According to a number of verifiable media magazines all across the net, the acclaimed director Darren Aronofsky, known most recently for the biblical epic Noah, is rumored to direct the HBO miniseries adaptation of Margaret Atwood’s MaddAddam trilogy. The adaptation is in the earliest stages of development at the moment, but there is already considerable buzz about the outcome of the dream team that is HBO, Aronofsky, and Atwood herself (she will act as a consulting producer). This would seem to most like a guaranteed success, like Game of Thrones has proven to be, if it were not for source material that, in my mind, is untranslatable to the screen.
The MaddAddam trilogy chronicles a not-too-distant future in which a global pandemic has wiped out almost all of civilization, leaving the planet in the care of a few lone survivors, genetically modified critters left over from the many pre-apocalyptic laboratories where much of the flashback narrative takes place, and the Crakers, human/other species splices created by the titular character of the first novel, Oryx and Crake. It’s a funhouse mirror of a trilogy, taking many of our current trends and blending them together in a madcap dystopian adventure. Atwood lampoons as many human transgressions as she can, all with a dry wit and the darkest of humor.
Aronofsky, who is not yet confirmed to direct, but is attached to the project, is probably the best suited to adapt Atwood’s novels. His work on Black Swan, The Fountain, and Requiem for a Dream proves his ability to blend dark humor with extremely intense social and personal themes, and in general he instills a sense of utter, gentle brutality into everything he touches. The MaddAddam trilogy is totally brutal and at times laugh out loud funny, so Aronofsky is the correct choice (and on HBO no less).
The problem is that the source material is just a bit too wacky to be translated to television, even in the context of an HBO miniseries. The success of the novel, as well, relies not only on the horrifying events, but the offbeat lyricism Atwood employs to deliver such stark, literary horrors. For instance, characters’ parents get thrown off of overpasses and are chemically dissolved, all events such as this linguistically thrown aside because the future Atwood creates is that disturbing and apathetic. And imagine the big blue penis from Watchmen, but many times over and in different colors (if you haven’t read the books, this comment has to do with transgenics and a skewed vision of a sexual utopia).
Many writers have commented that with Aronofsky and HBO teaming up to tackle Atwood’s story it will be a success because of how well the company was able to adapt Game of Thrones. What they don’t realize is that George R.R. Martin’s saga, filled with one atrocity after another, is housed in the fantasy and medieval contexts, so arguably a bit removed from reality. Within that genre, things can be done for shock value or “awesome” value. Atwood’s science fiction is more speculative and dystopian than anything else and so close to our present reality that it turns stomachs better than any page-turner could. It relies on not being seen, gaining life by oozing about the imagination of the reader.
As good as Aronofsky is, and how open HBO is to including sex and violence, the MaddAddam trilogy will most likely suffer from being adapted. Every one of Atwood’s words is so carefully chosen, much of the richness being in what is left out or not specifically shown. What is seen, though, is so strange that it could only work in the novel form, and not reimagined for television. With Margaret Atwood consulting, though, there is hope that the adaptation will be enjoyable, but nowhere near the perfection she achieves swimming about her readers’ imaginations.
More on this as it develops (if it doesn’t flounder in development hell).