Speaking exclusively to SciFiNow, Sinister and The Day The Earth Stood Still director Scott Derrickson, revealed the thought process behind his forthcoming adaptation of critically adored cyberpunk RPG Deus Ex: Human Revolution, and how his passion for the chrome-plated sci-fi subgenre goes all the way back to its literary roots.
“I love cyberpunk,” asserts Derrickson. “I read mostly science fiction – I try to read a novel a week, and most of what I read is sci-fi.
“I do think cyberpunk is going to be the next wave of science fiction cinema, and I think that we can specifically afford for things to be done a little less expensively than what we’ve seen in the past. It’s fresh and it’s new and there’s something about it that feels even more current now than it did when it was first emerging in the literary world.
“I’d love the idea of being able to be a part of that, I can’t believe it’s not coming – there’s a lot of priority on [Joe Cornish’s adaptation of Neal Stephenson’s] Snow Crash. I think it’s an exciting and emerging genre and I wanna be a part of it.”
What’s especially remarkable about Deus Ex: Human Revolution – along with George Alec Effinger’s When Gravity Fails, that Derickson is also developing with his “bromantic” writing partner C Robert Cargill – is that the gold and bronze neo-Rennaissance look of the videogame offers a break from the tired cyberpunk cliches of neon-lit nocturnal cities streaked by rain, lifted straight from Blade Runner and into the likes of The Matrix, RoboCop, Minority Report, Johnny Menomic and Total Recall.
“I definitely think so,” agrees Derickson of Blade Runner‘s long shadow over big screen depictions of cyberpunk.
“In terms of the sheer visual power, I don’t know that there’s ever been a film made in the history of cinema that ever had more influence than Blade Runner has, in a single film.
“When it came to science fiction, especially any kind of tech-noir, people have been ripping off Blade Runner for 30 years, and everything felt that way for so long and I think what you just said – there’s a general audience perception, a generational perception, and a science fiction fans’ perception that we need new images for science fiction.
“I think that’s why District 9 connected the way that it did, just in the trailers alone – it was immediately apparent that this wasn’t another dystopian, dark, smokey, rainy movie, and it’s also one of the reasons I think people didn’t show up for the Total Recall remake, because they saw the trailers and it felt like it belonged to that 30-year tradition that people need a break from.”
Along with a fresh visual palette – which Deus Ex: Human Revolution easily lends itself to – Derrickson wants to see a shift to cheaper movies, that in turn allow for more risks. It’s this kind of thinking that could lead to a world as gorgeous and idiosyncratic as that depicted in the fan-favourite videogame onto the screen in the first place, at least without having its heart cut out and replaced by duel firing Uzis and a nu-metal soundtrack.
“I think what needs to happen is that filmmakers need to take the responsibility to try to tell better stories less expensively with the genre,” says the director, “because when District 9 did what it did for $30 million, that told me a lot.
“Much more so when I saw Monsters, which was made for less than a million dollars – that was so exciting for me and I realised that visual effects can be done cheaper, and they can be quality. It just feels like the new wave that’s coming for the genre is going to make these movies much more affordable, and when they’re much more affordable, you can be more daring, you can be more progressive, and you can take more changes.”
The idea of a low budget Deus Ex movie might sound a bit too Uwe Boll for comfort, but Monsters was famously made entirely with off-the-shelf kit and effects packages proving that the responsibility for the film actually being good doesn’t rest with the budget, but the creative team behind it.
“That’s where I see sci-fi going,” Derrickson continues, “and it’s very exciting for me because the sheer expense of a movie like Total Recall failing – and movies like that – the genre kind of grinds to a stop, and sci-fi fans don’t get their movies in theatres. The best sci-fi movies I’ve seen in the last three years are Looper, District 9 and Moon – and all of them were made on a budget, and all of them were relatively inexpensive compared to the bigger sci-fi movies where it’s all about the world.”
Cyberpunk may have largely left the big screen behind since the glut of rubbish action movies in the Nineties, largely content to dominate literature, anime, and of course, videogames, but the arrival of movies like When Gravity Fails, Snowcrash, the long-mooted Neuromancer adaptation, and Deus Ex: Human Revolution, is long overdue. After all we’re living in a cyberpunk world of powerful multinationals, online identities, and hacktivism already…
“I think so,” agrees Derrickson. “I definitely think that helps. I think the one major component that’s specifically cyberpunk is the integration of ourselves with internet technology.
“Everybody has their own Star Trek communicator now in their iPhone, everybody’s wired, everybody’s got wires coming out of their ears as they walk down the street. It’s becoming more and more a daily reality that we’re meshed with our internet technologies.
“Going all the way back to 2001: A Space Odyssey, and certainly with Blade Runner and even The Matrix, all those movies were a vision of science fiction through the 20th Century, and it was a vision assuming we were going to have a revolution in energy – which is what we need, but we didn’t get that, and so we got a revolution in communications, and that revolution is taking over the world at such a grand, rapid pace, and a communications revolution is where cyberpunk was born.
“As the day-to-day reality of the communications evolution takes over our lives, the more cyberpunk becomes meaningful and important, and becomes a vision of the future that we all get and is actually foreseeable.
“What’s not foreseeable,” he laughs, “is that we’re gonna colonise Mars – it’s not gonna happen, not anytime soon, and maybe never.”