I’ve heard it many times, and I’ll bet you have, too. “Wouldn’t it be great if they made (some classic SF novel) into a movie?” I’ve even said it, for books like Robert Heinlein’s Stranger in a Strange Land, Alfred Bester’s The Stars, My Destination, Larry Niven’s Ringworld, or John Varley’s Titan. Then somebody makes the movie, and most of the time it’s a case of “Be careful what you wish for, you just might get it.”
I happen to have re-read the book about a year ago, so I’m fairly familiar with it. This three-part, six-hour adaptation starts out well enough. Aliens arrive, and they are benevolent. They help us stop war and they heal diseases and alleviate human suffering. Some of us put up some token resistance, but it is a case of Arthur C. Clarke’s famous dictum that any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic. The Overlords may as well be gods. The things they can do make our own technology seem about as advanced as chimps cracking nuts with a stone. Religion all but dies out. Science comes to a standstill; what’s the point in trying to understand the universe when the Overlords have a 30,000-year head start on us? Humanity enters into a Golden Age of peace and prosperity. There is a catch (there is always a catch), but it’s nothing horrific like they’re raising us as meat animals. No, they really are helping us move on to the next stage of evolution, which turns out to be some sort of universal consciousness known as the Overmind. But only our children can become a part of it. We, humanity as we know it, are left behind. Very sad, and yet a hell of a lot better than being turned into smoked sausage.
So it’s faithful. Oh, boy, is it faithful. There is only one problem. It is one of the most boring shows I have ever watched. The first episode was slow, but I made allowances because they had been so scrupulous in keeping to Clarke’s story. Sure, there were sub-plots added, characters re-arranged, and certain changes made that were necessary in light of a few things that have happened in the last sixty-plus years. But then we got to the second part, and I have to say the pace went from slow to glacial.
But we hadn’t seen nothing yet. The third episode … well, we moved from a glacial pace to one I can only call geological. Sitting there, I could feel the continents drifting apart, the ocean floor spreading, mountain ranges being pushed up, and then wearing down. South America moved a thousand miles further away from Africa while we watched. I figure Los Angeles slid along the San Andreas Fault to where it’s just west of Juneau by now. In other words, it is slooooooow. And reverent. And awed, and hushed, and slooooooooooooooooow. All accompanied by ominous synthesizer chords like on CSI or Law and Order. Every insomniac should save this show on their TiVo. I guarantee you, five minutes of it will have you sleeping like a baby. What a waste of a good book. What a waste of everything, except talent.