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<i>Cloud Atlas</i>: Five Other Unadaptable Books We’d Like to See As Movies

We've already listed some of the other unlikely book-to-film translations that Cloud Atlas put us in mind of. But seeing what writer/directors Tom Tykwer, Andy Wachowski and Lana Wachowski achieved with this challenging adaptation of David Mitchell's unique novel made us eager for some brave visionary to bring the following five seemingly unadaptable books brought to the screen.


House of Leaves
Author: Mark Z. Danielewski
Thumbnail Synopsis: There's too much going on here to summarize in a single sentence, but the bulk of the book consists of an account of a documentary -- which may or may not exist -- about a family who discovers that their new house may have a mind of its own.
Why It May Be Unadaptable: There are several levels of reality at play in House of Leaves, as the details of the central documentary are being imparted secondhand via the notes of a dead man and read by a tattoo artist with his own personal issues, which are detailed at length in the copious footnotes that run throughout the book. And while it's possible to jettison all that material and turn this into a straightforward found footage haunted house story, those elements are central to the book's power. Besides, even if you get rid of that stuff, you still have the challenging of trying to visualize the phenomena that Danielewski describes on the page, with the house continually expanding, creating an endless series of passageways and mazes inside its walls that drive its explorers mad. It reads brilliantly on the page, but might come across as confusing or, even worse, comical on the big screen.
Who Should Try to Make It: After seeing their killer closing segment in this year's horror anthology, V/H/S, the filmmaking collective Radio Silence seems like they might have the wherewithal to come up with a version of House of Leaves that sticks true to the spirit of the book, if not necessarily the letter.

The Years of Rice and Salt
Author: Kim Stanley Robinson
Thumbnail Synopsis: A centuries-spanning alternate history of Earth that begins with the fascinating question: "What if the Black Plague destroyed all of Europe?"
Why It May Be Unadpatable: First you'd have to decide whether you were going to try and cover as much ground as the novel, which begins in 1405 (or, 783, going by the Islamic calendar, which serves as the standard in this reality) and ends more or less in the present day or confine yourself to only one or two main time periods. While the former approach would give you the breadth that makes the novel so compelling, you'd also have to rush through the various eras to the point where you'd have to sacrifice detail and texture. Sticking to one period, on the other hand, allows you to really immerse the audience in this alternate history. At the same time, that would force you to lose one of the central elements of the book: the idea of reincarnation, with the same two characters meeting again and again over the centuries, both in the real world and the bardo, a Buddhist waystation that resembles purgatory. Making that key creative choice poses the biggest challenge to any potential adaptation.
Who Should Try to Make It: His movies have been maddeningly inconsistent of late, but few directors do large-scale world-building better than Ridley Scott. We'd trust him to create a convincing alternate Earth; just make sure to pair him up with a screenwriter that knows how to craft a third act (i.e., not Damon Lindelof).

Ghostwritten
Author: David Mitchell
Thumbnail Synopsis: Nine loosely connected stories that span the world and escalate to a potentially apocalyptic finale.
Why It's Unadaptable: If you thought Cloud Atlas's six narratives were a lot to juggle, try the nine tales that make up Mitchell's much-acclaimed (and deservedly so) debut novel. The roll call of characters include a financial lawyer in Hong Kong reeling from the end of his marriage, an old woman in China who has lived through that country's tumultuous 20th century history and a late-night radio DJ in New York who has regular conversations with some kind of mysterious, all-powerful entity. And even though they aren't intricately intertwined, all nine stories have to be there -- preferably preserved separately, rather than intercut -- in order for the ending to work its magic.
Who Should Try to Make It: There Will Be Blood and The Master are stunningly intimate character portraits, but we'd love to see Paul Thomas Anderson try painting another Magnolia-sized canvas. Plus Ghostwritten's elements of magical realism bring to mind the rain of frogs that closed out that movie.

1Q84
Author: Haruki Murakami
Thumbnail Synopsis: Against the backdrop of 1984 Tokyo, the lives of a ghostwriter and a woman who can move between realities unexpectedly intertwine.
Why It May Be Unadaptable: Distilling Murakami's 1,000 page, intricately constructed tome to a manageable feature length would be tough, sure, but the more significant challenge posed by IQ84 is resisting the urge to indulge in its weirder flourishes, instead of taking them at face value. In other words, allowing the style to run roughshod over the substance.
Who Should Try to Make It: Rian Johnson's grounded depiction of parallel timelines in Looper makes us think that he could make a suitably realistic, yet still fantasy-tinged version of 1Q84. We'd also love to see what Wong Kar-wai might do with it; his version might be as inscrutable as the book, but man, would the visuals be stunning.

Finnegans Wake
Author: James Joyce
Thumbnail Synopsis: Your guess is as good as ours; it begins with a retelling of an Irish folk ditty about a dead man revived by the allure of alcohol and then moves on to chronicle the dreamlike experiences of an oddball family.
Why It's Unadaptable: You'd have to figure out what it's about at first. And even after that, there's the question of how to preserve its utterly unique language and free-flowing structure that has continue to puzzle literary scholars seven decades after its publication.
Who Should Try to Make It: Unique language and free-flowing structure? Terry Gilliam knows all about that, having turned the similarly unadaptable Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas into a feature film. His version of Finnegans Wake might be unwatchable to 90 percent of moviegoers, but that leave 10 percent who would absolutely adore it.

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