The funding isn't quite in place yet - although a lot of international excitement was drummed up at Cannes - but preliminary work is underway on Splice director Vincenzo Natali's adaptation of Neuromancer. The screenplay has apparently been judged by the novel's author William Gibson as "one of the best adaptations he's ever read", and Natali recently paid a visit to the podcasters at Slash to share some thoughts on his approach to the revered material.
Natali believes that Neuromancer isn't necessarily a potential blockbuster, and the idea of turning Gibson's cyberpunk masterwork into a mainstream juggernaut is not the one driving the director. "I think the reason that William Gibson has been so supportive of me doing it is that he knows the film won't be homogenised," says Natali. "There's something inherently not mainstream about it, and I want to preserve that. It will be a much bigger film than I've made before, and I would hope that it makes a reasonable amount of money, but I don't think of it as a blockbuster, or even a genre movie per se."
Gibson more-or-less single-handedly invented the cyberpunk genre: a ghetto of science-fiction that concerns itself with noirish plots about hackers, post-human modification, drugs, huge sinister corporations and artificial intelligences, in a recognisable, slightly dystopian near-future. No spaceships or aliens or exotic planets here. "The book was prototypical; it defined a genre," says Natali. "Even now, after it's been pillaged by so many movies and works of fiction, it remains in my mind totally unique."
And the key to preserving that singular identity? "The success or failure of Neuromancer will have everything to do with getting the right tone," Natali believes. "There's definitely a potentially bland and uninteresting version of that story [hackers take on behemoth corporation in cyberspace] but what's important is not just what happens in the story, but how it's told and the texture that exists in the world we have to recreate."
"If it really works," Natali concludes, "it should in some way step outside any particular genre, or at least outside the expectations we have for a science-fiction film. It should be something new. It's absolutely a commercial movie, and everyone's been responding to it as a film that could potentially be successful, but if we were to make it with a big studio I'd be afraid of having those edges rounded off. If we can somehow independently raise $60m, then I'll be operating with total freedom, and that's exciting..."
Shooting is planned in Canada, Istanbul, Tokyo and London, and, all being well, Natali's cameras will roll in the first quarter of next year.