There has been a long trend of moving books to the big screen. We’re out of best-selling books that will sell well in movie theaters, so we’re mining short stories for movies instead. To me, it is rare that the two hour movie based on a short story is both good as a work in its own right and a faithful representation of the material. “Predestination,” based on the short story “All You Zombies,” stands out as unusual for adding another layer to the original story, providing rich depth to a short story by extending it to a movie, and creating a novel ending that doesn’t throw the original one out with the bathwater. This exception, however, proves the rule that when you have a short story, it is best left to a half hour or hour long episode instead of stretched out into a movie.

Kurt Vonnegut wrote a wide range of short stories and books. I’ve found that the short films based on his short stories tend to be better than the movies based on his short stories. One example is the short story “Harrison Bergeron.” The movie of the same title is too long, contradicts his message by presenting a secret, smart elite administrative corps, and has an ending that overturns his depressing story’s warning. Compare this to the short film “2081.” It perfectly illustrates the story and relays its message. It is reflected in modern society where beautiful people are shamed for dressing up, the overweight who slim down bullied for setting unrealistic standards, and how dare you try to be the best.

Amazon took this concept one step farther by creating a whole series based on Philip K. Dick’s works. The movie “Minority Report” is, in my opinion, merely OK, but the TV show stretches the concept out so far it fails miserably. The “Blade Runner” movies are decent, but in reality, they’re not related to the short story “Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheet?” The movies in the “Total Recall” series are unrelated to “We Can Remember It for You Wholesale”.

The Amazon series based on Phillip K. Dick’s short stories was hit and miss. Some stories like “The Hoodmaker” were both excellent and honored the source material while updating it, while “Impossible Planet” was both bad and rejected the whole premise of the original story, though it was structurally similar until the end. However, by having a series of single episodes, each dedicated to a short story, there are decent stories that are well-told.

Where does this leave us? It means that modern versions of “The Twilight Zone” and “Outer Limits” can be a staple of science fiction visual media for years, because so much material out there isn’t suitable to be made into a movie. Serials also tap into the audience’s desire for novelty. And it leaves open the possibility of creating content without relying on big budget blockbusters to fund content creation regardless of its quality. (The “Aliens” franchise is worst in this regard but not unique.)

In the end, all this means is that shows like “Black Mirror” have a strong future even if science fiction movies beyond the superhero comic genre and established name brand franchises running out of steam are on the decline.


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