A while back, my colleague Bob Rehak argued that the Harry Potter books appear over time to have been written with an increasing consciousness of their translation to digital special effects.
This is one of the big underlying differences between the way that the original Star Wars films and the Lord of the Rings films hit both geek and popular consciousness. The first Star Wars took the kinds of effects that we’d seen in films like Silent Running and repurposed them to an act of world creation. But I remember when I was a teenager in 1977 how my friends and I all agreed that you couldn’t do a story like Lord of the Rings with this effects technology, no matter how much money you had. We knew it would look cheesy, nothing like what we could see in our minds or even what we saw in the illustrative work of the Hildebrandts or others.
When Bakshi said it could only be done as a cartoon, we agreed. And then Bakshi went and did that goddamn horrible rotoscoping, not to mention making a hash out of the screeplay. I remember my pediatrician asking me in confusion what the hell was going on in that film, which he went to see what all the fuss about this Tolkien guy was.
This is why the Jackson Lord of the Rings was really the killer ap of digital special effects. It didn’t just do one amazing thing, like Terminator 2, it represented a narrative that most people had previously judged unrepresentable in the medium of live-action motion pictures. Lord of the Rings was the Brunelleschi architectural drawings of the new millennium.
So here’s the challenge: what’s still unrepresentable in speculative or fantastic fictions? I can think of a few isolated images or characters that I think are going to pose problems. For example, I think Aslan is going to get harder and harder to get right as the Narnia films go along, because Lewis insists that he becomes more and more ineffable, more and more variable in his presentation. He can’t just be a lion with Liam Neeson’s voice in some of the later books. Proginoskes in A Wind in the Door strikes me as being equally difficult to get right considering how strongly L’Engle insists on impressionistic, felt experiences of his presence and appearance.
I can think of speculative or fantastic fictions that would be hard to represent because of their narrative structure or the scale of the story. (Though the attraction of filmmakers to Phillip K. Dick’s work shows that you could overestimate this issue.) Vernor Vinge’s A Fire Upon the Deep would present a storytelling challenge that effects couldn’t simply surmount, for example.
Any suggestions of fictions that you think digital effects couldn’t surmount?