It looks like it’s true that Hayden Christianson is going to play Case in a Neuromancer film. Joseph Kahn will direct and the budget will be 70 million. I think that about says it all for people who love the book. Maybe someday Gibson will authorize a really killer graphic novel or 15 years later somebody will do it as a miniseries on SF channel and get it right like they did with Dune.
Do I sound cynical? I’m sure trying. I have every right to be cynical. I’ve watched too much of the best of SF eaten by Hollywood with the inevitable result that later happens when anything is eaten winding up on the screen. And this is low budget Hollywood, at least for this kind of film. The Matrix was made for 67 million almost 8 years ago. A low budget Neuromancer film with a director who’s greatest credit is Torque- a THE FAST AND THE FURIOUS knockoff. And a man playing Case who is unlike the character in almost every way.
And I’m being so nice I won’t even mention Christianson’s “acting”.
But to talk about how anybody could make a movie out of that book, first you have to look at the book.
Neuromancer is a study in style and structure. Stylistically it’s easy to say that it’s typical cyberpunk. What’s remarkable here is that it was one of the first cyberpunk novels and that it almost closed the genre by using every trick it would have to offer and using them to such effectiveness that it still stands as the high point in the genre. The novel has the hired assassins, the burnout hacker, the military nutball, corporate fascism, drug addiction, Cybernetic and biologic augmentation of humans, cyberspace (a word Gibson invented), Earth orbit resorts for the uber rich (with no real mention commerce or exploration beyond near solar system), Rastafarian's in space, covert cyberwar, mind experimentation, and it lays all these concepts on the reader with little or no explanation. Instead you are informed of situations through details in the environment and your picture forms by accretion. Gibson drops you into his world and it fills in from the smallest details up. Endless minutiae piled on as fast as the reader can assimilate it. Gibson himself has admitted that a lot of it is “a molecule deep” but it goes past you at such a clip that you barely have time to notice.
Structurally it’s origami that owes much of it’s impact to the way it folds back on itself. Each fold unfolds into a bit of vital information that Case and Molly discover. Each scene has a different shape and size to fit the pattern. . Each fold is gradually smaller as the story builds to it’s climax (which causes a natural acceleration of the action). And with the last fold and a little puff of air, it springs into it’s final shape. When you finally see the overall shape you understand everything that has happened before.
But none of this would work if it wasn’t for the writing itself. The verbs are taut, the nouns and adjectives are ubiquitous and unique. Again, the sub-genre’s penchant for inventing terminology is unrivaled in SF. There are as many invented nouns as familiar ones and the reader has nothing but context and onomatopoeia to help. In addition to unfamiliar vocabulary, the novel is also written in future slang. Again, immersing the reader in Gibson’s story. Earlier SF authors indulged in both these characteristics, Alfred Bester being the first that comes to mind. But not even Bester took it to this level.
Neuromancer was also weirdly prescient. The predictive value of science fiction has always been more mythical than actual. Isaac Asimov probably said it best when he mentioned once that while thousands of SF stories had predicted television and thousands more a moon landing, not one predicted people watching the first moon landing on television. In 1982, Gibson predicted a global interactive computer network where all information would be stored and where crimes would commonly take place. Nine years later Tim Berners-Lee would post to the alt.hypertext newsgroup with instructions for accessing the World Wide Web for the first time (An NEXT workstation was the original, and at the time only, web server). Gibson saw the developing hegemony of huge corporations, He predicted the commercialization of space at a time when the Space Shuttle was about to have it's first launch. (I wonder if Virgin Galactic will make it’s maiden voyage before the final Shuttle flight in 2010.) Of course, this was part of the whole cyberpunk idiom. It was a genre of SF that eschewed the traditional metaphors, favoring something that wasn’t projected so far into the future and commented more directly on trends already shaping. Seeing so much of the modern world in Gibson’s predictions, it isn’t hard to wonder how far away from that world we are.
So what about a movie?