We wonder if US network AMC can really handle the scope of Kim Stanley Robinson's gargantuan sci-fi cycle...
WARNING: There are some spoilers here regarding the Red Mars book, and possibly the subsequent AMC adaptation.
There are very few epic works of fantasy or science-fiction with enough of a fan-base to warrant a full-blooded, studio-quality trilogy adaptation at the level of The Lord Of The Rings or the Harry Potter books. Millions of fans were ravening for these films years before a producer even looked at their cheque-book regarding the projects. The appeal has to be planetary, not just populist, for such a commitment.
There are numerous classic works that will never receive decent screen treatment because of the uncomfortable logistics of staying faithful on a budget. Charles Dickens' Bleak House, for one: this tale of Chancery suitors caught up in the darkness of empty expectation was adapted by the BBC three times in forty years. Disparate versions which were forced to jettison huge rafts of sub-plot and character; even the radio adaptations were truncated. Hollywood's one attempt to film this Herculean tale was so abbreviated in respect of the source material as to bear only superficial resemblance.
In the 1980s, Stephen King's apocalyptic epic The Stand, a brick of a book at well over a thousand pages, went through the hands of George Romero, John Carpenter and many others, before ending up as a dismal and underfunded TV mini-series in the early 1990s.
Frank Herbert fans lamented what David Lynch jettisoned for his 1984 movie adaptation of Dune, yet complained of the poor production quality of John Harrison's 2000 Hallmark TV adaptation.
This is the permanent conundrum of the epic work - cut to pieces to accommodate cinema schedules or cut to pieces in terms of quality, because TV doesn't have the money to back the writer's vision.
US network AMC announced last year that they are branching out into harder sci-fi than The Prisoner, by bringing the first of Kim Stanley Robinson's 'Mars Trilogy' to the small screen. This is a project that originally rested with James Cameron and - if a little incestuously - it has not entirely escaped the Cameron camp: Cameron's ex-wife Gale Ann Hurd was the next to take on the project, then planned for the Sci-Fi Channel. Now AMC has put Die Hard With A Vengeance writer Jonathan Hensleigh at the helm of Red Mars. Hensleigh directed the Hurd project The Punisher in 2004, and wrote the Hurd-produced Welcome To The Jungle in 2007. The pair were most famously collaborators on Armageddon in 1998.
Armageddon's blatant disregard for scientific accuracy is an ill-omen for a TV adaptation of Robinson's impeccably researched and fascinating epic of Martian colonisation and - later - war. But this isn't a Michael Bay project - who knows what Hensleigh will have in mind for Red Mars? In any case, there are two books left to film if the first adaptation goes well, so it's a more tempting prospect from the point-of-view of syndication than many large-scale literary adaptations.