Want the good news first, or the bad news?
On Tuesday night, the FX cable channel will air my “second movie”... and one that makes Costner’s adaptation of The Postman look like Casablanca.
I am talking about the 2003 B-classic The Core -- about a crew of brave aesthenonauts who board a new style of submersible and dive through solid rock down to the superheated belly of our world, in order to set off a few well-placed bombs and restart the circulation of Earth’s core. (Kind of like using a cap pistol to budge an aircraft carrier, but ah well.)
Yipes! And yes, it really is that bad. Alas, though, it gets worse. For the producers and director blatantly ripped off two much better books, either of which would have made terrific films. And maybe someday they will! Because The difference in quality is so great that I doubt the well is poisoned at all.
What two novels are those?
Well, first, a comment on how Hollywood steals from authors, nowadays. What they do, in order to evade legal action, is take a Chinese Restaurant approach. Grab a little from column A and some more from column B and so on. Spread it around.
Hence, my friend Paul Preuss -- author of a wonderful book titled CORE -- has more to complain about than I do! Not only is the title thing pretty glaring, but the whole premise -- intervening to reverse a slowdown in the deep convention currents driving Earth’s protective magnetic field -- is a direct “borrowing” from his vision. Of course, Paul deals with this problem in his book by offering something remotely plausible, a deep drilling project that does not try to put human beings down where the pressures and temperatures turn steel into the consistency of boiling pudding! Yes, in film you must put characters in jeopardy. But there are better ways to do that. Better than... well, just watch, Tuesday night.
Oh, it goes on. Both Paul’s novel and the movie screenplay have as subplots the military use of earthquakes as weapons; in both, spies for the military are part of the drilling operations. (In both, the spies are even of Slavic origin!) This strains coincidence. The entire sequence of a dive into a deep trench in the Western Pacific, including underwater earthquakes, whale sightings, etc., was taken from the novel in a way that cannot plausibly have had a common, independent origin.
So why am I calling this my “second movie”?
Just watch, while remembering your last reading of my novel Earth. Recall the female shuttle pilot, struggling to save her spacecraft after it is damaged by a wave of something emanating from the Earth’s core? Also overlapping is the shuttle pilot's subsequent role as the co-protagonist, co-survivor, and love interest of the male scientist lead.
My novel Earth partly involves the unprecedented and innovative idea of interacting with the planet on the level of software. In publicity for The Core – though not in the released version of the film – a character relates that he is "going to computer-hack the Earth". Further, in the Preuss novel, the initial calamity was natural. In the Brin novel, and in the movie The Core, catastrophe was triggered by a human-made object dropped deep into the Earth, requiring human intervention to correct and eliminate the first cause. Previews of the movie tell of a mission to eliminate the deep manmade object causing disaster on the surface.
Other overlaps with Earth include the theme, at the end of both the novel and the movie, of fighting the fallacy of government secrecy by releasing all information onto the internet. And... oh, the list goes on and on.
Fortunately, Earth is so full of great stuff (ahem) that this ankle-biting won’t damage its genuine film prospects, over the long haul. (Who can beat the image of several good and evil powers fencing each other with gravity lasers within the Earth itself, blasting whole city blocks into space! Makes those Jedi light sabers look like harmless pinking shears!)
Why am I laying all this out right now? Well, I suppose I’m doing it in part to distance myself from the bad bits of the film you’re about to watch, and to wax philosophical about what kind of minds would throw away great dramatic elements in order to turn a silk purse into a sow’s ear.
On the other hand, one grows a thick skin, a capacity to shrug. Hell, I grew up in Hollywood. You gotta be a realist.
I suppose I’m telling all this because - all told - it’s good publicity even to have been ripped off even to make an awful film. In Hollywood, if it is widely known that you are the kind of guy with ideas worth stealing, others in town will muse that you also have ideas worth buying. And indeed, I can tell you that a major studio recently purchased a nice option on one of my other books, which a top screenwriter is currently adapting! I cannot say any more. But hope springs eternal. There is a chance that justice and good art may prevail.
Want irony? I’ve always considered myself to be a team player, not a prima donna -- at least about movie adaptations. After snubbing me at the beginning (a Hollywood tradition that I did not take personally), Costner’s folks expressed delighted surprise when I backed the film and helped in all sorts of ways.
See an article on my website about my personal response to Costner's movie adaptation of The Postman. And still, I defend it, to this day, as a flawed and slightly dumb work, that is nevertheless visually stunning, rambunctious, hugely unabashed and as bighearted as all outdoors. The Postman has grown on people over the years. (See my next posting for more about this.)
But that won’t happen with The Core. All I can do is milk this doozy for all the sympathy that I can get.... and let’s all hope for better things in years to come.