Natali Explains How He'll Adapt Two Classics: Neuromancer And High Rise

Splice director Vincenzo Natali has two huge movie adaptations in the pipeline: William Gibson's Neuromancer, and J.G. Ballard's High Rise. In an exclusive interview, Natali explains to us how he updated High Rise, and his hopes for Neuromancer.

While explaining to us the ideas behind Splice's graphic horror, Natali took some time to update us on how he's transforming High Rise, Ballard's story of class warfare in an isolated building the size of a city, into a movie. And he explained what he hopes audience will experience in his recently announced adaptation of Neuromancer.

I was looking at the concept art poster for High Rise. I have no idea if this is based on the script you wrote or not, but the new High Rise building looks like it's not near a city. Is this film taking place on a stand-alone island? Unlike the book, which has the luxury tower positioned right outside of London?

Yes. Yes. Because the book was written a long time ago — it was written 30 years ago, and it's quite surreal — I felt that if you just translated the book, just transcribed the book into a movie, basically you'd have The Exterminating Angel all over again. You'd have a surrealist film. There's nothing wrong with that, but I sort of felt that that took away from some of the poignancy of the story, when it really didn't need to be surreal. When you really can imagine this — what I call a "social disaster film." In my mind, it's totally plausible that these events could happen. But they could never happen half a mile from the port of London.

So I kind of made that story the background story to our film. [The novel is] almost like a backstory [to the movie]. And we'll learn a lot more about Royal, the architect. And we're going to learn a little bit about past failed experiments of his. It all ties into this High Rise, which is very isolated. It's on an island somewhere in the Pacific.

So this is like the 2.0 version of High Rise?

This is High Rise 2.0.

Since you're known for psychological horror, do you see your Neuromancer as a psychological horror film?

Neuromancer? No. No, I don't think so. I think there's a psychological component to it unquestionably, but not a horror film at all. I think William Gibson's vision of the future is very rich, because it's somewhat ambiguous. It feels dystopian but not completely. It's a mixed bag. And I think that's where we're headed. I think there's going to be good things and bad things down the road. The only thing we can be sure of is that it's going to be different. That fundamentally, we're on the cusp of some kind of global seismic shift, on a number of different levels. And, even though it was published in 1984, Neuromancer really anticipates these things. It is, in fact, entirely relevant, maybe more relevant now than it was before.

To me it's just a pure work of science fiction, probably the most influential science fiction novel in the last 25, or so, years. So to even be considered to adapt it, to be allowed to adapt it, is just an incredible honor. I can't tell you how excited I am.

Are you adapting it right now?

This is the technological monster that is the internet. That news was announced prematurely. I haven't even signed my agreements yet. I've spoken with William Gibson, and I think I have his blessing. He was really nice.

Wait — you think you have his blessing?

[Laughs] Well I do have his blessing, that was me trying to be modest. That's my Canadian side. No he was very, very enthusiastic. It was a very exciting moment for me to be able to speak with him. And to have his blessing. As soon I finish my Splice tour, I'm going to start writing.

People who have read the novels know what cyberpunk is, but some folks might hear the description of Neuromancer and think it's just another Matrix, or [Gibson's short story turned movie] Johnny Mnemonic again. What will you give them that's different?

First of all let me say that it's a good thing for Neuromancer that those films exist. It's a good thing that Avatar exists. For a couple reasons — first and foremost, in 1984, I don't even know how people understood Neuromancer when they read it. It was just so far ahead of the curve, that even as a book, I imagine that it was very difficult for people to wrap their heads around it.

Thanks to The Matrix, which obviously was heavily influenced by Neuromancer, a lot of these ideas are now a part of the popular consciousness. So when you make the Neuromancer movie, in whenever it's going to be — 2012, 2011 — you don't have to explain a lot. It's already understood, and then you can get to the really good stuff. Which in my mind is about approaching the post-human world. To me that's what the movie is about.

Splice is about evolving our bodies. Neuromancer is about evolving our minds, and how we're going to merge and interact with machine consciousnesses in the future. Which I also think is inevitable, and I don't think The Matrix begins or even attempts to go into that territory. In fact The Matrix, in some respects is like a Philip K. Dick book, it's really about what is real. And Neuromancer flirts with that, but I think it's more about our evolution. It's also tonally much more realistic. The Matrix which I really liked, is a movie that's very much based in comic-book reality, and kind of relishes in it. Whereas my approach to Neuromancer would be to treat it quite realistically.

What are we going to see next out of you? I've read that you're doing Alan Moore's Swamp Thing, High Rise and now Neuromancer?

That [Swamp Thing] is another weird internet rumor because I don't have the rights to Alan Moore's Swamp Thing, it's just something that I would like to do.

I don't know. I'm waiting to find out myself. All of these projects, and there's also another project called Tunnels, which is really cool, which is a young readers series. They are all amazing projects, it's just not up to me. I wish it was. I wish I could tell you. It's up to whoever writes the check. It's hard, it's a miracle that Splice is being released on this scale. I never thought the film would get a major distributor behind it... But for anyone who's worried about High Rise because I might be doing Neuromancer, and vice versa, each film helps the other. I was working on High Rise during Splice, but Splice happened to go first. The fact that I made Splice is going to help finance High Rise. It's going to make it easier for that movie to get made.