"Robopocalypse is, I think, scheduled to shoot in the spring and I am very, very excited for the world to see what Mr. Spielberg has been cooking up. It's exciting to see him back in epic science-fiction mode. I think people are going to be blown away, so I'm really excited for that to come out. "
That's what screenwriter Drew Goddard told us last September. Too bad the world may never see a sci-fi action movie scripted by the mind behind The Cabin in the Woods and directed by Steven Spielberg: The Hollywood Reporter has cited a representative at DreamWorks as saying the production has been put on an indefinite hold. And, unfortunately for Goddard, the studio kind of threw him under the bus in the process, stating the movie was "too important and the script is not ready, and it's too expensive to produce. It's back to the drawing board to see what is possible."
But you know what? That's fine. As much as the world is overdue for Spielberg to return to "epic science fiction mode," I'm glad it's not going to be with Robopocalypse. I'm sure Goddard had a lot of fun with the script and it would have had plenty of grand, elaborate set pieces, but unfortunately Daniel H. Wilson's book that it's based on just isn't very good. Cool ideas, yes. A handful of striking action scenes, yes. But it's messy storytelling and ultimately doesn't amount to anything other than "humans good, robots bad." And at the end of the day, that's not significantly different than Spielberg's War of the Worlds. All he'd be doing is swapping aliens for robots.
What Spielberg needs to do next is something new, something big, and something that's going to reenergize the 66-year-old director. And that's where these books come into play.
The Swarm - Like Robopocalypse, Frank Schatzing's The Swarm is not a very well-written book. And like Robopocalypse, it's about a global uprising that threatens mankind's rule on this planet. Only in this case, it's a slightly more original premise than robots bad, humans good. It involves a mysterious swarm that appears in the ocean at the same time the planet's marine life starts getting very aggressive. It would hardly be my first choice for a Spielberg film, but if he insists on making a popcorn movie about man vs. a faceless, collective enemy, it's got the potential.
The Mark Inside - Spielberg's on a bit of a period piece kick for the past five films, and if he's compelled to keep the streak going, this is as fine a way as any to do it. Set in the 1920s, Amy Reading's The Mark Inside tells the true story of a Texas rancher who lost a fortune to con men. He then dedicated his life to tracking the five men who swindled him across the United States and bringing them each to justice. Only to do so he eventually had to become a con man himself. The book also serves as a history lesson about the birth of the confidence man in early 20th century America, but it's the cattle rancher's story that deserves to be told on the big screen. It's got more action in it than you'd expect, and the psychological exploration of swindlers and the foolish pursuit of the American dream is more than a little relevant to 2013.
The Postmortal - If Spielberg's got a sci-fi itch to scratch but DreamWorks is worried about big budgets, someone needs to get him a copy of Drew Magary's The Postmortal. It's about a world in which a cure for aging has been discovered, but instead of that turning the world into an ageless utopia, Magary's story treats immortality like it's a plague. It all follows one immortal man's life as he drifts through decades and bears witness to how mankind changes when there's a cure for dying of natural causes. It's very funny, very smart, and paints a sci-fi scenario unlike any you've seen before.
Pirate Latitudes - It's not sci-fi by any stretch, but I would love to see Spielberg adapt Michael Crichton's final adventure novel. He was of course attached to the project right after the Jurassic Park author passed away, but there hasn't been any signs of development on it since then. He's never done a pirate movie (Hook doesn't count), so it's new territory for him to explore. Most importantly it's not a Pirates of the Caribbean wannabe. The novel's more a classic tale about bounties, treasures and savage battles on the high seas. It'd be back to basics, sure, but at this stage in his career, that might actually be a great idea.
The Forever War - Ridley Scott's been attached to direct this adaptation of Joe Haldeman's incredible sci-fi novel for a few years now, and he even hired a new writer at the end of November, but that doesn't mean he's the best man for the job. Scott's a damned good choice, yes, but Spielberg's even better. The war aspect is familiar enough territory for Spielberg, but the intergalactic space travel, time dilation, and journey far into the future all offer up new sci-fi vistas he's never worked in before.
The Alchemy of Air: A Jewish Genius, a Doomed Tycoon, and the Scientific Discovery That Fed the World but Fueled the Rise of Hitler - Just look at that full title. It's like a roll call of Steven Spielberg keywords. And not only do those ingredients make for a helluva book, it's also a helluva true story about two men who devised an industrial scale process to turn airborne nitrogen into ammonia, and in doing so they changed the world in massive, irreparable ways. The inconceivable twists that befall both men's lives are as mindblowing as the miracle of science they pulled off, and it's thrilling, tragic and incredibly important all at the same time. It would be an utterly impeccable marriage of material and director and would undoubtedly make for one of the finest films of his career. Of everything on this list, I desperately hope for this one to actually get into his hands. And yours, too. Seriously, read it; it's phenomenal.
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