May 21 2012 1:00pm

Could a Rendezvous With Rama Movie Capture the Scientific Wonder of the Book?

John Bonner

Could a Rendezvous With Rama Movie Capture the Scientific Wonder of the Book?

Every so often, comic artist John Bonner reviews books, audio, and more, then turns his reactions into a comic strip. You can check out many more of them at Bonner’s site and more of them here on

He recently reread Arthur C. Clarke’s Rendezvous With Rama and tried to imagine how Hollywood would turn it into a film that held as much wonder as the book. The verdict?


eric Aitala
1. aitala
I have a friend who was working with Morgan Freeman's company that holds the rights to RWR. When he told me about it, I said (basically), "That's great, but you're screwed 'cause nothing happens in the book."

2. SF
Morgan Freeman and David Fincher have been trying to get this made as a film for a while. I think Freeman even started a production company in order to do so, Revelations Entertainment.

Presumably, Freeman would played Norton. From what I'd read in their interviews when this was more of an active project, they wouldn't have gone the route Bonner speculates about here.

As of a couple years ago, they were still working on the script, and Freeman's company still has info about it up on their website:
Mike Conley
3. NomadUK
On the plus side, it's ready-made for at least 2 sequels.

But, I agree. Almost nothing Clarke wrote on his own* (before, say, 2010) could be turned into a successful film by anyone reliant upon Hollywood funding and who was not a serious SF fan who grew up on Clarke. With him, it's all about the sense of wonder.

* I exclude anything he wrote in his later years (and especially with Gentry Lee) because just about every bit of that stuff was pure, unadulterated shite. He should have retired and just enjoyed the beach.
4. Detektor
"Everyone agrees on the goal"? What about the Hermians and their nuclear bomb? You don't think they serve as antagonists?

And Jimmy Pak certainly counts as "a guy risking everything against the odds", considering his multiple narrow escapes from death.
Walter Underwood
5. wunder
When I was reading Rama, way back when, I remember thinking that short chapters and the cross-cutting was very cinematic. That, plus the epic vistas inside are a pretty good starting point.
7. joee
RWR is one of two books that completely ripped open my mind (no drugs required, or desired) and gave me an intuitive feeling of the vast scale of an object, in this case Rama itself. (The other book was Intelligent Life in the Universe by Shklovskii and Sagan, but that's another topic altogether.)

It would be impossible to recreate that feeling of scale on the screen. The interior of one's mind can be infinitely larger than any movie screen.

But as to making a movie where nothing happens, it's possible. I offer "Star Trek: The Motion Picture" as an example. Half the movie was nothing but Enterprise traveling past the entity, and it still didn't give me the intuitive sense of cosmic scale that reading RWR did.
kamas kirian
8. kamas716
I would love to see RWR as a movie, but more closely tied to the book. What Bonner is describing is basically the sequels, which I hated. And I agree about his work paychecks with Gentry Lee, they read like cheap made for TV movies.
9. Flak
I think the movie should start with the second book. It could make references to the first book (since not alot of stuff happened), and then get on with the cool mystery that gets going as the series develops
Mike Conley
10. NomadUK
and then get on with the cool mystery that gets going as the series develops

See, the sad thing here is that you don't think the first novel, dealing with the exploration of a giant spacecraft from outside the solar system and the completely alien technology and life (?) within it, is a sufficiently 'cool' mystery.
11. trevanian
Late in 2000, I was writing for a film magazine in SoCal and wrangled a meeting with Freeman's producing partner Lori McCreary. I had heard it was inching toward production after Scott Brick had rewritten Andrew Kevin Walker's earlier script and was hoping to get the inside track on a 'making of' book. Turns out it had already stalled out in terms of script, mainly over creating enough of a role for a major second star, which they intended as an expansion of the Jimmy flycycle guy character, who would be much more in conflict with the commander than in the novel. I was thinking maybe they were dreaming about getting Pitt, but couldn't bolster the character enough.

Afterward, I flashed on the notion that perhaps they should combine Jimmy with Boris, so that you actually have some issues between a pragmatic commander and a devout crewmember. There's the potential for cliche there, but also perhaps a way to mine CONTACT territory in a better way than that film did. I still think maybe that is a potential solution for RAMA (and have about 50 pages in a drawer that might prove it.)

Personally I've always been more interested in a real visionary tackling CHILDHOOD'S END. Also, ever since writing about FROM THE EARTH TO THE MOON, I've thought Hanks should do another miniseries, about the next (our) century of space exploration. He could exploit what Kubrick had and passed on -- several Clarke stories that could be strung together into an epic for TV -- HOW THE SOLAR SYSTESM WAS WON, done for real.

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