Yes, that’s what I’ve recently heard (or, more accurately, heard a while back, forgot when the news bore no fruit, and then heard again recently with renewed momentum). As someone who counts Dan Simmons’s Hyperion Cantos among his favorite books, I meet this news with a mix of excitement and dread…but frankly a lot more of the latter.
Let me step back a moment. I first read Hyperion in college when a friend passed it on to me, mentioning his awe of the story (and also, frankly, just how damned cool the concept of the Shrike was). I was soon reading this Hugo Award-winning sci-fi novel, eagerly sifting through the pages and searching for not only what would happen next, but also what had happened previously and what the hell was happening NOW. (It’s quite an impressive feat when a writer can give you just enough to fuel your hunger for more information without making you feel completely lost.) What the heck IS the Shrike? Who sent the Time Tombs back? What is the TechnoCore up to? Where in the bloody @#%&*@! did Het Masteen go?! Pausing only to beat my book-recommending friend over the head with same upon reaching the abrupt-yet-tantalizing ending of Hyperion (How DARE he not warn me?!), I was swiftly continuing to devour the sequel (more continuation, really), The Fall of Hyperion.
A great deal of what amazed me about the book (and the thing that still inspires me as a writer to this day) is the masterful way Simmons weaves the myriad of plot and character threads together so cohesively. The story is epic, and keeping it all straight as a reader–and I say this in the best way possible–requires a fair bit of focus. Keeping it all straight as the author must have been an intense task. I would later recommend the book to friends and then, as they related to me their own reading experience, I’d find myself frustrated for not being able to completely recall the part of the book they were experiencing at the time due to its complexity and the years that had past since I had read it myself.
It’s this complexity that fills me with dread. They’re supposed to be making a SINGLE movie out of both Hyperion and The Fall of Hyperion, and I just don’t see how that’s going to be possible without straining a good deal of the complexity out. Obviously this is the problem with translating any book to the screen. It’s not impossible, if done correctly, but the likelihood that it WILL be done correctly is not (to my admittedly cynical thinking), a large one.
The usual perils a film–especially a science fiction film–must go through in the process of production as executives attempt to dumb it down (“viewers are morons”) are bad enough. (Apparently the humans-in-vats idea of The Matrix was originally conceived of as a big neural network for the computers on which to exist rather than to just use the human body as a battery, but this was changed because execs didn’t think people would get the idea. Unfortunately the battery thing makes no sense. …Then again, a number of other things about those movies made no sense, but that’s a topic for another day.) Hyperion’s labyrinthine (pun intended) complexity necessitates pouring a gallon jug into a drinking glass. How much can be cut for time without making a mere skeleton of what remains? The idea of those with no exposure to the book seeing the movie and going either “I don’t get it” or “This is supposed to be a masterpiece?” frankly bothers me. Remind me to elaborate on that general concept in another blog.
Even splitting it into two films doesn’t seem workable. Granted, this would certainly give the story more room, but I just don’t see a studio signing off on two films when the first one, really, doesn’t end so much as it stops. Lord of the Rings and Harry Potter had the benefit of having such a gigantic audience already familiar with those books that it’s less of a risk. Hyperion, while spectacular, just doesn’t have quite the built-in audience (at least that’s my impression; I’ve done absolutely zero research in making that assertion). Two films would be great, but exceedingly unlikely, especially as they’ve already announced it as one.
Now like I said, it’s not that it CAN’T be done, but it would seem to be a daunting task. Just ask David Lynch why his name isn’t on the theatrical print of Dune. Now there’s another epic sci-fi novel that was done MUCH better in a mini-series format. (Yes, I know, there are those of you who think the mini-series has its problems, but the general consensus seems to be that it’s quite well done, and certainly an improvement over what was released in theaters in 1984…even if Sting is sorely missing.) 😉 I would love to see Hyperion/The Fall of Hyperion done as a mini-series and given enough time to develop. Even the mini-series format isn’t without it’s development dangers (just ask Ursula K. Le Guin), but it’s better than a feature film, at least from a storyteller’s point of view. On the other hand, I suppose I can’t pine for a mini-series when they’ve already announced it as a feature film, so I suppose all this is moot anyway.
So that’s what’s got me skeptical about the whole idea. Of course, it’s entirely possible it’ll be sunk into Development Hell anyway and will never see the light of day. I suppose in Hyperion’s case I’d rather see no film than a poorly done film, but there’s little I can do about it but sit and wait…and possibly reread the books again.
“And that’s all I have to say about that.”
Michael G. Munz