Reading the Screen: Ringworld

Ringworld(1stEd)Most science fiction fans have a favorite book they wish somebody would make into a movie. Mine is Alfred Bester’s The Demolished Man, but for a lot of SF fans that book is Larry Niven’s classic 1970 novel Ringworld, in which a group of human and alien explorers try to uncover the secrets of an enormous ring-shaped artificial world—its diameter is roughly equivalent to the orbit of the planet Earth—including, most tantalizing of all, the identity of its unknown builders.

There’s been talk of a Ringworld movie for years, most of it of the unattributed-rumor variety. There have been a few moments when it looked like something might actually happen, though. In 2000 there were credible-sounding reports that special-effects master Phil Tippett was attached to direct a feature film. In 2004 the Sci-Fi Channel announced it was working on a miniseries based on the novel, although nothing came of it. Now, just this past April, Entertainment Weekly reported that the network, now rebranded the SyFy Channel, is again working on a miniseries.

Details are sketchy at this point—all right, they’re pretty much nonexistent—but, given the network’s recent habit of cranking out product, it seems likely they’ll follow through this time. But are they willing to invest the time and dollars in the project to do the book justice? A lot of the television movies they’re doing lately look, let’s be charitable, quick and inexpensive. Ringworld is an epic-scale novel that will require elaborate special effects and character makeup work to do it well: it takes place pretty much entirely on the Ringworld, and most of its primary characters are non-human.

I’m liking the idea of a Ringworld miniseries, but I’m also nervous about what it could look like if it’s not done properly. How do you feel? Do you think it’s better just to leave the book alone?

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