If you could get whiplash by being surprised about an article in the trades, I’d be wearing a neck brace right now. That’s how shocked I was to learn that HBO has acquired George RR Martin’s fantasy novel series, A Song of Ice and Fire, for a TV series – one that will be executive produced and written by David Benioff, one of my favorite modern writers.
If you only know Benioff from Troy, you’re missing out – his novel 25th Hour, which he adapted for Spike Lee, is brilliant, and his short story collection, When the Nines Roll Over, is terrific as well. But he’s been mostly focusing on Hollywood work, including an adaptation of Hemingway’s For Whom the Bell Tolls. A Song of Fire and Ice would be a major move for Benioff, who would be executive producing and writing every episode of every season (along with DB Weiss, whose only credit is the Halo script, but who wrote a novel called Lucky Wander Boy), except for one that will be scripted by George RR Martin himself.
Each book in the seven volume series (there are only five available now) will be one season of the show, starting with 1996’s A Game of Thrones. "They tried for 50 years to make ‘Lord of the Rings’ as one movie before Peter Jackson found success making three," Martin said. "My books are bigger and more complicated, and would require 18 movies. Otherwise, you’d have to choose one or two characters."
I haven’t read the books (I guess now I’ll have to. Dammit. I hate reading this fantasy stuff, but it’ll kill time on my flight to London), but Variety says that the Fire and Ice novels “eschewed Tolkien’s good-vs.-evil theme in favor of flawed characters from seven noble families.The book has a decidedly adult bent, with sex and violence comparable to series like ‘Rome’ and ‘Deadwood.’” That’s good news at least.
This comes on the heels of HBO announcing they would do a series based on Preacher, a beloved Vertigo comic book that is profane, violent and usually blasphemous. Besides inherent geek appeal, both of these series have a level of ambition to them – Preacher is being sold as five seasons long while A Song of Ice and Fire would last seven. It’s interesting to see that level of ambition when HBO is all too happy to cancel shows like Rome and Deadwood very early on, even when they’re popular. Of course Preacher and A Song of Fire and Ice would have an almost guaranteed afterlife on DVD, and unlike Deadwood, the network would own these properties, meaning they make all the DVD money.
Here’s the sticking point: Rome was cancelled before the second season even started because of the series’ massive cost – the first season weighed in at 100 million dollars. I don’t know how an epic set in a fantasy world with dragons and ice monsters could be much cheaper, but the scope of the series was not a secret from HBO. There’s no word on when the show might begin production, let alone start airing. The book series is projected to end in 2011.
I do hope at some point Benioff is taking time to work on another novel. I really have enjoyed his print work, and while I wish him the best success in Hollywood, it would be great to know that he was also sticking with literature.