The one that got away: a “The Stars My Destination” movie

One of the all-time best works of science-fiction, Alfred Bester’s “The Stars My Destination“, must have a big-screen version.  Face it, I have read the book myself and deem it that good, worthy of a movie adaptation.

Hollywood is such a sorry place when movie execs are prioritizing turning board games such as Candy Land and Monopoly into 3D cinematic spectacles.  As it bemoans another Summer Blockbuster™ season where many tentpoles and “sure things” have fell short in terms of audience reception, one could not help but give studio execs a sound rapping on the back of their collective noggins.

Gollancz reprint featuring intro by Neil Gaiman

Make no mistake, Bester, for his relatively short portfolio, has become one of the most significant SF writers of the genre’s Golden Age.  His two best-known works, the aforementioned “Stars” (or “Tiger! Tiger!” as it is known in the UK) and the murder-thriller “The Demolished Man“, are meaty, psychologically detailed works that have yet to fade over time.   Comic-book fanboys may recognise him for codifying the Green Lantern oath in its best-known form:

“In brightest day, in darkest night
Let no evil pass my sight
For those who worship evil’s might
Beware my power – GREEN LANTERN’S LIGHT!!!”

Bester also is credited for creating the DC super-villains Solomon Grundy (a DCAU favourite from the original Superfriends to Young Justice – ol’ Alfie was doing undead way, way before The Walking Dead) and the immortal Vandal Savage.

“The Stars My Destination” for instance, has Gulliver “Gully” Foyle, an everyman whose quest for revenge parallels his evolution from a brutish, sub-literate space “sailor” to unwilling messiah of a new generation.   Essentially, it is Alexandre Dumas’ The Count Of Monte Cristo in outer space – and on steroids at that!   Along the way, he gains allies such as Jisbella McQueen, an  adventure-seeker in odds with the quasi-Victorian future society built around a form of psychically willed teleportation called “jaunting” and Robin Wednesbury, a jaunte instructor deemed a social outcast because of her one-way telepathic abilities.

This 1956 publication was ground-breaking in ushering a good number of cyberpunk tropes, which Neil Gaiman has enumerated in his introduction, such as “multinational corporate intrigue, a dangerous, mysterious, hyperscientific MacGuffin (PyrE), a super-cool thief-woman”. The novel was also rather progressive for its time for casting Robin as African-American; as a matter of fact, among the social impacts of jaunting – as mentioned in the book – was the gradual blurring of racial distinctions.

Foyle’s journey takes him from the bowels of a wrecked space freighter to a high society ball in a futuristic Manhattan, where he adopts the disguise of wealthy man-about-town Geoffrey Fourmyle.  Beneath the Fourmyle guise, he has cybernetic implants that give him super-reflexes, while facial tattooing restrains him from displays of rash anger; these assist him in unlocking the mystery behind the freighter’s cargo while keeping one step ahead of Presteign (of Presteign), head of a politically powerful family who will do anything just to silence Foyle/Fourmyle.

The ensuing chase sequences simply must have to be read to be believed – a crack storyboarder and DP can translate these into the stuff box-office gold is made of.  Even as it affects the form of a pulp-noir sci-fi adventure, there is an undercurrent of human transcendence as exemplified by the Burning Man, whose significance is revealed near the book’s spectacular climax that draws him closer to his greater destiny.

Cast?  How about Hugh Jackman as the protagonist – he can pull off the brute single-minded intensity characteristic of Gully Foyle as well as the comic deftness of Geoffrey Fourmyle.  When I first floated about this idea years ago, I was looking into casting Angelina Jolie as Jisbella McQueen, but I thought that seemed an all too stereotypical “Jolie” character; a possible replacement could be Noomi Rapace (The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo, Prometheus).  On the other hand, Kerry Washington (Django Unchained) can do a good Robin Wednesbury while good ol’ Michael Caine makes a perfect Presteign (after all, never underestimate the intensity of a Big Bad with a British accent); meanwhile, Mia Wasikowska (Stoker) can portray Olivia, Presteign’s equally cold-blooded daughter.

Gankutsuou BR trailer

The Count Of Monte Cristo has already been adapted in the sci-fi medium, in the form of the sumptuously drawn anime series Gankutsuou.  A fellow blogger who shares the same desire for a proper Hollywood adaptation delineated the challenges facing scriptwriters and producers for this one.  Gully Foyle is a classic anti-hero, albeit one deemed too much for multiplex audiences these days to take.  These same audiences that are clamoring for 20 minutes to be cut from Bong Joon-Ho’s upcoming Snowpiercer .

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