By Samuel Williamson
We could be sitting on the next 'Lord of the Rings' or 'Dune'!
It seems that, now more than ever, literary works that have historically been deemed "unfilmable" have begun to turn a page and make their way to the big screen. Between Lord of the Rings, Watchmen, and most recently Dune, filmmakers have found more ways than ever to adapt the long form narratives of novels without losing too many main story beats. Fans of genre fiction have seen many large scale sci-fi, fantasy, and horror staples make their ways to the big screen, but one that is still floating around in development purgatory is Dan Simmons' 1989 novel Hyperion.
Hyperion has everything that both audiences and Hollywood executives are looking for in an epic sci-fi tale. It is peppered with action set pieces, a sprawling cast of characters, and a fantastic villain looming over everything. It also just happens to have an incredibly dense and complex story, one chock-full of multiple timelines running both forwards and backwards (yes -- backwards), religious and philosophical themes, rich character studies, and a hefty amount of world building. Needless to say, it's a project that would take a real maestro to crack. Over the last couple of decades, a number of creative figures have tried their hand at Simmons' novel, but we are still yet to see an adaptation successfully make its way off the ground. If done right, we just might have another mass-media franchise on our hands in Hyperion.
COLLIDER VIDEO OF THE DAY
RELATED: Bradley Cooper's 'Hyperion' Adaptation Shifts from SYFY Series to Warner Bros. Film
What is 'Hyperion'?
The Hyperion Cantos are a series of four novels written by Simmons, with the first of these being Hyperion, and let me tell you, if there was ever a tough novel to try and describe in a concise manner, it would be this one. It's the story of seven pilgrims traveling to the planet of Hyperion, with each of them looking for the answers to unsolved events in their lives. Not only does the first novel in the series closely follow a group of seven characters, but its entire structure is essentially divvied up into short stories that deep dive into the individuals characters' backgrounds. Almost all of these stories share the appearance of a mysterious figure called The Shrike, a mythical and murderous creature on Hyperion that is worshiped by some and hunted by others. The Shrike keeps itself busy, teleporting all over the planet, killing anyone and everyone that it pleases, while also guarding the Time Tombs, a place where time moves backwards. The seven pilgrims' stories explain the reasons they were chosen to go to Hyperion and, specifically, the Time Tombs. Does this sound like a lot? It almost certainly does, but with the room that a novel provides writers to play in, this story reads fairly smooth. That's where things get tricky for an on-screen adaptation.
Over the last few decades, there have been a number of filmmakers circling Hyperion's big break into the world of film. In the early 2000s, Martin Scorsese and Leonardo DiCaprio were heavily rumored to being attached to a series adaptation, followed by James Cameron's supposed interest. In 2009, the project ended up falling into the hands of Scott Derrickson, who had plans to cobine the original novel and its first sequel, The Fall of Hyperion, into one film. If you've read these books, you'd know that this endeavor would just about be impossible. This proved to be true, with Derrickson's film never coming to fruition. In 2011, Bradley Cooper grabbed a hold of the adaptation and has chipped away at it ever since. Cooper started out aiming for a movie, then a mini-series for the Syfy channel, and as of 2021, has since refocused his efforts theatrically and is planning on making Hyperion into a movie over at Warner Bros. -- the same studio that brought Denis Villeneuve's Dune to the big screen.
While reading Hyperion and experiencing its complex narrative, it truly feels like the unadaptable novel of all unadaptable novels. It's a story that features time moving both forwards and backwards, storylines that take place across a galaxy, and a main storyline that's split up into seven flashback stories, each of which are so dense that it's hard to imagine anything being cut from them for time's sake. If the adapter really wanted to bring the entirety of the novel to life, the best bet just might be to aim for TV. We've seen this done with Game of Thrones, as well as large scale, sprawling shows like The Rings of Power. TV has way more room to play a story out than a movie does, with creators being given the freedom to write as many episodes as they need to in order to tell their story right. It wouldn't be the easiest job, but you could feasibly adapt Hyperion for TV without having to cut too many corners. Movies are where things get sticky.
Maybe 'Hyperion' Isn't Unadaptable After All
For most of film history, the idea of adapting a book like Hyperion as just one single film seemed impossible. This would still be the case, had Peter Jackson not absolutely crushed it with his Lord of the Rings trilogy. The original books that J.R.R. Tolkien wrote had been deemed unfilmable for years and years, yet Jackson found a way to crack the code and make three novels as big as those fit into three (huge) films. These weren't just three films that limped their way into theaters -- they rocked the world and are widely considered some of the greatest films of all time. Recently, the first half of the colossal epic that is Dune was adapted and highly acclaimed, with its second half hitting theaters this fall. These films prove that the first Hyperion novel can be made into a film, whether it gets split up into several parts or is kept as one big old mammoth of a sci-fi film! Just add a dash of Alien, a lick of Prometheus, a bit of Memento, sprinkle in some of The Matrix, and a dose of Silence, and you've got Hyperion! Good luck, Bradley Cooper!
With Hyperion's different storylines ebbing and weaving in and out of the main plot, it's a film that would take on an assortment of different tones. While Hyperion is primarily a sci-fi novel, it dips its toes into many other genres throughout its pages. It'll flip on a dime between sci-fi, fantasy, romance, adventure, and even horror, with loads of tension and unshakable images along the way. The Shrike in particular is a force that you can see audiences becoming both fascinated and terrified of, a character that would absolutely thrive in a cinematic landscape. With the variety of stories that can be successful becoming greater and greater, it doesn't seem too out of this world that Hyperion could attract a large audience and become a big success.
When the day comes that the Hyperion adaptation eventually gets off the ground, it seems as though its filmmakers will have enough other successful adaptations to look to as a source of inspiration. Audiences have never been so willing to embrace these types of immense genre stories, so why not give Simmons' original novel its own movie or TV show? If placed in the hands of a Jackson or Villeneuve type, filmmakers tailored fit for bringing mammoth books to life, then we'll have something truly special on our hands. Here's hoping that, eventually, Hyperion makes it to the big screen, and its years of being deemed an unfilmable novel will be left in the past.