The Last Sci-Fi Blog: Why the RPG 'Eclipse Phase' Should Become a Movie

The Last Sci-Fi Blog: Why the RPG 'Eclipse Phase' Should Become a Movie

May 24, 2012

The Sci-fi News: A Blade Runner Sequel, Wool, Beyond Apollo and the Main Reason to See Men in Black 3

Is it possible that Ridley Scott is looking back on his long career and is choosing to spend his twilight years revisiting all of his greatest hits, like an aged rock star going on one final tour? Between the Alien prequel Prometheus and the finally confirmed Blade Runner sequel, it certainly feels that way. Anyway, the big news last week was that Hampton Fancher, who wrote the original Blade Runner, has been tapped to write the screenplay for the new film. A few days later, Scott hinted that his return to future Los Angeles would feature a female protagonist in place of Harrison Ford's Decker. In the same interview, he noted that the sequel will take place some time after the original. All of this makes me wonder if Blade Runner 2: Replicant Boogaloo will actually be a direct sequel to the original classic or simply another story in this incredible science fiction world. That's pretty much what Prometheus is, isn't it? A new science fiction story with tenuous connections to an older film that simply takes place in the same universe? This may be the best way to go. We don't need to know what happened to Decker, but a return to the world of Replicants and Blade Runners would be welcome.

Speaking of Scott, he was one of many names to be involved in grabbing the rights to the famously self-published sci-fi series, Wool. Can Scott add "post-apocalyptic science fiction" to his resume before he dies from overworking himself?

Put this on my list of "Books I Haven't Read But Sound Really Cool": Barry Malzberg's 1972 novel Beyond Apollo is getting the big screen treatment courtesy of director Michael Grodener, who has been seeking financing for the project for years. The story deals with an astronaut who returns home with the rest of his crew missing. What happened to them? That's the plot of the book. Which I haven't read. But I will now.

Men in Black 3 has been receiving its fair share of positive reviews, but I knew I was going to see it the moment I laid eyes on this amazing featurette on the aliens designed by make-up genius Rick Baker for the film. Mr. Baker, I bow before you, sir.

Adapt This: Eclipse Phase

The last time someone tried to adapt a Role Playing Game into a movie, we got the disastrous Dungeons & Dragons movie (does anyone other than me remember that thing?). RPGs don't necessarily lend themselves to adaptation. After all, we're not talking about an actual story here: we're talking about a setting and a game system that players inhabit in order to create their own stories on the fly. And to be perfectly honest, the vast majority of RPG setting are generic templates, letting players live in a world that's familiar territory, similar to something that they've loved in countless books and movies.

That is not the case with Eclipse Phase. In fact, Eclipse Phase isn't just a RPG manual...it's one of the most original and exciting works of science fiction in recent years, even if it's essentially a game manual. When I look at the world depicted in Eclipse Phase, I see Ridley Scott. I see James Cameron. I see Arthur C. Clarke and Isaac Asimov. I also see HP Lovecraft, because Eclipse Phase is just as creepy as it is smart.

The universe is set up in a slightly familiar way before it veers off in all kinds of oddball directions. Following World War III, a military-developed artificial intelligence gained sentience and declared war on mankind, sending whatever humans survived scurrying into space and leaving their home planet a machine-dominated, post-apocalyptic wasteland. From there, humanity scattered and formed colonies wherever they could. With so much distance between them and any semblance of a normal life, society changed rapidly and radically. Although colonies on the "inner planets" of Mars and Mercury continues to resemble the previous world (elections in a capitalist system, etc), fringe colonies have gotten, well, weird. Imagine the political, scientific and moralistic ideas of our world, then imagine them twisted, inverted and pushed to the absolute breaking point. In an environment where humanity has been allowed to rewrite every imaginable rule, the new rules have become absolutely terrifying.

This is the kind of world where the concept of humanity has completely changed. Even if your physical body has died, your can program your consciousness into all kind of machines and creatures. Will the gravity of that planet kill you instantly? Transfer your brain to that of a genetically modified ape creature that you built in a lab and enhanced with robot parts. Did your body perish in an explosion while you were on that mission? Don't worry: just build yourself a new (and better) body and program your mind back into it.

With science taking mankind to such dark places, the secrets of the universe slowly come to light…and they're not pretty (the manual has a spoilers section that lets the game master learn the darkest and most disturbing aspects of this universe so he can spring them on the player at the appropriate times). Although Eclipse Phase deals heavily in hard science and science theory, it's very much a horror story.

Can a talented filmmaker take the world of Eclipse Phase and find a great cinematic story to tell here? Surely it's possible. Half of a great sci-fi story is the world where it takes place and in this case, that job has been done with aplomb. If a group of geeks can use the world of Eclipse Phase to weave a compelling tale around the kitchen table, surely Hollywood can do the same.

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