Tuesday, October 30, 2012

Robert Heinlein's Friday - Probably Not Coming to a Theater Near You

io9 has just posted a list of "Ten Science Fiction Novels That Will Definitely Never Be Movies." Robert Heinlein's novel Friday made the #1 spot - and I'm pleased to note that there's a link to my 2006 article about the book, which has probably led to a record number of eyeballs looking at this blog at once, and certainly that posting (which originally ran in a peer-reviewed academic journal).

I suppose the fact that the words encompassed within the hyperlink happened to include "group marriage" was a factor.

At any rate, I found myself considering the film's likelihood of ever becoming a movie. As the blog suggests in its comment, the story's abundance of sex, which Friday has quite casually, with several men and women, is a complicating matter. On the whole Hollywood is rather more reticent than it used to be about depicting casual sex, especially where this is construed as pleasurable or fanservice-y, and is certainly unlikely to insert it into such things as feature action films, and certainly big-budget science fiction films. (Roger Vadim, who actually did feature casual sex in a science fiction film - the cult classic Barbarella - once remarked that "Hollywood is sometimes licentious, but always puritanical."1 So it remains today.)

It sometimes seems as if Hollywood is less bothered by sexually adventurous women than sexually adventurous men (James Bond had to clean up his act while Sex and the City was just taking off), but this sort of thing was clearly a problem for comparable material in the not-too-distant past. The 1998 TV movie Chameleon (a pilot for a TV series that never got made for the now-defunct United Paramount Network) had the titular character - like Friday, a sexy and sexual genetically engineered covert operative - hopping beds in its first half (mostly in the line of duty), and then giving this up as she became more self-aware, less an instrument of her employers and more her own person. She was not seen having sex again in that film, or the two sequels (1999's Chameleon II: Death Match and 2000's Chameleon 3: Dark Angel) which followed it. On the TV series Dark Angel the feline component in the genetic code of the Friday-like Max caused her to periodically go into heat, but the writers handled the material very carefully, keeping her out of the sorts of adventures and misadventures to which this could easily have led (though I imagine some of the fan fiction writers must have been less inhibited about exploring that side of her).

If anything, I imagine the studios to be more anxious about such matters today, and that is all without considering the story's handling of Friday's rape by enemy agents during an interrogation, which has understandably disturbed and offended many a reader.

One might also add to the list of problems the looseness of the story, the highly personal nature of the plot, the elaborate world-building required to faithfully render his version of Earth, the crowding of the tale with Friday's views on life, the universe and everything (all especially difficult challenges for anyone trying to build this into the kind of science fiction film that would sell enough tickets to cover the cost of a suitable budget). Consequently, it seems that too much would have to be cut out, and too much added, to turn it into a workable film - too much to seem worth the effort. All that said, I don't know that I would have come up with the same top ten, but I'm hardly surprised to see Friday on it.

1. The remark appears in his first autobiography, 1975's Memoirs of the Devil. Incidentally, this has likely been a stumbling block for that Barbarella remake long in development hell.

New and Noteworthy (Unfilmable SF Movies, Spy Movies, Futurism)
New in Print . . . (The Many Lives and Deaths of James Bond)


Miriam Boland said...

It looks like Friday has come to a theatre quite near me - in the form of the film LUCY!

Nader said...

Thanks for writing Ms. Boland.

Haven't seen Lucy yet, but I'll keep the comparison in mind for when I do.

capnsid said...

The low budget 1987 sci-fi film Star Quest: Beyond The Rising Moon, re-edited and added to a few years ago as Outerworld, is based somewhat on Friday. Many plot and character points, as well as a name or two are direct rip offs, as well as several action sequences. Worth checking out!

Nader said...

I hadn't heard about that one, but I am definitely curious.

Thanks for the mention capnsid.

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