Trevor Hogg chats with author Daniel H. Wilson about filmmaker Steven Spielberg’s upcoming cinematic adaptation of his novel Robopocalypse…
Hollywood director Steven Spielberg (Saving Private Ryan), upon reading a partially written manuscript about an artificial intelligence known as Archos which takes over modern technology and converts into it a lethal weapon against humanity, optioned the film rights before a publisher was even found. “I had submitted sample pages to publishing houses through my agent to try to sell the book and I guess the studios have scouts that are out there looking for interesting material all the time,” explains Robopocalypse author Daniel H. Wilson. “The pages got shuffled on to some studios and that’s how it got a hold of them then DreamWorks called my manager and got the process started to option the rights to the novel.”
Contemplating what attracted the Academy Award-winning director to do a cinematic adaptation scheduled to be released in 2013, Wilson speculates, “There is a chapter where Marcus and Dawn are in their apartment in New York City and the Zero Hour has happened. A lot of people are leaving the city and trying to make it to the country where the robots aren’t as well adapted. They’re hanging out and staying in the city; they see that robots are basically going door to door, going inside apartment buildings and coming out with body bags. I think a lot of that evoked some World War II imagery; that might have been something that interested Spielberg.”
As for how Archos would compare to the iconic computer antagonist in 2001: A Space Odyssey (1968), Daniel H. Wilson jokes, “I think the way you compete with HAL is that you have Steven Spielberg make a movie out of your book.” The Portland, Oregon based writer has been consulted by the production team and has been shown some of the conceptual artwork. “We just talked about robots in general and how the feel of this is so realistic and gritty, and the veracity that supports the book and will support the movie.” Asked if he is serving as a technical advisor on the picture, Wilson replies, “I’m not in any official capacity. In retrospect I probably should have tried to get that in the contract. So they’re not obligated to communicate with me at all and I really appreciate anytime they do reach out. I think that’s really great and I’m happy to help.” Contemplating how the evolving technology will be presented cinematically, Wilson states, “I imagine that on the scale of what we’re talking about there will be a lot of computer generated effects because how do you create a thousand stumpers [walnut-sized robots]? That’s just me, I’m not a filmmaker.”
“The book is too much to fit into a movie,” realizes Daniel H. Wilson. “From what I’ve seen, if you’ve read the book you’ll recognize the characters that are in the movie and you’ll recognize what’s happening. I think there are maybe a couple of instances where some characters will be combined just to make things smoother and quicker. I think it will be a familiar movie but of course that said, I’m really looking forward to seeing what the filmmakers do with it because a movie and a book are definitely two different things.” There is a specific moment Wilson hopes to see on the big screen involving Nine Oh Two, an Arbiter Class humanoid who becomes “online sentient” by the end of the book. “I love that scene where he’s sprinting across the Arctic plain and missiles are twisting down out of the sky. There is a little girl [Matilda] two thousand miles away whispering instructions into his ear…I really love that scene just because the two least likely creatures in the world are here fighting the very last gasp of the big battle.”
The author acknowledges comparisons will be made to a movie helmed by Alex Proyas (Dark City). “In terms of being similar to I, Robot  I don’t see that,” remarks Daniel H. Wilson. “The robot uprising in I, Robot I feel it is hard to relate to. It’s just a bunch of translucent humanoids going crazy, whereas Robopocalypse is going to have a much more grounded feel. This is literally when you get in your car, you start it and it just locks the doors and drives you over a bridge. Or when you get a cellphone call from your father telling you to meet him somewhere but it’s not really your father, and when you get there it is just a bunch of people being massacred.” Another distinct difference exists. “I felt like the protagonist in I, Robot didn’t like robots; he was really anti-technology and part of the theme of the movie was anti-technology. I definitely don’t see that in the book because I love technology and if you read Robopocalypse you’ll see that it’s more complicated than that. It’s just not like bad robots kill good humans. You read it and you realize that the machines in this world are sentient and are fighting for a place to exist alongside humans.”
“Gattaca  is my favourite movie,” reveals Daniel H. Wilson of the science fiction tale written and directed by Andrew Niccol (Lord of War) and starring Ethan Hawke (Training Day) and Uma Thurman (Pulp Fiction). “He [Niccol] shows the repercussions and they’re grounded in the characters so you really feel for these two protagonists in this movie. When I first saw Gattaca I related because I was in grad school and it was very hard and other people were really smart. It’s competitive and you feel like you have to just push yourself beyond anything you thought you were capable of in order to remain competitive.” Wilson has ventured into the realm of screenwriting. “I’m doing a remake right now of a 1980s movie. I don’t know if I can talk about it yet. I’m in the WGA [Writers Guild of America] and I’ve already written screenplays but no movies have been made.” He is not discouraged. “Screenwriting is a different challenge but all my writing is pretty visual. I love writing screenplays; I have a spec right now that I’m desperately cleaning up, hoping to go out with it in January and see if something happens. The Spielberg catalogue is interesting because it’s a real thing to be associated with somebody who’s been so successful. It’s amazing. I didn’t see that coming.”
Many thanks to Daniel H. Wilson for taking the time out of his busy schedule for this interview.
Read Trevor’s review of Robopocalypse, along with the first part of this interview, Novel Thoughts: A conversation with author Daniel H. Wilson.
Trevor Hogg is a freelance video editor and writer who currently resides in Canada.