May 31, 2010

Interview: Vincenzo Natali Explains How to Crack 'Neuromancer', 'Snow Crash' and 'High Rise'

Last week Cinematical was given the opportunity to talk quite extensively to director Vincenzo Natali about his upcoming creature feature, Splice. We'll be posting that discussion next week ahead of the film's release on June 4th, but in the mean time we wanted to share all of the non-Splice projects Natali talked about. His next project is not currently locked down, but we've known for a few weeks now that the Canadian director is keenly interested in two adaptations of sci-fi books.

The first is Neuromancer, William Gibson's monumentally influential cyberpunk tome from 1984. It's one of the most important science fiction novels of the last quarter-century, I think, so I was particularly interested to hear how he would be bringing it to the big screen. I was also curious as to why he opted for Neuromancer over a similarly classic cyberpunk novel like Neal Stephenson's Snow Crash. I was pleasantly surprised, then, when he told me had recently been talking about a Snow Crash film adaptation and why he doesn't think it's a good fit for the format.

The second novel is J.G. Ballard's High Rise, a story about a self-contained superstructure in the near future that devolves into chaos when its manufactured society begins to crumble. Natali has actually been working on the script for the film for years, but sadly he feels Hollywood is just too afraid of non-formula stories to make the film. Hopefully that changes sooner rather than later, as I feel Natali is one of the most fascinating science fiction filmmakers working today.

Cinematical: You're attached to several projects right now, but I would like to talk about two of those films specifically; Neuromancer and High Rise. I know the Neuromancer attachment was announced a bit prematurely, but have those talks gone anywhere since then?

Natali: It's not signed and sealed, but I'm pretty sure that's moving forward. I'm really excited about it, it's going to happen because I desperately want it to happen. I feel so fortunate to have the opportunity to try and make that film because I think it could be great.

Cinematical: I think you're a perfect match for the material.

Natali: Oh, well thank you. There's not a lot of stuff out there like that and it's very hard to make original stuff. In some degree I've almost given up at this stage trying to get an original movie – a movie based on an original script – made because that is just not how the system works anymore. So if I am going to adapt something, it should be something like Neuromancer, which I think is such a fascinating book. Even though it's 25 years old, I think it's still ahead of the curve.

Cinematical: What do you think is the key to cracking it for the big screen?

Natali: I think it always comes down to character. I think it's about understanding who Case is and getting his story down. I've read other drafts of the script and they've had good things in them, but they never seem to hold together. And I think part of the problem, and I believe William Gibson would agree with this, but the ending is, shall we say... somewhat ambiguous and not that well defined. In thinking about how I wanted to make the movie version of that book work, I had to start with the end, figure that out first and work backwards from there.

My take on it really is a story of redemption. Case, as a classic noir hero in a sense, is someone who at first appears to be completely in it for himself. He plumbs the depths of the cybernetic underworld and then comes out and reveals that there is more to him than we first thought. It all starts with him.

But I also think you can be quite faithful to the book. I think the movie can and should have a kind of literary structure to it, it shouldn't be a traditional film structure. I think we can have moments where we go into the past and digress. I'm sure one of the issues other writers have faced in writing the adaptation is that there's so much detail that you can get lost in it. I think you have to hone it down a little bit but also allow yourself to flashback to the Screaming Fist or tell Molly's story; just have a chapter in the movie that goes into the past. I think audiences are more than sophisticated enough to handle that.

That actually excites me, I like the idea of having it being a science fiction film but also having more of a highbrow structure to it.

Cinematical: Why Neuromancer over other staples of that niche, like Snow Crash? This is a great time for me to make my personal plea to you to make both a Neuromancer and Snow Crash films.

Natali: I had a discussion about Snow Crash recently, actually. I'll be very honest, though, I think it should be a miniseries. I don't know how you make Snow Crash into a commercial movie.

Cinematical: It'd be tough.

Natali: It would be very tough. I know they're trying to do it, maybe they'll succeed, but that book is so tonally all over the place. I think Neuromancer is much easier, to be honest, because it's more consistent. I think it's easier to define.

I do see Snow Crash working as a miniseries because then you could let it be the book. You could have this crazy sort of Hong Kong style action and still have this historical exploration of how binary code was created and contain all those kinds of things. I think you would be hard pressed to do that in a two-hour movie.

Cinematical: Fair enough, but a boy can dream. As for High Rise, I know you haven't signed yet but have been working on it for years. Do you know which film will be first?

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