Snow Crash is on top of a very short list of properties that turn me into an active and unapologetic fanboy. Not only is it my favorite book, but every time I read it, which is every few years, I find new reasons to be blown away by Neal Stephenson's vision of a future that is at once both a parody and a prediction of where we're heading as a technology-loving, information-craving, corporation-suckling society. We're talking about a book that not only invented and popularized new words and ideas, but that pretty much prophesied commonplace technologies and lifestyles of today that seemed wildly impossible when the book was published in the year 1992, back when the Internet was still just a passing fad that would never, ever catch on.
Plus, it's just a damned smart, damned entertaining story about a freelance high-speed pizza delivery man/computer hacker teaming up with a teenage girl and the mafia to save the world from a brain-frying new drug with ancient origins.
So why am I not over the moon about the idea of Joe Cornish following up his phenomenal directorial debut Attack the Block, one of the best films of 2011, by taking writing-directing duties on this highly influential piece of cyberpunk history? Because Snow Crash is a very dense, very, very weird book that would be very, very, very easy to dumb down into nonsense on its studio-subsidized trip to the big screen. That's why I've put together this simple guide to the things Cornish and Paramount can do to try and not screw it all up.
Do Not White Wash the Casting
Warning: NSFW language
Hiro Protagonist is Japanese American for a reason. Raven is Aleut for a reason. Do not change that for any reason. It's simple, really. Their cultural backgrounds aren't just arbitrary descriptors, their fundamental character definers and eventually reveal a rather important (though oddly coincidental) plot point. Please don't Whitey them up for America. And the same goes for the rest of the cast, which is an intentional melting pot in a future where geographical borders are a punch line.
Raven Better be the Baddest Motherf*cker in the World
Until a man is twenty-five, he still thinks, every so often, that under the right circumstances he could be the baddest motherf*cker in the world. If I moved to a martial-arts monastery in China and studied real hard for ten years. If my family was wiped out by Colombian drug dealers and I swore myself to revenge. If I got a fatal disease, had one year to live, and devoted it to wiping out street crime. If I just dropped out and devoted my life to being bad.
Hiro used to feel this way, too, but then he ran into Raven. In a way, this was liberating. He no longer has to worry about being the baddest motherfucker in the world. The position is taken.
Though I have no casting suggestions for any of the roles, I know one thing for sure: Whoever plays Raven better make the same impression on the audience as he does on Hiro after the two meet for the first time. I'm okay with the movie version of Raven getting rid of the block letter tattoo on his forehead that reads "POOR IMPULSE CONTROL" for logistical reasons, but we better not doubt for a second that this is the most intense man walking the face of the Earth.
Y.T. Better be the Coolest Chic in the World
"You don't respect those people very much, Y.T., because you're young and arrogant. But I don't respect them much either, because I'm old and wise."
There's going to be an impulse to cast someone like Chloe Moretz as Y.T. just because they're age appropriate and have played characters with a bit of an attitude. That's not Y.T., though. Don't just make her some quirky girl that seems like she'd fit into the world of Scott Pilgrim. She's more than just quirks and attitude, she's the coolest teenage girl on the planet precisely because she likes a challenge and she doesn't give a damn. Don't over sexualize her and keep her relationship with Hiro strictly platonic.
Pizza Delivery by *Sergon
Don't be Dystopic
Most countries are static, all they need to do is keep having babies. But America's like this big old clanking smoking machine that just lumbers across the landscape scooping up and eating everything in sight.
There's a tendency in sci-fi to make the future dystopian just because cynicism is in these days, and it would be easy to interpret the bizarro future of the Divided States of America through such a lens, but don't. The future of Snow Crash isn't like, say, Blade Runner where pollution has blighted out nature and turned cities into perpetual dream crushers. It's a future where corporations have run rampant, where consumerism has reached a point of sheer absurdity, and where Americans have simply looked at what a parody of a nation they've become and decided to throw their hands up in the air and do whatever the hell they want because what's the point, anyway. Don't think Children of Men, think The Fifth Element meets Futurama without the aliens.
Keep the Sense of Humor
"It's, like, one of them drug dealer boats," Vic says, looking through his magic sight. "Five guys on it. Headed our way."
He fires another round. "Correction. Four guys on it."
Boom. "Correction. They're not headed our way anymore."
Boom. A fireball erupts from the ocean two hundred feet away. "Correction. No boat."
This is actually my point of least concern because I don't doubt for a second that Cornish is a perfect fit for Stephenson's dry sense of humor. I just wanted to quote the above because I love Vic's badass sniper.
Jack the sound barrier. Bring the noise.
As part of Mr. Lee's good neighbor policy, all Rat Things are programmed never to break the sound barrier in a populated area. But Fido's in too much of a hurry to worry about the good neighbor policy.
Jack the sound barrier. Bring the noise.
Please, please keep the eccentricities of every little character in the real world and the Metaverse of Snow Crash. Have fun with every side character and every quirk of the future. After all, Stephenson's created a world where it's entirely reasonable that a guy drives a motorcycle with a nuclear bomb in its side car, where high-speed pizza delivery is an honorable job, where the mafia are more concerned with musing over abstract ideas than killing people, where computer hackers are rockstars, and where robotic guard dogs run 700mph.
Snow Crash by m0rs
Change the Ending if You Need To
You'd think as a Snow Crash purist I'd be outraged if Cornish and company changed anything about the book. Far from it. I'm all for change because literal film adaptations of books are boring. There are things that work in the book that just won't work on the big screen, and the ultimate culmination (not to mention the ancient back story) of the entire language-as-virus plot is one of them. If they stick too literal with it, people are going to have the same reaction to it as they did the "weird" ending of Pontypool. However, if they can crack the nut in a better way than Stephenson does, have at it.
A good Snow Crash movie won't just be a big screen version of the story in the book. Honestly, the story of Snow Crash is pretty wacky. What makes it such an influential book are the characters and the world. The way Stephenson unites disparate groups of exceptional (and exceptionally jaded) people in this increasingly outlandish vision of the future is what defines it, not its endgame story. As long as Cornish can do that, even if it's at the expense of rewriting some of the more out-there elements, I'm game.