A couple of years back I went on a classic sci-fi film kick. Most of the movies I watched were made in the 70’s and 80’s, with a few newer or older ones thrown in. The more I watched, the more I began to realize that almost all of these films were based on books or short stories, many of which are no longer commonly read (compare Logan’s Run’s 3,492 ratings on Goodreads to Dune’s 315,799). Moreover, some of the inspirations for these films were works I hadn’t even heard of. So here’s a quick summary of some favourite sci-fi classics based on books; those I’ve read, those I haven’t read, and two cult classics so bizarre that I really wish they were based on novels.
The Ones I’ve Read
The most obvious choice in the sci-fi classic category, Blade Runner was loosely based on Philip K. Dick’s Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep. Basically, they left in everything that would make it an amazing sci-fi/action flick, and left out all of Dick’s slightly more philosophical and head-scratcher details. I’d rate both the film and the book as amazing, but honestly, down to the movie’s total lack of the titular electric sheep, they’re almost nothing alike.
The second of three adaptations of Richard Matheson’s I Am Legend (the first being 1964’s The Last Man on Earth and the third being the more recent Will Smith feature), The Omega Man is enjoyable not because it’s any closer to matching Matheson’s work than the Smith film is (it really isn’t), but mainly for its outstanding kitschy qualities when viewed by a 2010’s audience.
Again, not a very faithful re-imagining, but there’s something charming about this 1962 adaptation. As in many older sci-fi films with monster baddies, it’s hard to take the triffids too seriously on screen. The book, on the other hand, does an excellent job of suggesting how society might unravel were the majority of the population to lose their sight…and then be attacked by carnivorous plants. Part of me has always wanted to re-read John Wyndham’s Day of the Triffids and Blindness by José Saramago back-to-back.
Please don’t watch the film adaptation of Dune. Even if you love David Lynch. Even if you love Kyle MacLachlan. Even if you love Sting. Please just…don’t. Instead, maybe start reading Herbert’s novel a second time.
The Ones I Haven’t Read
The second film in my list to feature Charlton Heston, Planet of the Apes disturbed me greatly as a child (mainly because of the taxidermy and lobotomy scenes), but I only recently realized the film was based on a book by French novelist Pierre Boulle. And, sorry Charlie, the book sounds way better.
Heston returns again in Soylent Green, loosely based on Harry Harrison’s Make Room! Make Room!. The biggest apparent difference between the two **spoilers** being a lack of cannibalism in Harrison’s original. I don’t know about you, but without “It’s People!!!” I just don’t know if I want to read it.
For some reason I really loved the film of Logan’s Run. As with some of the other 70’s sci-fi films, I think part of the appeal lies in that decades’ aesthetic which, when viewed now, has some strange ability to up a movie’s cult appeal. Although I haven’t read William F. Nolan and George Clayton Johnson’s original novel, I definitely would.
I pretty much had to follow Logan’s Run with this one. Although they have substantial differences, they’re also rather two-of-a-kind — dystopian films mostly about people trying to evade violent death at the hands of their pursuers. Based on the book of the same name, written by Stephen King under the pseudonym Richard Bachman, The Running Man features Arnold Schwarzenegger at his Predator and Total Recall-era best. That is to say, a little bit ridiculous and a lotta bit action. I’ve never read any of King’s “Bachman Books,” but, after seeing this, I would.
The Ones I Wish I Could Read
Many people I know grew up watching Krull, but I only saw it for the first time recently. A prophecy, a great evil, magicians, enchanters, a crystal spider and fire mares…if I’d come across a book with this plot when I was twelve, it would have been a dream come true. Michael Ende’s The Neverending Story probably comes the closest.
This is one of those rare films where when you watch it all you can think afterwards is “What just happened to me.” Nothing in it makes any real sense (in particular Sean Connery’s wardrobe is a puzzler), but I would have loved to have seen what kind of novel would inspire such a creation.