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Rick McGrath [Celluloid 10.23.09] movie news book scifi

No longer will you wonder why the cool Culture SF stories of cult Scots writer Iain M. Banks have yet to make it to the big screen – that little oversight should be rectified in the future with the news that a movie adaptation of a Banks short story is in the works, with Dominic Murphy directing and co-writing the script.

The film, based on the Banks’ story A Gift From The Culture, is being produced by MASS Productions, jointly owned by Mike Downey and Sam Taylor of Film and Music Entertainment together with Murphy, who will be co-writing the screenplay with Shane Smith, the same slick partner Murphy used in his award-winning debut feature, White Lightnin’.

Murphy is obviously enthused about working with Smith. “Our partnership on White Lightnin’ worked out really well,” Murphy told Screen Daily on October 21, 2009. “We made an ambitious film with minimal resources and in tough conditions, so we are all enthused about going forward together in this new venture.”

Budget and scripts are important, of course, but so is the story under consideration, and it will be interesting to see what Murphy can accomplish with A Gift From The Culture, surely one of Banks’ less-memorable yarns. First published in Interzone magazine in 1987, Gift takes place in the future but features a very average, timeless story of someone forced to do something they normally wouldn’t in order to protect someone they love. Not really science fiction. Make both lovers men and it gets a little more unusual (for 1987), but hardly heavy today. Make one an alien who used to be a woman, and it gets more interesting, but the basic tension is still irrational emotionalism. However, if you spiff up the melodrama with goodies from Banks’ Culture bag of unimaginable technology, then at least you have a plain donut of a plot but it has lots of shiny sprinkles on it.

The movie will be an “adaptation”, so one doubts if they will slavishly follow the thin plot conjured by by Banks. Because changes will be made (and you can read the story tomorrow, if you want) I’m going to tell it to you in the hope Murphy and Smith can make it a tad more compelling than the original. Our story features a man called Wrobik who decided to leave the safety and boredom of The Culture and strike off on his own. Wrobik started off as a woman, but was changed to a man before being “released” (in The Culture extreme body manipulation is common), only to discover she/he was still attracted to men. When our story opens Wrobik is in a homosexual relationship with an aspiring dancer called Maust. Trouble starts when two hoods, working for a terrorist organization, obtain a special, very deadly hi-tek gun (the gift) that only Culture members can operate. The terrorists want a space ship destroyed and Wrobik owes a lot of gambling money to the hoods. The deal is simple: shoot the ship and all debts are canceled. At first he agrees, then has second thoughts and tries to escape, but the hoods capture Maust and Wrobik is stuck in the old dilemma: save the ship and lose his lover, or vice versa. This could make for great drama, but by and large the actual story has a rather clunky and unsatisfactory ending, although it would be a visual hit. If you want to check it out for yourself, A Gift From The Culture was collected in The State of The Art (1989).

Given the gumshoe plot and the brilliance of other Banks stories, this seems an odd choice of plot for a movie, given all the techno-brilliance of The Culture that this tale lacks, aside from the gun itself, which Wrobik points out is an old model, with the intelligence of a family pet. Oh, yeah, you may not know: in The Culture damn near every machine is prescient and likes to talk to you, including complete space ships.

Murphy did a great job directing White Lightnin’, making a tight budget work by focusing attention on the inner madness of Jesco “The Dancing Outlaw” White and saving money by shooting most of it documentary-style, which worked well, given the historical nature of the story. So, one might expect the same kind of direct stare at the emotional situation endured by Wrobik in Murphy’s treatment of Gift, even if the story doesn’t seem to be one. Hopefully, we won’t be sidestepped into discussions of homosexuality and love, of comparisons between The Culture (basically, liberals) and the Terrorists (basically, non-liberals), and bad sets and props in an effort to bolster the plot with eye candy.

Hey, not to worry: it’s early days yet. Updates as they occur…

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Anonymous (12 years ago) Reply

Hmm. I would not have chosen this story. What was wrong with the title novella? Too big?


Prolorn (12 years ago) Reply

I predict that Wrobik will remain a woman (to rope in a female character) and the plot will involve Wrobik rescuing her boyfriend from the terrorists and escaping back to the Culture.

Might not be bad, IMHO. After all, didn't Banks himself say, concerning the idea of an adaptation of another novel, that he wouldn't mind if the plot was altered as long as they got the look of the ships right?

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