You’re reading this for the wrong reason. Thus begins the Third Volume of the legendary four-part work The Hyperion Kantos, literal wizard Dan Simmons. I quote this line at the beginning to emphasize that I have nothing against Bradley Cooper. In fact, I’m a fan who admires him for his guts as an actor and director. I am writing because I believe that a film (or series of films) is the wrong medium for the Cantos and would diminish and limit our imaginative opportunity. I believe it is a project that
it should stand alone as one for the ages to be read (and perhaps heard, more on which shortly). In a broader sense, my objection invites us to reconsider the question of how medium and story should best fit together.
Allow me to expand. For those of you who don’t know, the Hyperion Kantos it’s a four-volume epic equal in scope, moral force, and sheer entertainment value The Lord of the Rings. If you haven’t read it, stop and order it now. It’s a virtuoso blend of hard science fiction, mythology, a deep love story, thoughts on the future of the human/AI relationship, organized religion, and more. It’s a philosophical treatise on what it means to be human, a profound exploration of power and politics, an almost lyrical future military story, a meditation on leadership, art, poetry, and more. You get the idea.
I’ve now read the four volumes cover to cover twice and keep returning to their expansive universe with new curiosity and unanswered questions. Not all their meanings can be easily digested in a single reading.
I recently added listening to reading through his Audible editions Cantos. I was fascinated by the excellent art of narrator Victor Bevine and his ability to bring complex characters to life. In reading, one is tempted to rush forward to find out what happens next. Instead, my experience with the spoken word was more conducive to enjoyment and reflection because it slowed down the experience and allowed for a different rate of digestion. More importantly, hearing the characters’ voices allowed my imagination to run wild while I enjoyed the primal experience of reading.
So I was concerned when I heard rumblings of an attempt to develop it Cantos in a film(s) at Warner Brothers, helmed by no less a member of the Hollywood family than Bradley Cooper. Having worked in film and produced a few feature films myself, I can certainly appreciate how producers dive when they sense a Dune-type epic that can hit the box office with multiple sequels, prequels, and spinoffs (not to mention merchandise).
But I say do not do it. Making this film will diminish the impact of this timeless narrative and its characters. The film is condensed in a way that can seriously limit the imagination. Let’s do some simple math first, The four books weigh 2046 pages. Assuming an average reading rate of one page per minute, we are talking about 34.1 hours of reading. And the Audible versions are over 95 hours! Lots of room for imagination. To ponder, to digest, to learn, to cry, to rejoice. In contrast, a movie lasts somewhere between two and three hours. Draw your own conclusions.
There are times when I want a talented director to take my imagination with it, regardless of the source material. I’m glad I read The Lord of Rings
before seeing the movies, but Peter Jackson’s version stands out as faithful to this beloved work. The current Rings of Power On the other hand, it travels a lesser road IMHO, sacrificing depth for plot points. And therein lies the danger.
Honestly, I don’t want to see it Cantos brought to earth the latest smart casting decisions involving flavor-of-the-month actors. I don’t want to see the Hollywood version of massive space battles. I don’t want to see the finer details of human/AI interaction reduced to digital FX. The film is literally reductive. it’s someone else’s fantasy on the screen for you to live. For example, I read Dune when it first came out. Now me
see Oscar Isaac whenever I think of the suffering of Duke Leto, and that’s fine with me. When the cinematography is good, all is forgiven. When it’s mediocre (or budgets are tight), imagination suffers.
Leave me alone, Bradley Cooper. This work is too large to have any chance of being faithful to the original. Let me hang out at Cantos in my own way, warmed by the words of Dan Simmons, who should one day win the Nobel Prize for Narrative Fiction. Allow me to enjoy characters who have become my friends through Victor Bevine’s storytelling. Leave me alone with my own imagination to bring the words – written and spoken – to life. I don’t need someone else’s imagination to take me for a ride in this galaxy. Leave me alone. Don’t dampen my imagination. Don’t take away my ability to dream.