Tuesday, January 10, 2012

The Best the Americans Have to Offer Us, Part TWO: the Movies!

The actors/actresses I left off the list last time because I'm a moron:

Laura Linney, who is enough of a background actress that I wrote "Laura Dern" (also an excellent actress), despite her great performances in Mystic River, Breach, and even Lorenzo's Oil.
Chris Cooper, who quite capably stands in for the type of "menacing heavyweight" performances we would lazily shorthand someone in for, like Gene Hackman or Brian Cox.
Amy Adams, who is on this list despite winning an Academy Award,  deserves to be here because of two thankless roles she played, as the naive teenage nurse in Catch Me If You Can, and Mary the Wet Blanket Girlfriend in the Muppets. Both parts were written by the screenwriters to be as torturously awful for a performer as possible, and she came out looking pretty sharp in both of them. Oh, and apparently she was in some Catholic melodrama or something.

So, if you're keeping track, our hypothetical cast pool looks something like this:

-Sam Rockwell
-Stanley Tucci
-Paul Giamatti
-Jeffrey Donovan
-Summer Glau
-Jason Bateman
-Bruce Campbell
-Amy Acker
-Enver Gjokaj
-Tina Fey
-Kevin Bacon (cameo)
-Jay Harrington
-Harry Lenix
-Willem Dafoe
-Dule Hill
-Laura Linney
-Chris Cooper
-Amy Adams

Man. That is a murderer's row.

So, what projects could we have that would possibly require this caliber of acting? Great Britain found its contemporary author, John le Carre, and built a great film out of his most beloved work. Again, to stay with the "unknown but not forgotten" theme of these blog posts, the great and well-known works of literature are all out, so no Great Gatsby, no As I Lay Dying (thought it would be fun to see this cast do it!), no Song of Solomon, no race-neutral Huck Finn, etc.

What are we good at, in a literary sense, in America? There are a few things that America is good at, but the problem is, many of them are things that other countries are also good at (e.g. video games). So what is America really really good at, and also totally dominant in the world scene on (too many prepositions here)?

-Basketball (pre-1990s)
-War (pre-1970s)
-Interactive Text Fiction
-Franchise restaurants (I swear I'm not ripping off a Neal Stephenson rant here)
-DIY industries
-Log rolling
-Women's Softball
-Marketing movies (note I didn't say "Making movies", but "Marketing movies"...I'll wager there are 2000 kids in Delhi who have seen "Mission Impossible 4" for every American who's actually watched an Indian blockbuster like Endhiran)
-Toilet Paper
-Pharmaceuticals (for reasons that have nothing to do with America and everything to do with American patent law and the insurance-industrial complex)
-Standardized tests
-Young adult fiction (Roald Dahl, by himself, negates America's claim to this category)
-Science fiction....well wait a second here!

So yes, Americans are pretty ridiculously good at Science Fiction (and Fantasy, but I lump them together for convenience's sake, since my literary genres are determined entirely by Barnes and Nobles' shelving practices, e.g. I consider "Teen Paranormal Romance" to be a genre now). For a variety of reasons, America has a rich and deep tradition of having strong science fiction writers, and as Orson Scott Card will be glad to tell you (scroll about halfway down the page), science fiction represents some of the strongest and most innovative storytelling that America has to offer.

But wait! you cry. America doesn't have a monopoly on science fiction!

OK, I say. How many great non-American science fiction authors can you, hypothetical but extremely well-read and non-Anglosphere-centric reader, name, off the top of your head?

Non-American Science Fiction Writers:
-H.G. Wells (War of the Worlds and the Time Machine)
-Jules Verne (20,000 Leagues Under the Sea)
-ARTHUR C CLARKE, the MAN (too many to count)
-Charles Stross (The Atrocity Archives and Accelerando)
-Stanislav Lem, who's like the hipster Arthur C Clarke (and was a better writer, but don't say that too loud). (The Cyberiad)
-J.R.R. Tolkein, who might be the greatest creator of the 20th Century (Lord of the Rings)
-Alan Moore (Watchmen)
-Neil Gaiman (Sandman and numerous short stories)
-Susannah Clarke (Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell)
-Tim Powers (Declare)
-J.K. Rowling (Harry Potter)


Yeah, that's right. Here's America's heavy guns:

-Robert Heinlein
-Isaac Asimov
-Ursula K. LeGuin (Ursula, Isaac, and Bob have written as much, and had as much impact on the genre as the entire above list)
-David Brin (Startide Rising and I hate him, but that's a different story)
-Larry Niven (Ringworld)
-Octavia Butler (Dawn)
-Poul Anderson (Don't remember, but he's EVERYWHERE)
-Frank Herbert (Dune)
-The Game of Thrones Guy (Game of Thrones)
-Robert Jordan (Wheel of Time)
-Michael Flynn (Eifelheim)
-Orson Scott Card (Ender's Game)

Are these too old-school for you? How about some of that "Cyber-punk" or "Alternate History" you young people like to read?

-William Gibson (Neuromancer, the Difference Engine)
-Harry Turtledove (every alternate universe novel you ever read)
-Harlan Ellison (stories that inspired/were ripped off by 50% of the science fiction movies produced by Hollywood)
-Philip K. Dick (the other 50%, or maybe 60%)
-Neal Stephenson (Cryptonomicon, Snow Crash, the Baroque Cycle)
-Bruce Sterling (Distraction, the Difference Engine)
-Cory Doctorow (a bunch of books, which, for respect for his strongly held beliefs about the sanctity of copyright, I won't name)
-Malcolm Gladwell (kidding, guys, seriously)

And that's not even going into the long line of editors and film producers who helped breathe life onto the spark that was science fiction culture in 20th Century America (Rod Sterling, Gene Roddenberry, John W. Cambell). I'm sleepy, and I assume if I had written this post in a more awake state there would be more that I wouldn't be too lazy to list.

The point is, if America is to produce a movie for the hypothetical Movie Olympics (or maybe the Movie World Cup- it's a much more adversarial event), it will have to be a science fiction movie.

What work could we use? There are numerous, but because of the ensemble nature of our cast, we do have certain limitations, and I am also cheating a little by thinking we can do either a two-part movie, a three-hour movie, or an HBO-type miniseries.

That being said, I'm proud to preview the first two of the (extremely biased) selections I made for a hypothetical project pitch! Here they are: (drum roll)

-A miniseries-length adaptation of Frank Herbert's Dune 
-A miniseries-length adaptation of Neal Stephenson's Cryptonomicon

....to be continued!


AJ Arand said...

You forgot...

Foreign Sci-Fi/Fantasy Authors:

- C.S. Lewis (Narnia, Silent Planet Trilogy)


AJ Arand said...

I'll forgive you for George Orwell and Aldous Huxley because they were not strictly science fiction writers (and indeed, their science fiction was in many ways distopian, which might be argued as not being the same genre... then again, see Arthur C. Clarke), but also because I forgot about them until I looked at my bookshelf.

Four legs good, two legs better.