When I first heard that Paramount Pictures had tapped Joe Cornish to write and direct an adaptation of Snow Crash by Neal Stephenson, my first reaction was, “Wait, they’re making a movie of Snow Crash?!?!”
My second reaction was, “Wait, how are they making a movie of Snow Crash?”
If you haven’t heard of it, you should know that Snow Crash is a cyberpunk novel. For several fans I know, in fact, it’s the cyberpunk novel; I’ve heard a few times that Neuromancer, by William Gibson, may have created the genre, but it never fully crystallized until Snow Crash. (Stephenson also popularized the use of the Sanskrit word “avatar” to signify a virtual alter-ego.)
SC is set half in the real world and half in the Metaverse, the virtual reality successor to the internet. (The “real world”, in this case, being a future where the United States has devolved into a chaotic collection of corporate franchise-states and gated suburban developments.) Plotwise, it follows Hiro Protagonist, “last of the freelance hackers, greatest swordfighter in the world” (it’s on his business card), and YT, the most badass teenage girl you will ever meet in a novel, as they try to puzzle through a conspiracy that involves a computer virus with real-world repercussions—namely, that it fries the brains of anyone who comes into contact with it.
Of course, if you have heard of it, you’ll already know that everything I just said is, essentially, completely useless. Trying to describe SC in a few sentences is a bit like trying to describe the ocean by calling it a large body of water—it’s accurate, but it doesn’t really get to the heart of the matter. For example, key plot points hinge on a combination of computer programming, neurolinguistics, the story of Babel, and ancient Sumerian religion.
Which is why, quite honestly, I’m so curious about the fact that there’s going to be a movie version. I had to reread certain sections of the novel three times before I felt like I really had a handle on what was happening, and that’s even with the narrator flat-out telling me. How will the movie version tackle the exposition? Or will Cornish try to elide some of the more eclectic elements to create a smoother audience experience?
Cornish is known for directing Attack the Block, a British thriller about alien invasion which also happens to be one of my favorite action movies. (It also, as Film Criticism Hulk pointed out, “IS TECHNICALLY A FILM ABOUT ‘BIG GORRILA-WOLF-MOTHERFUCKERS’ [sic] ATTACKING AND SAYS MORE COMPLEX THINGS ABOUT SOCIETY’S RACIAL ISSUES THAN THE HELP. ”) I suspect that at the very least, he’ll do a good job with Stephenson’s humour and with some of the wilder action sequences, both inside and outside the Metaverse. (The Metaverse is peopled by hackers who love to show off; I look forward to being astounded by the digital imaging.) But how well will Stephenson’s crazy world translate to the big screen, with a time limit of approximately two hours?
Ultimately, though, I’m more excited than anything else. Not only is Snow Crash a truly fantastic novel, but it would also mean that we get a sci-fi action movie where neither of the protagonists are white men, which is pretty fantastic considering that that genre is full of White Dudes Doing Things. And even if they skim over the Sumerian religion-based neurolinguistic programming exposition, hopefully it will still end up as a fun, smart, cyberpunk movie with a sense of humour.