The Life of the Girl in the Hairy Paw

A publicity shot of Fay Wray as Ann Darrow in KING KONGKing Kong’s original squeeze is to be the subject of a documentary, currently being completed by Rick McKay (BROADWAY: THE GOLDEN AGE), titled, FAY WRAY: A LIFE. Fay Wray played Ann Darrow in the original 1933 production, screaming her way to fame as the beautiful blond whose beauty enchants the otherwise brutal ape. The film is in post-production at of Peter Jackson’s Kiwi studio. Jackson remade KING KONG in 2005, with Naomi Watts filling in for Wray, who died in 2004. Footage of Jackson and Watt’s meeting with Wray will appear in the documentary.

Petersen to direct Grays

The official website for author Whitley Streiber has announced that Wolfgang Petersen (THE NEVERENDING STORY, OUTBREAK) has been selected to direct Sony’s film version of Streiber’s novel The Grays. Currently available as a mass-market paperback, the book represents an attempt by the author to combine the two major streams his career has followed. Streiber first gained attention with his revisionist werewolf and vampire novels, Wolfen (1978) and The Hunger(1983), both of which were turned into movies. After an alien abduction experience, Streiber shifted to writing non-fiction, starting with Communion, an account of his close encounter. This, too, became a film, starring Christopher Walken in the Streiber role. The Grays uses the popular conception of aliens (as seen in other accounts of real-life aliens and on THE X-FILES ad infinitum) as the basis for a science fiction tale about benevolent aliens among us, who are paving the way for the rest of their brethren to reach Earth ans pass on their advanced knowledge.

Snyder will Illustrate Man

“Each illustration is a little story. If you watch them, in a few minutes, they tell you a tale. In three hours of looking you could see eighteen or twenty stories acted out right on my body, you could hear voices and think thoughts. It’s all here, just waiting for you to look.” – from The Illustrated Man, by Ray Bradbury

Zack Snyder, hot off the success of 300 and currently prepping a big-screen version of WATCHMEN, has signed on to produce and direct a remake of THE ILLUSTRATED MAN. Alex Tse, who scripted WATCHMEN for Snyder, will adapt the screenplay, based on Ray Bradbury’s celebrated collection of short stories. The previous film version was made in 1969, with Rod Steiger in the title role.
Like Bradbury’s The Martian ChroniclesThe Illustrated Man is an attempt to present an anthology of short stories as if they were a novel; in this case, the linking device is the title character. An unnamed narrator, while on a walking tour of Wisconsin, encounters the Illustrated Man, who is covered with tattoos that seem to come to life at night, telling stories that predict the future. The book contains eighteen tales (not counting the linking segments); the 1969 film adapted only three of these, spending more time on the interaction between the narrator and the Illustrated Man. Although interesting, the film lacked the sort of visual poetry necessary to capture the feeling of Bradbury’s writing; hopefully, the new version will have the magic spark that the original missed.

Invasion of The Body Snatchers – Retrospective Book Review

Jack Finney’s nifty 1954 novel has four screen adaptations to its credit (including the acknowledged 1956 classic), but the original text still stands as a fine work in its own right, worthy of being read by fans of the films and by genre enthusiasts in general. Numerous incidents have never made the transition from page to screen; more important, Finney’s writing brings the story alive in a way that no screen adaptation can ever capture.
The story is set in the 1970s but feels more appropriates to the era in which the novel was actually published. Miles Bennell is a small town doctor who patients begin to believe their family and friends are impostors, even though they act – laugh, talk, and smile – exactly like the originals. Miles suspects they are suffering from some kind of delusion and refers them to the local psychiatrist, but gradually he learns that Mill Valley – a small town above San Francisco – has been invaded by pods from outer space. These pods grow into duplicates of any organic matter in close proximity; when the original falls asleep, the pod steals its memories and takes its place, destroying its predecessor. Miles and his girlfriend Becky fight to expose the menace, but the conspiracy is too big for them. Fortunately, the pods give up and leave anyway; Miles theorizes that he and Becky were not alone: other people in other places fought, too, and the pods eventually decided to abandon the inhospitable planet Earth in favor of easier pickings. Read More

JURASSIC PARK: Michael Crichton on Adapting his Novel to the Screen

The hungry T-Rex takes a bit out of the tour.
The hungry T-Rex shifts the paradigm a bit.

“Paradigm” was just another word for a model, but as scientists used it, the term meant something more, a world view. A larger way of seeing the world. Paradigm shifts were said to occur whenever science made a major change in its view of the world.
-Michael Crichton, JURASSIC PARK

In his novel Jurassic Park, Michael Crichton comes close – or so it would seem to a careless reader – to reworking the standard science fiction plot of portraying the havoc that erupts when scientists meddle in things they were not meant to experiment with. However, instead of telling us that there are some things man was not meant to know, JURASSIC PARK tells us there are things we cannot know. The plot of the disaster which engulfs the park is an illustration of the book’s theme: that there are limits to our ability to under¬stand and control the world and that science, whose premise is that we can understand and control everything, is an out¬dated system that needs to be replaced by a new paradigm.
Of course, that’s not what’s going to draw audiences to theatres this summer. People will come because they want to see dinosaurs roaring and rampaging across the big screen. And as a matter of fact, Crichton originally conceived his dinosaur-cloning story as a screenplay, minus the thematic subtext. “I had become interested in the notion of obtaining dinosaur DNA and cloning a dinosaur in 1983,” he recalled of his initial effort. “The script didn’t work, and I just waited to see if I could ever figure out how to make it work. It took quite a few years.
“It was a very different story,” said Crichton of the original script. “It was about the person who did the cloning, operating alone and in secret. It just wasn’t satisfactory. The real conclusion for me was that what you really wanted in a story like this was to have a sort of natural environment in which people and dinosaurs could be together. You wanted the thing that never happened in history: people in the forest and swamps at the same time as dinosaurs. Once that notion began to dictate how the story would proceed, then everything else fell into place, because there are certain things that I wanted to avoid, like the dinosaurs in New York City – that’s been done.”
Working with his new slant on the story, Crichton opted to write a novel. “I didn’t revise the script,” he said. “By the time I got around to doing it, there were other considerations. The most important is that it wasn’t clear that anyone would ever make this story into a movie, because it would be very expensive. So one way to get the story done was to write a book. I could do that.”
Despite the story’s origins as a screenplay, the novel ex¬pounds on its thematic material in depth, mostly through the character of Ian Malcolm, played by Jeff Goldblum in the film, a mathematician whose eponymous theory “the Malcolm Effect” predicts the failure of the park. Of course, this ma¬terial had to be condensed or deleted when the story came full circle to being a script again. “I feel very strongly that books should be the best books they can be, and you should not worry about what the movie will do,” Crichton said of his uncinematic approach, which makes the novel stand up as a work in its own right rather than a stepping stone to a film deal. “In movies, a little bit of that kind of dialogue goes a long way. A movie like JURASSIC PARK is not the format to have extended discussions on the scientific paradigm.”
Crichton did several initial screenplay drafts for Spielberg, retaining the basics of his novel in condensed form. “I think everyone’s feeling was they liked the book in its overall shape and structure, and they wanted to keep that. So the question was how to get it on film since there are some parts – but not a tremendous number of parts – where it’s clear that you can just lift it out and the structure remains. It was a question of paring down and trying to keep things from the original, simplifying.”
Further describing the adaptation process, Crichton went on to note that, “It’s a fairly long book, and the script can only have somewhere between 10 and 20 percent of the content. So what you’re really trying to do is make a sort of short story that reproduces the quality of the novel and has all the big scenes retained and has the logical flow that appears in the much longer and more extended argument.
“A similar issue has to do with what you call `visceral things,”‘ said the author-adapter. “You can have gory descriptions in a book, because everyone is their own projectionist. I’ve al¬ways found it unwise to do that in a movie, because it throws you out of the movie. As soon as you see guts, you immediately think, `Where did they get them? How did they do it?’ You do not believe for a moment that that’s actually happening. Since I see it as an insoluble problem to present viscera, the movie wisely doesn’t do that. I also think the explicitness of the violence serves a different purpose [in the book]. You don’t have certain advantages a movie has, so in a way the violence is a way to say, `These are real dinosaurs, and take them seriously, 0 Reader.’ In the movie, if they look wonderful, then you take them seriously; you don’t have to see them tear people open. Your decision about taking them seriously is based on other things, so [graphic violence is] unnecessary.
In the adapting process, Crichton was forced to drop several scenes he would like to have retained, but his previous experience as a screenwriter taught him to be philosophical about the process. Noted Crichton, “Scenes went for all kinds of reasons: budget reasons, practical reasons, in the sense that they were difficult to do; they went out of the belief that they were repetitive in some way. But I think the primary thing that drives something like this is budget. You have to stop somewhere and where you stop, people will say, `Oh, that was my favorite scene and it’s not in.”‘


Although authors sometimes adapt their own novels to the screen in order to try to protect their work from hampering filmmakers, this was not Crichton’s intention; in fact, he did not initially intend to do the adaptation himself. “I didn’t have it in my mind to do the script, but Steven said, `We really need somebody to pare this thing down into some kind of manageable shape so we know what to build and it has to happen fast.’ I said, “I do have the advantage of having tried many versions of this, so I know what works; I’ll whack it down. Then when you want to do your character polishes, get somebody else.’ I really wasn’t able to stay with the project for three years; I had other things to do. I really didn’t want to do the script; I had a lot of confi¬dence in Spielberg.
“There are disadvantages to having the original writer,” continued Crichton. “People think writers fall in love with their own words. I don’t have any sense of that at all. What’s difficult for me is that in doing a story like this, you do several drafts which change the story dramatically from one to another – at least that was what happened in this book. So you’ve rethought it several times; now you have to rethink it again for a movie, and it’s just hard to re¬think it too many times. It’s hard to take the same elements, toss them up in the air and re¬arrange them again and again and again.”
Crichton is confident that those elements have been re¬arranged into a satisfactory order. “I think it’s going to be a pretty amazing movie,” he suggested enthusiastically. “I think it’s going to have stuff in it that people will be floored by – they are not going to believe what they see. That’s always nice.”

Copyright 1993 by Steve Biodrowski. This article orignally appeared in Cinefantastique Volume 24 Number 2 August 1993.