One of totalfilm.com’s greatest literary heroes, JG Ballard, passed away yesterday.
Some of his dazzling stories have been adapted into films already. Some you’ll know – Empire Of The Sun (1987) and Crash (1996) – some you probably won’t – The Atrocity Exhibition (2000) and Low Flying Aircraft (2002).
But as you might expect from a chap who penned more than 40 million words during a 52-year career, there are many more tales that deserve to be brought into mainstream consciousness, via a stream of Hollywood adaptations.
Here are 9 we’d like to see as soon as possible...
The Drowned World (1962) / The Burning World (1964) / The Crystal World (1966)
The Star: Edward Norton
The Director: Darren Aronofsky
The Pitch: Ballard’s thematically connected first three books (not including his self-disowned The Wind From Nowhere) all concern global apocalypses resulting from environmental disasters.
The Drowned World sees the earth submerged after a bout of solar radiation melts the ice caps, which means that Ballard was warning us about global warming as far back as 1962.
The Burning World finds the planet turned into a desert after industrial waste is irresponsibly dumped, and The Crystal World has our hero, Edward Saunders, discovering a strange material that crystallises all life it encounters.
All three books contain different protagonists, but Aronofsky could connect them via a movie trilogy starring Norton as the lead in each.
The Drowned World in particular is so timely it feels like it contains passages lifted from an environmental blog uploaded last week, rather than a dusty book written 40 years ago, and would make the sort of flick that would force Roland Emmerich to fold away his director’s chair in shame.
Concrete Island (1974)
The Star: Brad Pitt
The Director: David Fincher
The Pitch: So cinematic it feels like it’s been filmed already, Concrete Island contains one of the few original high concepts Hollywood hasn’t ravaged.
The story is simple, Robert Maitland is a 35-year old architect who crashes his Jaguar onto a traffic island surrounded by three busy motorways.
Maitland quickly discovers that escape is impossible, and desperately seeks rescue.
When none is forthcoming, he has to survive on items he finds in his car. And then Maitland soon discovers he’s not alone on the island...
This urban update of Robinson Crusoe contains a check-list of David Fincher’s favourite themes – a protagonist trapped by circumstance, alienated by technology, surrounded by a sinister modern world…
Finch didn’t get his Best Director Oscar for Benjamin Button (2008), but he might get to take one home if he makes Concrete Island.
Zone Of Terror (1960)
The Star: Christian Bale
The Director: Christopher Nolan
The Pitch: Fancy Fight Club meets The Machinist? Then Zone Of Terror is the short story for you.
Zone’s protagonists are Larsen and Bayliss, two employees of a futuristic electronic recreational centre for corporate executives.
When Larsen has a breakdown recreating the central nervous system electronically (seriously), Bayliss sends him away to a partially abandoned complex of chalets, where Bayliss himself lives.
Larsen starts to feel better, until he is presented with a hallucination of himself outside of his chalet, picking up a book he’s just put down.
Larsen decides he is seeing a vision of himself in the past and becomes paranoid that Bayliss has induced the hallucination.
Our hero embarks on a voyage of discovery that would allow Nolan to tap into every talent he acquired on the set of The Prestige (2006) and would see Bale stretching all of his buffest acting muscles.
The Voices Of Time (1960)
The Star: Harrison Ford
The Director: David Lynch
The Pitch: This classic Ballard short story isn’t so much a narrative as a deconstruction of the very fabric of the universe. So it doesn’t exactly have a plot, per se – just a collection of riffs on science, mathematics and evolutionary psychology.
But the basic structure of the film would follow Powers, a neuroscientist who is slowly slipping into a coma whilst being stalked by another scientist called Kaldren, a man who has had an operation to stop him sleeping.
When Powers confronts Kaldren at his home, Kaldren reveals the secrets of the universe...
We’re tempted to fund this one ourselves, just so we could see what Lynch would do with a conclusion that would require every single one of his inspired instincts, and probably more than a couple of meditation sessions.
Mr F Is Mr F (1961)
The Star: George Clooney
The Director: Stephen Soderbergh
The Pitch: If you found Benjamin Button more saccharine than a bag full of Cola Cubes floating in a vat of lemonade, then you should join us in our campaign to get Ballard’s dark take on reverse aging onto your local big screen immediately.
Our hero, Charles Freeman, doesn’t find love when he discovers he’s aging backwards; not only does he already have a wife, she’s not exactly a benevolent presence.
In fact, she takes him prisoner when he reveals his condition to her, and he quickly discovers she has a very good reason for wanting to keep him close.
The twisted central relationship and dark sexual themes would keep Soderbergh interested, and Clooney could bring in the crowds.
It might not win any Oscars, but the cult circuit would love it. And if Soderbergh passes, Cronenberg could direct this thing with his eye-balls grafted to his palms and his fists closed.
Venus Smiles (1971)
The Star: Cate Blanchett
The Director: Peter Jackson
The Pitch: If Heavenly Girls and the forthcoming Lovely Bones show glimpses of Jackson’s gift for the surreal, Venus Smiles could be his chance to fully unleash it.
When a musical statue is unveiled in the centre of Ballard’s fictional town Vermillion Sands, the denizens are furious – not only is the statue ugly to the eye, but the music it emits is deeply unpleasant to the ear.
One of the statue's commissioners, Hamilton, decides to take it home so it won’t be destroyed. Strangely, the statue starts to look more attractive in its new surroundings and it even starts to create more appealing sounds.
But Hamilton eventually notices that the statue is also changing form – it’s growing by the minute.
How Hamilton deals with the metallic statue’s growth, which is increasingly encroaching onto his home, would form the basis of a stunning film.
And the story’s final line would rival Planet Of The Apes’ “You Maniacs! You blew it up! Ah, damn you! God damn you all to Hell!” for iconic status.
High Rise (1975)
The Star: Cillian Murphy
The Director: Vincenzo Natali
The Pitch: Possibly the most likely contender on our list to make it to the big screen - it’s currently in development with Cube director Vincenzo Natali attached to direct.
But when it does eventually reach cinemas, we imagine some of the intense darkness of the book will have been subtly removed. The story is set entirely in a futuristic state-of-the-art high-rise building, and is seen through the perspective of three main characters, each on a different level – upper, middle and lower.
The building is designed to be self-contained, with shops, businesses and schools all located within its four walls.
So it’s easy for the wealthy inhabitants to decide to lock themselves away in their luxurious surroundings from the outside world.
And it’s even easier for them to embark on an orgy of violence, completely abandoning the rules of society in the process.
We can’t imagine the finished film will contain every violent scene in the book, because if it did, it would be the bleakest film ever made. And one of the most darkly brilliant.
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