novel by the American writer Suzanne Collins. It is written in the voice of 16-year-old Katniss Everdeen, who lives in the future, post-apocalyptic nation of Panem in North America. The Capitol, a highly advanced metropolis, exercises political control over the rest of the nation. The Hunger Games is an annual event in which one boy and one girl aged 12–18 from each of the twelve districts surrounding the Capitol are selected by lottery to compete in a televised battle royale to the death. In writing The Hunger Games, Collins drew upon Greek mythology, Roman gladiatorial games, and contemporary reality television for thematic content.
In March 2009, Lions Gate Entertainment entered into a co-production agreement for The Hunger Games with Nina Jacobson’s production company Color Force, which had acquired worldwide distribution rights to the novel a few weeks earlier. Collins adapted the novel for film herself, in collaboration with screenwriter Billy Ray and director Gary Ross. The screenplay remains extremely faithful to the original novel.
Instead of Katniss’ internal monologue about the Capitol’s machinations, the screenplay expanded the character of Seneca Crane, the Head Gamemaker, to allow several developments to be shown directly to the audience. Ross also added several scenes between Crane and Coriolanus Snow, the elderly President of Panem, noting that “I thought that it was very interesting that there would be one generation [of Panem citizens] who knew that [the Games] were actually an instrument of political control, and there would be a successive generation who was so enamoured with the ratings and the showbiz and the sensations and the spectacle that was subsuming the actual political intention, and that’s really where the tension is”.
The Gamemakers’ control center, about which Katniss can only speculate in the novel, was also developed as a location, helping to remind the audience of the artificial nature of the arena. Ross commented, “so much of the film happens in the woods that it’s easy to forget this is a futuristic society, manipulating these events for the sake of an audience. The look of the control center, the antiseptic feeling of it and the use of holograms were all intended to make the arena feel ‘constructed’ even when you weren’t seeing the control room.” Ross and visual effects supervisor Sheena Duggal were keen to use the omniscient view that the setting provided to justify the literal dei ex machina Katniss experiences in the arena.
The Hunger Games is a great stand-alone story about the evils of wealth disparity and using fear to rule over people. The film is a direct comment on capitalist society, while still having creative elements of science fiction with its genetically engineered animals and futuristic wardrobing.
Origin — based on the Nebula-winning Science Fiction novella “Story of Your Life” by Ted Chiang, written in 1998. It involves Earth’s first communication with heptapods (aliens) who speak in a cryptic language.
Screenwriter Eric Heisserer decided to try to adapt the story into a film script as he wanted to share it with a wider audience. After writing an initial script, Heisserer pitched it to production companies for several years without receiving any interest and nearly gave up on the project. Eventually, Dan Levine and Dan Cohen of 21 Laps Entertainment expressed interest in Heisserer’s script. Shawn Levy of 21 Laps said they had become aware of “Story of Your Life” around 2011 and considered it a powerful work; and when they learned of Heisserer’s script adaptation, started working closely with him, helping him refine the script before they began seeking a director and distribution studio.
One of the directors that 21 Laps approached was Denis Villeneuve. Villeneuve had wanted to make a science fiction film for some time, although he “never found the right thing”. Cohen and Levine, however, introduced Villeneuve to the novella, which the director immediately took to. Heisserer completed a first draft, which Villeneuve and Heisserer reworked into the final script. While Villeneuve went through “hundreds” of possible titles, Arrival was the first one his team of producers and writers had suggested.
Heisserer had made several changes from “Story of Your Life” between writing his original screenplays and the final script, the main one being that the heptapods actually arrived on Earth in a type of first contact situation, as he felt this helped to create the tension and conflict needed for a film. Heisserer said that earlier versions of the script had a different ending: the gift from the heptapods was to have been “blueprints to an interstellar ship, like an ark of sorts”, to enable humanity to help them in 3,000 years. But after the release of Interstellar in 2014, Heisserer and Villeneuve agreed that this would not work, and decided that the heptapods’ gift would be what was “there in front of us … the power of their language”.
The 2016 film stars Amy Adams as Louise Banks, a linguist enlisted by the United States Army to discover how to communicate with extraterrestrial aliens who have arrived on Earth, before tensions lead to war. Jeremy Renner, Forest Whitaker, Michael Stuhlbarg, and Tzi Ma appear in supporting roles.
Novel — Dune is a 1965 epic Science Fiction novel by American author Frank Herbert, originally published as two separate serials in Analog magazine. It is the first installment of the Dune saga. Dune is set in the distant future amidst a feudal interstellar society in which various noble houses control planetary fiefs. It tells the story of young Paul Atreides, whose family accepts the stewardship of the planet Arrakis. While the planet is an inhospitable and sparsely populated desert wasteland, it is the only source of “spice”, a drug that extends life and enhances mental abilities. It is also necessary for space navigation, which requires a kind of multidimensional awareness and foresight that only the drug provides. As Spice can only be produced on Arrakis, control of the planet is a coveted and dangerous undertaking. The story explores the multilayered interactions of politics, religion, ecology, technology, and human emotion, as the factions of the empire confront each other in a struggle for the control of Arrakis and its Spice.
After the novel’s initial success, attempts to adapt Dune as a film began in 1971. A lengthy process of development followed throughout the 1970s, during which Arthur P. Jacobs, Alejandro Jodorowsky, and Ridley Scott unsuccessfully tried to bring their visions to the screen. In 1981, executive producer Dino De Laurentiis hired David Lynch as director. In 1984 an American epic Science Fiction film was released — written and directed by Lynch. The film stars Kyle MacLachlan (in his film debut) as young nobleman Paul Atreides. It was filmed at the Churubusco Studios in Mexico City and included a soundtrack by the rock band Toto, as well as Brian Eno.
The film was a box-office bomb, grossing $30.9 million from a $40 million budget, the largest movie budget of the time, and was negatively reviewed by critics. Upon release, Lynch disowned the final film, stating that pressure from both producers and financiers restrained his artistic control and denied him final cut privilege. At least three versions have been released worldwide. Lynch had his name removed from certain cuts of the film and was credited under pseudonyms. The film has developed a cult following, but opinion varies among fans of the novel and fans of Lynch’s films.
Although the newest interpretation of Dune is going to be separated into two parts, (part 1 released in 2021) the production value and casting choices are unmatched. Though Dune has some big changes between the movie and the book, this film exceeds the success of the first film adaptation and leads viewers to expect an even more climactic second part.
THE SURVIVAL TRILOGY
As storytellers and creators of THE SURVIVAL TRILOGY, our greatest hope is that one day a visionary Filmmaker will recognize the Universal appeal of our Diverse storyline and bring it to life on the Screen for the whole world to see — as a Feature Film Trilogy or TV Mini-Series.