We were watching the previews on a DVD. I wasn’t paying much attention, and then I heard these words: “I know where I came from—but where did all you zombies come from?” I zeroed in on the TV like a coonhound catching the scent of that goddam Rocket from Guardians of the Galaxy. This is one of the most famous lines from one of the most famous short stories in science fiction: Robert A. Heinlein’s “—All You Zombies—”, published in March 1959 in The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction. Could it be?
It could. I immediately experienced two conflicting emotions. Hope, because it could make a hell of a good movie. And dread, because the chances were about 99% that they would fuck it up. I base this on personal experience with some of my own stories, as well as the track record of other classic SF stories transferred to cinema or television.
For the next few days I checked on the IMDb and YouTube for trailers, of which there were several, including one that used Heinlein’s name right up front. Then I noticed one YouTube posting that said it was the entire movie. As I write this, it is still two days until the American release. How could this be up on YT? It clearly shouldn’t be.
But it was. And I surrendered to temptation and did something I’ve never done before. I watched what was clearly a pirated movie. Normally, I don’t have any truck with Pirate Bay or any of the other lowlifes who steal intellectual property, but just this one time … I know, it’s still stealing, and if you look at it long and hard, it’s stealing from Heinlein’s estate. I intend to make up for it by paying to see it in the theater, too.
So now I must say I am stunned … stunned! … to report that this is one of the most faithful adaptations of an SF story I have ever seen. I re-read the short story again so I would know every nuance of it, and scene after scene was filmed almost verbatim. Great chunks of dialog were taken right from the page. Details like what they are drinking in the bar. (Old Underwear!) “I’m My Own Grandpaw” on the jukebox. The young man known as the Unmarried Mother, writing for confession magazines. The story was not updated at all. It takes place in an alternate universe but in the years Heinlein described, from 1945 to 1995. In this universe men are already in space in a big way, and I do mean men. There is a corps of women whose function is to sexually entertain the men who do all the serious work. There was something called the Fizzle Bomber, who may or may not have killed 11,000 people in New York. (Heinlein describes a “Fizzle War,” around 1970 or so, as something the Time Corps prevented. More on that later.)
Most of the story centers around two people in a bar, with one telling a fantastic story to the other. And that’s exactly what the movie is, with flashbacks illustrating the tale as it goes along.
The budget was low, and why shouldn’t it be? The only way to spend a lot of money on this story would be to jazz it up with a lot of phony action and special effects. There are a few simple sets, period clothing and cars, and that’s about it. And, of course, they changed the title. Well, they had to. If they had called it All You Zombies, it would have done two very bad things. One, it would have lured a lot of people in, thinking they’re going to see one more walking dead movie, and then pissed them off. And two, if you’re like me and would rather scrub your eyes out with Comet Cleanser than see another zombie movie, the title would have kept you away.
They made one major change, and one only, and it concerns the Fizzle bomber. And here I have a strange problem. They added one more layer of complexity to this already complex story, and I have no problem with what I saw … but I don’t know exactly what I saw. The sound quality of what I watched was not good, and in the final scene which wraps everything up, the characters were speaking very softly and I missed a lot of dialog. So I think I know how it all played out, but I’m not sure. Another reason why I will see it again.
All in all, I’m much more than satisfied with this movie. I’m amazed.