Adaptations of literature and comics often prove to be a difficult undertaking. These five works were considered unfilmable.
On August 5, 2022, the streaming provider Netflix will start “The Sandman”. A 3,000-page mammoth work by comic book author Neil Gaiman (61) serves as a template for the fantasy series. By his own admission, Gaiman put a lot of effort into preventing implementation in the past.
But now, 33 years after the original publication, the author believes that the time has come for an adaptation. As an executive producer, Gaiman personally monitors his work, and the streaming provider Netflix has also provided the budget for a major Hollywood blockbuster for the ten-part first season.
On the occasion of the “Sandman” launch on Netflix, here are five other works that were considered unfilmable for a long time and their adaptations.
A common problem with the supposedly unfilmable templates is that the works are very long, extremely complex and tend to be inaccessible. Filmmakers are often faced with the tricky question: How can the popular material be made into a two-hour film that does justice to the original material and at the same time does not raise a huge question mark in the minds of the cinema audience?
The influential science fiction novel “Dune” by US author Frank Herbert (1920-1986) was considered unfilmable for a long time due to its scope and esoteric fantasy themes – such as the fusion of consciousness. At the same time, film producers longed for an adaptation of the epic Messiah story, without which “Star Wars” would also be unthinkable. In the 1970s, cult director Alejandro Jodorowsky (93, “El Topo”) initially failed to make a film, as can be seen in the 2013 documentary “Jodorowsky’s Dune”.
After a change in film rights, David Lynch (76, “Twin Peaks”) took on the project. However, the producing film studio Universal ordered subsequent cuts to Lynch’s overly long cut version. The public subsequently found the released film incomprehensible, which ironically was precisely due to these cuts. Lynch himself calls “Dune” his worst work.
In 2021, Canadian director Denis Villeneuve (54) took up the subject again. For his “Dune” version, Villeneuve assembled an impressive star ensemble around Timothée Chalamet (26), Zendaya (25), Oscar Isaac (43) and Jason Momoa (43). Villeneuve’s particularly technically outstanding “Dune” adaptation convinced at the box office and was awarded a total of six Oscars out of ten nominations, including for “Best Camera” and “Best Visual Effects”. With “Dune: Part 2” a sequel has been announced for the year 2023, which will conclude the story about Paul Atreides and the desert planet Arrakis.
“Lord of the Rings”
“The Lord of the Rings” by JRR Tolkien (1892-1973) is considered the most important fantasy work of modern times. Bringing Tolkien’s envisioned continent of Middle-earth to the big screen, however, proved difficult for filmmakers. Only the New Zealander Peter Jackson (60) succeeded in realizing Tolkien’s rich, complex work using modern computer technology, such as the motion capture process for the character Gollum. In his native New Zealand, Jackson also found landscapes that became Middle-earth in the imagination of moviegoers.
There were a total of 17 trophies for it at the Oscars, of which the trilogy finale “The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King” alone received eleven, including for the best film of the year. Incidentally, Jackson’s legendary works brought in almost three billion US dollars at the box office and are still formative for modern blockbuster cinema.
In just a few weeks, on September 2, 2022, the series “The Lord of the Rings: The Rings of Power” will start on Amazon Prime Video. The history of “The Lord of the Rings” is told thousands of years before the events of Frodo, Gandalf and Aragorn. With a reported budget of more than one billion US dollars, the fantasy production is the most expensive series of all time.
The comic “Watchmen” by cult author Alan Moore tells an alternative history of the USA in which superheroes won the Vietnam War for the United States and Richard Nixon himself is still in the White House in the 80s. At the same time, “Watchmen” parodies and deconstructs the superhero genre in a similar way to the Amazon series “The Boys”.
After many attempts at filming – including Monty Python member Terry Gilliam (81) as director – Zack Snyder (56, “Man of Steel”) finally brought his version to the cinemas in 2009. Snyder’s “Watchmen” offers an entertaining spectacle that visually resembles the comic book, but at times does not do justice to Moore’s deeper themes. “Watchmen” is still considered one of the better comic book adaptations – and in the years that followed brought the filmmaker several directing positions at Marvel’s big competitor DC.
In 2019, “Watchmen” was then implemented as an HBO show. The miniseries by Damon Lindelof (49, “Lost”) is set as a direct sequel 34 years after the events of the comic. Lindelof deals with current time-critical issues such as racism against blacks in the USA and in particular the horrific massacre in Tulsa in 1921, in which a white mob murdered around 300 people. The series adaptation starring Regina King (51, “Beale Street”) was awarded a total of eleven Emmys.
David Mitchell (53), the author of the novel “Cloud Atlas”, described his science fiction work to the New Yorker as “unfilmable”. The German director Tom Tykwer (57, “Babylon Berlin”) and the Wachowski sisters Lilly (54, “Matrix”) and Lana (57, “Matrix Resurrections”) dared to adapt the tricky novel in 2012, its The plot is spread over several centuries in six interconnected stories. Stars like Tom Hanks (66), Halle Berry (55) and Hugo Weaving (62) each played six different characters.
The ambitious, almost three-hour work was not particularly well received by cinema viewers. The budget of around 150 million US dollars could not be brought in again. The trade press also described “Cloud Atlas” as “boring” and “disappointing” compared to the literary original. Especially costumes and make-up of the actors were often criticized.
Author Bret Easton Ellis (58) published “American Psycho” in 1991, a cross-border novel that ended up on the index in Germany for six years. Ellis himself has also repeatedly described what is probably his best-known work about the psychotic serial killer Patrick Bateman as unfilmable.
The Canadian director Mary Harron (69) dared to try in 2000. Harron turned Ellis’ bitter yuppie satire into a pitch black comedy with plenty of exaggerated violence. For the then 26-year-old Christian Bale (“The Dark Knight”), the film, which was also financially successful, was the big breakthrough as an actor.