Neuromancer, Vincenzo Natali's film adaptation of William Gibson's epochal cyberpunk novel, has been in development for some years now. In the summer of 2012 it seemed to build a head of steam, with the arrival of heavyweight producer Lorenzo di Bonaventura and rumblings of potential interest from Mark Wahlberg and Liam Neeson. It seemed that funding for the indie project remained a sticking point, however, leading Natali to detour into the forthcoming Haunter. But while doing the rounds for that film, he insists that Neuromancer is still a going concern.
"It's not on the fast track, but it's very much alive and I'm hopeful," Natali tells Crave Online. "It's a long haul, like all good things that are audacious and challenging. It continues. It seems to be indomitable."
Published in 1984 (two years after Blade Runner, which, when he saw it, almost caused him to stop writing), William Gibson's book was part of the vanguard of the cyberpunk movement, which, in a nutshell, concerned itself with noirish plots about hackers, artificial intelligences, mega corporations and industrial dystopias.
The story involves junkie hacker Case, who, as punishment for some ill-advised thievery, has had his nervous system sabotaged by a mycotoxin that prevents him from "jacking in" to cyberspace. He's offered a cure by shady ex-military spook Armitage, provided he participates in a none-more-secret mission against the powerful Tessier-Ashpool family and the sinister A.I. Wintermute. Along the way he encounters post-human icons like the technologically modified assassin Molly and the bodiless consciousness Dixie the Flatline.
"The script has been ready for years," says Natali. "Strangely, that wasn’t the hard part. I benefited, first of all, from developing the script very much with the influence of William Gibson, which was tremendously helpful. Then I also had, frankly, the benefit of looking at all the versions previous to mine and learning from their mistakes. Actually, I’m quite faithful to the novel. I basically went back to the book and made some alterations to contemporize it but it’s in there. The book is very dense, but the trick is just kind of knowing what strands to follow. In fact, it wasn’t all that difficult."
The challenge, Natali confirms, is "putting the money together: it's a big movie". Back in 2011 he was looking for a budget in the region of $60m: not huge by Hollywood standards, but on the large side for a project outside the studio system. Natali believes that path is essential, however, in order to preserve the story's tone and rough edges. "It's not just what happens," he explained, "but how it's told and the texture that exists in the world that we have to recreate. If we can independently raise the money then I'll be operating with total freedom, and that's exciting."
"It's a tough nut to crack," Lorenzo di Bonaventura obvserved cautiously when Empire asked him about Neuromancer last year. But at least it's still out there: we may see it yet. In the meantime there's Haunter (which played at FrightFest and is rather good), although there's no UK release date so far.