Tag Archives: Brave New World

New World order

Brave New World, the flagship series for new US streamer Peacock, brings Aldous Huxley’s groundbreaking futuristic novel to the small screen for the first time. Showrunner David Wiener takes DQ on a tour of New London and the Savage Lands.

In the second episode of futuristic drama Brave New World, tourists from New London are visiting the barren Savage Lands, the last semblance of what viewers might recognise as real life. Guests of the adventure park visit the House of Want, where they chew on popcorn while watching, enthralled, as an unruly mob of people piles through some shop doors and past the security guards that block their path to bargains and discounted goods.

This satirical take on present-day culture will not be lost on viewers tuning into this nine-part series, which is based on the iconic 1932 novel of the same name by Aldous Huxley and is also the flagship show for new US streamer Peacock, which launches next Wednesday.

This free-for-all is shown from the point of view of Bernard Marx (Harry Lloyd) and Lenina Crowne (Jessica Brown Findlay), who have travelled for a holiday to the Savage Lands from New London, a utopian society that has achieved peace and stability through the prohibition of monogamy, privacy, money, family and history itself.

During their vacation, however, they become embroiled in a harrowing and violent rebellion and are rescued by John the Savage (Alden Ehrenreich), who escapes with them back to New London. John’s arrival in the New World soon threatens to disrupt its harmony, which is largely enforced by the population’s constant consumption of a happiness-inducing drug called soma, leaving Bernard and Lenina to grapple with the repercussions.

David Wiener

It has been a long road to bring the series to air. The project started at Syfy in 2015 before being given a series order by NBCUniversal sibling USA Network in February 2019, when showrunner David Wiener joined the project. Then in September last year, it was announced that Brave New World would join the roster of NBCU’s upcoming streamer Peacock. Produced by UCP in association with Amblin Television, the show has also been shopped to Sky1 in the UK by NBCUniversal International Distribution.

“It’s a huge TV show, it’s expensive. But we were able to get all the money on the screen,” Wiener says. “The last few months [in post-production] have been challenging, in part because the coronavirus pandemic’s been disruptive. But we had this amazing team that was able to figure out all these technological solutions, so I’ve been able to grade and mix the show online and we were somehow able to do all the ADR [automated dialogue replacement] for the show remotely.”

Wiener is speaking to DQ from his temporary home in London on the final day of post-production, bringing to a close a 14-month stay in the UK. Filming began in May last year and wrapped just before Christmas, with the production based in Wales at Dragon Studios in Cardiff and Bay Studios in Swansea. Dungeness in Kent doubled for the Savage Lands, while other locations were filmed in and around London.

Post production, which has been in full swing since January, has also included the addition of more than 2,300 VFX shots to create the towering cityscapes of New London, though most of the sets were physically built, meaning the actors spent a minimal amount of time in front of blue screens.

Wiener joined the production with a new vision for the series, which would interpret Huxley’s groundbreaking novel not simply as a piece of dystopian future-gazing but also as a satirical commentary on society and communities.

“I wanted to bring some fun to some pretty serious philosophical ideas and some pretty big themes,” he says. “Another ingredient that was important was to approach it as a relationship story about this triangle that forms between John, Lenina and Bernard, [and to look at] how they engage with the big problems that Huxley sets up, namely monogamy, possessiveness and jealousy.

Solo: A Star Wars Story star Alden Ehrenreich plays John the Savage

“These are new emotions [for the characters] so, in some ways, this show is about people engaging with big feelings for the first time. Sometimes it’s a little more like a John Hughes [The Breakfast Club, Ferris Buller’s Day Off] film than it is a dystopian drama where the threat is the state. Instead, the threat is within ourselves. That was the twist; it seemed to work but I had to be able to dramatise that. I wrote the first two episodes and they provided a lot of opportunity to define the tone of the show, particularly in the second episode when Bernard and Lenina go to the Savage Lands.”

While the series plays with the same themes as Huxley’s novel, Wiener says the characters take a different path from that in the original story, allowing his writing team to keep the book at arm’s length in an attempt to surprise viewers in a truthful and emotionally resonant way. Wiener also wanted to focus more on character development, with Lenina in particular going through a significant transformation.

“In the book, she is a superficial person concerned with having fun and romancing her way through New London. And by the end of the book, she is more or less the same person, if a little more jaded,” the showrunner explains. “In our story, that presented a real opportunity. She is very much the centre of the world of our show and is the eyes through which we meet New London. All of the characters change a lot, but she’s a radically different person by the end of the story.

“The book also devolves into a pretty intellectual Socratic exchange at the end between John and Mustafa Mond [played on screen by Nina Sosanya]. Huxley came up with this really radical premise of, ‘What if there’s a place where everybody’s really happy – what does it cost them?’ and there’s the famous line about wanting the right to be unhappy. Dramatically, that would be a tough episode of television to watch, but the idea is really fascinating and one we were pretty game to dramatise.

“As technology evolved, Huxley saw humanity’s tendency to choose the easy pleasure over the more uncomfortable truth, and he sets up a world where people are not looking beyond themselves or within themselves. In that moment where you might be alone with your thoughts, there might be soma or sex or some sort of magnificent distraction to take your attention away, so you never have to exist or really look at yourself.

Harlots’ Jessica Brown Findlay plays Lenina Crowne, who visits the Savage Lands from New London

“If you look at where we are at the moment as a culture, there’s never been a time where it’s been more necessary for people not only to take an honest look within, but also to look beyond themselves and say, ‘I may not be comfortable with how things are but I’m going to look at it.’ We cannot afford the degree of pleasure they get in New London at the start of the show.”

New London, a glass-walled metropolis, was created by production designer David Lee alongside the VFX team and architect Tim Evans to support the themes of the series, namely the absence of privacy. As a result, there is lots of glass and open spaces that naturally bring people into contact with each other.

In contrast, the dusty, barren Savage Lands reflects the environmental collapse that led to the birth of New London. It now serves as an adventure park for New Londoners to witness displays of propaganda that support their feeling of superiority. However, things go a little sideways when Bernard and Lenina arrive and they find themselves amid a rebellion, putting them into contact with John.

“John’s arrival [in New London] is the big disruption,” Wiener says. “We have all these people living in a hierarchy and who haven’t engaged with ideas like monogamy. They haven’t really experienced jealously and, if they have, it’s been something they’ve been able to soma away. When John arrives in New London, his presence, behaviour and, eventually, his actions begin to cause a breakdown in that structure.

“Bernard is fascinating. He’s more advanced than everybody because he’s had feelings of self-doubt. When he meets Lenina at the end of the pilot, the thing they have in common is they’re both outsiders. They feel unhappiness but they don’t know what to call it yet. It’s anxiety or the feeling that something is missing from your life. That bonds them together really early, but that’s a subversive thing in New London, to be unhappy. Why would you be?

Demi Moore is also among Brave New World’s cast

“John’s different from the John in the book. It didn’t seem that interesting to have someone like [US vice-president] Mike Pence coming to New London. It would be a really short show – ‘No thank you to sex, no thank you to drugs. I’m outta here.’ It felt more authentic for John to try to experience those things and learn from them.”

Though he has run writers rooms for Homecoming and Fear the Walking Dead, Wiener has been given the title of showrunner for the first time with Brave New World. He says he didn’t realise how big the show would be until he stepped onto the sound stages and saw how the production team had realised their vision for the series. The show was so big, in fact, that it outgrew the six stages at Dragon Studios and took over Bay Studios as well. As the showrunner, Wiener would be on set every day while working alongside production designer Lee, lead director Owen Harris and costume designer Susie Coulthard.

“People live or die as showrunners depending on how much they can effectively delegate,” he admits. “If you try to control it all, it will eat you. It’s such a team effort, and a huge amount of credit goes to the people whose names aren’t on the front of the show. They’re the ones who made it. We had more than 700 people work on this show on four different continents.”

The project also saw Wiener work with intimacy coordinators for the first time, with Ita O’Brien and Kate Lush overseeing choreography of the numerous sex and nude scenes that take place.

The show debuts on Peacock next week

“There’s a lot of sex in the book; it’s very necessary to how New London society works,” Wiener says. “I had never worked with an intimacy coordinator before. I didn’t know if it was necessary or really what they do, but it made all the difference. Kate and Ita gave our actors such confidence, command and ownership of the experience of being vulnerable. You’re exposed, and they just embraced it.

“The show is not graphic but there are a lot of bodies. Sex is a part of the show. But I had no idea how valuable they would be and how they made it a safe thing to talk about. They created an atmosphere of respect. It was really liberating for the actors, and certainly liberating for the filmmakers because we felt protected. Now, I couldn’t ever imagine working without an intimacy coordinator. Everyone should.”

With Brave New World designed as a serial drama, Wiener says doors have been left open at the conclusion of season one for the possibility of a return.

As for what viewers will take from the drama, Wiener adds: “I hope people think about what it means to love somebody, what it means to suffer and to learn. All of our characters have those experiences. As philosophical as it is, it creeps up on you. Every part of the show is active and entertaining. It’s a great ride.”

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Classic sci-fi novels – TV’s new frontier

Over the years there have been scores of great science fiction-based series, ranging from Star Trek and The X-Files to Doctor Who and The Prisoner. But it’s interesting to note that very few of them have been based on sci-fi novels. It’s as though the soapy plots and larger-than-life characterisations of TV sci-fi have operated in a parallel universe to the best sci-fi literary works.

As with so many areas of TV, this distinction is now blurring because of the rise of the high-end SVoD/pay TV-style limited series. Books that could never have been adapted in the pre-Netflix era suddenly look ripe for reimagining.

This week, for example, cable channel Syfy revealed it was adapting Robert Heinlein’s classic 1961 novel Stranger in a Strange Land – widely regarded as one of the greatest of all sci-fi novels. The story of a human who comes to Earth in early adulthood after being born on Mars and raised by Martians, it will be produced by Paramount TV and Universal Cable Productions.

To celebrate the news of this ambitious project, we’re looking at classic sci-fi novels that have been adapted for television already or that are – like Heinlein’s novel – now in the works.

The Man in the High Castle
The Man in the High Castle’s second season launches on Amazon next month

The Man in the High Castle: Amazon’s series is based on a 1962 alternative-history novel by the screen industry’s favourite sci-fi author, Philip K Dick. The first season launched in early 2015 and was an immediate hit for Amazon, generating an 8.0 rating on IMDb. The second run launches on December 16. Dick’s work also inspired the Minority Report movie and subsequent Fox TV series of the same name, though the show strayed a long way from the original concept and probably suffered as a result, quickly being axed. Also coming up is Electric Dreams: The World Of Philip K Dick, an anthology series that will be based on some of Dick’s works. Until recently, Dick’s work was mostly adapted for the movies.

The Day of the Triffids: John Wyndham’s The Day of the Triffids sits slightly outside the classic sci-fi canon – rather like Brave New World (Aldous Huxley), The Time Machine (HG Wells), War of the Worlds (also HG Wells) and Frankenstein (Mary Shelley). The story of a blind humanity battling killer plants has proved popular with TV producers. A small-screen version was originally created in 1981 and another was made in 2009. The latter version, which aired on the BBC in the UK, had a strong cast including Dougray Scott. It attracted a strong 6.1 million audience for episode one.

11.22.63 is based on a story by Stephen King

11.22.63: This 2011 time-travel story from Stephen King was adapted into a TV series by Hulu in 2015. It tells the story of a schoolteacher who goes back in time to try to prevent the assassination of president John F Kennedy. With James Franco in the lead role, the series proved popular – generating an 8.3 rating on IMDb and playing on Fox internationally. King’s epic novel series The Dark Tower is also being adapted by Sony as a feature film for release in 2017. There are reports that this will then be followed up a TV series set in the same fantasy world.

The Martian Chronicles: Ray Bradbury’s famous short-story collection was published in 1950. It has been adapted for most media, including a 1979 miniseries commissioned by NBC in the US and the BBC in the UK. Bradbury himself wasn’t a fan of the TV adaptation, which starred Rock Hudson, calling it “just boring.”

Childhood's End
Childhood’s End aired on Syfy last year

Childhood’s End: This is a 1953 sci-fi novel by Arthur C Clarke about a peaceful alien invasion by the mysterious ‘Overlords.’ Stanley Kubrick looked at doing a film adaptation as long ago as the 1960s but it wasn’t until 2015 that the novel was adapted for the screen. Instead of a movie, Syfy commissioned a four-hour TV miniseries, which you can still find sitting in pay TV platform box sets. The show didn’t get a particularly strong response – with its IMDb rating just 7.0. Part of its problem, according to critics, was that the adaptation came too late to really grab viewers. Although still quite fresh and original in its day, the novel’s alien invasion theme has now being played out in countless other TV projects.

The Handmaid’s Tale: Margaret Atwood’s troubling view of a future US society, where women are property of the state, was first published in 1985. It is now on the verge of being launched as a TV series by Hulu. Starring Elisabeth Moss and Joseph Fiennes, the show will debut on March 29 next year. Out of all the upcoming book adaptations doing the rounds, this has the feel of one that might work – because it is more about human interaction than sci-fi imagery like spaceships, aliens and extraterrestrial terrain (all of which can either distract from storytelling and characterisation or look like poor imitations of Star Wars).

The 100: The 100 is interesting because it’s an example of a TV sci-fi show based on a book series that is still in the process of being written (by Kass Morgan). The first book came in 2013 and the debut TV season appeared a year later on The CW. The fourth book comes out next month, while the fourth season of the show will air in 2017. The series is set three centuries after a nuclear apocalypse, with survivors living on a colony of spaceships in orbit around the Earth. One hundred teenagers are then sent down to investigate whether Earth is habitable. The last season of The 100 attracted a reasonable 1.3 million viewers.

The Expanse
The Expanse centres on Earth’s response to overpopulation

The Expanse: Based on James SA Corey’s books series, The Expanse is a Syfy series that imagines a world in which Earth’s population has grown to 30 billion and humans have started to populate the solar system. The first season, which aired in 2015, started well (1.2 million) but faded (to 0.55 million). Nevertheless, Syfy commissioned a second run. Like The 100, this is a living book series. Corey’s first Expanse novel was published in 2011 and the sixth is due out next month.

The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy: Douglas Adams’ classic sci-fi comedy book series was first adapted as a radio series. The success of that adaptation soon led to a six-part TV version, which aired on BBC2 in the UK in 1981. There was also a later film version. Although the key reason for the franchise’s popularity was its wit, the science in the books was also pretty interesting.

With the success of epic series like Game of Thrones, Westworld and The Walking Dead, it’s no surprise that even the most ambitious sci-fi novels are now regarded as fair game by writers and producers.

Among the sci-fi novel-based TV projects in the works are Kim Stanley Robinson’s Red Mars (with Spike), Dan Simmons’ Hyperion (with Syfy) and Aldous Huxley’s Brave New World. The latter, which is rightly regarded as one of the best novels of the 20th century irrespective of genre, is being adapted for Syfy by Steven Spielberg’s Amblin Television. The 1931 novel has also been turned into a film twice, while there are reports that Ridley Scott and Leonardo DiCaprio are planning a new movie version.

In 2014 it was also reported that Jonathan Nolan was going to adapt Isaac Asimov’s Foundation for HBO – an epic project if ever there was one. This story has since gone quiet, presumably because Nolan is involved in HBO’s current epic Westworld.

Other sci-fi novels that really ought to be on a to-do list for producers include Frank Herbert’s Dune, Ursula K Le Guin’s The Left Hand of Darkness, Philip Jose Farmer’s To Your Scattered Bodies Go, Iain Banks’ Culture and George Orwell’s 1984.

Note: This column has not attempted to cover fantasy classics like Game of Thrones, Outlander, American Gods, The Magicians and the Shannara series, all of which have been adapted for television.

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The shape of things to come: what next for sci-fi and fantasy?

Stephen Arnell casts his eye over the television landscape and finds there are plenty of science-fiction and fantasy series in the works to keep genre fans happy.

At the same time as a tide of comic book and graphic novel TV adaptations have hit the screen, there has been a less trumpeted but increasingly visible trend in series based on ‘hard’ science fiction and ‘serious’ fantasy.

With the recent announcement of Bryan Cranston’s new Philip K Dick anthology series Electric Dreams (produced by Sony Pictures Television for Channel 4), there seems to be an unmistakable head of steam behind adaptations of ‘hard’ sci-fi – coming hot on the heels of Amazon’s critically lauded The Man in the High Castle (also based on a Philip K Dick novel) and Syfy’s miniseries version of Arthur C Clarke’s downbeat Childhood’s End.

This resurgence of more serious-minded sci-fi is demonstrated in the UK, with Channel 4 leading the way with the AMC coproduction Humans and the less viewed, but well-regarded, Utopia.

The alternate-history Axis victory premise of Amazon’s High Castle will be mirrored by BBC1’s upcoming SS-GB, which itself harks back to 1978’s BBC2 production An Englishman’s Castle, which starred Kenneth More as a TV soap writer in Nazi-occupied Britain.

Broadcasters and OTT providers have discovered a new vein to mine, as evidenced by a slew of shows being developed or in production, including HBO’s series version of Michael Crichton’s Westworld (pictured top), best known to older readers from the 1973 movie starring Yul Brynner, James Brolin and Richard Benjamin.

The alternate-history premise of The Man in the High Castle (pictured) is mirrored in SS-GB
The alternate-history premise of The Man in the High Castle (pictured) is mirrored in upcoming BBC series SS-GB

The successful movie was followed by the sequel Futureworld (1976) and short-lived 1980 series Beyond Westworld (CBS), both unfortunately following the law of diminishing returns.

Despite reported production problems, 2016’s Westworld’s stellar cast (including Anthony Hopkins, Ed Harris and Thandie Newton) and strong proposition should guarantee high initial sampling when it debuts this autumn.

Westworld creator Jonathan Nolan (co-writer with his brother Christopher of The Prestige, Interstellar, The Dark Knight and The Dark Knight Rises) is also apparently developing a series version of Isaac Asimov’s classic Foundation trilogy (also for HBO), which is surely a prospect that will have sci-fi fans salivating.

Back in 2009, Sony reportedly tried to crack the novels with director Roland Emmerich (Independence Day, White House Down) attached, but when the project stalled, HBO stepped in to acquire the rights.

Along with JRR Tolkien’s The Lord of the Rings and Frank Herbert’s Dune, Foundation was regarded as ‘unfilmable’ due to its epic scope but, following Game of Thrones’ success, epic is something HBO can confidently handle.

Other sci-fi classics reportedly in development include Stephen Spielberg’s Amblin’s take on dystopian Aldous Huxley novel Brave New World and Dan Simmons’ Hyperion, produced by aficionado Bradley Cooper.

Both have been ordered by Syfy, which is also teaming with Battlestar Galactica writer/exec producer David Eick for the series version of Frederik Pohl’s 1977 Hugo and Nebula award-winning Gateway.

On the SVoD front, Hulu has given a straight-to-series order for a 10-part adaptation of Margaret Atwood’s The Handmaid’s Tale, a feminist story set in a grim US of the future, ruled by a Ted Cruz-style totalitarian Christian theocracy, starring Elizabeth Moss (Mad Men, Top of the Lake).

Syfy miniseries Childhood's End
Syfy miniseries Childhood’s End

A movie of the novel was released in 1990, boasting an all-star cast that included Robert Duvall, Faye Dunaway and Downton Abbey’s Elizabeth McGovern, but the film suffered from script problems and was generally felt to be an interesting failure.

Darren Aronofsky (Black Swan, Noah) is said to be developing a TV series with HBO based on Atwood’s post-apocalyptic novel trilogy Oryx and Crake, The Year of the Flood and MaddAddam, set in a world where most of humanity has been wiped out by a pandemic and the survivors fight to find a reason to continue.

Back in 2011, there was talk of a remake of Ray Bradbury’s 1980 movie The Martian Chronicles (starring Rock Hudson), but this appears to have been abandoned. The revival of interest in the genre may see it resurrected, though.

US cable channel Spike has commissioned Kim Stanley Robinson’s hard sci-fi classic Red Mars for a 10-episode series debuting in January 2017. Dealing with the human colonisation of the Red Planet, the series features Vince Geradis (Game of Thrones) as exec producer.

And speaking of Mars, the daddy of all sci-fi stories – HG Wells’ War of the Worlds – is currently being developed by ITV-owned Mammoth Screen for an ostensibly authentic period version of the classic novel, scripted by Peter Harness (Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell, City of Vice, Doctor Who).

Neil Marshall (Game of Thrones, Dog Soldiers, The Descent) is on board to direct, while reports earlier this year of Poldark star Aidan Turner taking the lead role of the narrator have since been denied.

HG Wells features as the protagonist of ABC’s Time After Time (based on Nicholas Meyers’ 1979 movie), which involves the author travelling from Victorian England to the present day. Kevin Williamson (The Vampire Diaries, The Following, Dawson’s Creek) is showrunner for the series.

Sky's adaptation of Neil Gaiman's Likely Stories
Sky’s adaptation of Neil Gaiman’s Likely Stories

Although Robert A Heinlein’s Starship Troopers was successfully transferred to the cinema screen by Paul Verhoeven in 1997, it remains doubtful whether a TV version of his most famous work, the controversial 1961 novel Stranger in a Strange Land (once promoted as “the most famous sci-fi novel ever written”) will ever see the light of day.

In terms of the serious fantasy genre, the BBC’s upcoming version of Philip Pullman’s His Dark Materials trilogy should benefit from having writer Jack Thorne (The Last Panthers, Skins, The Fades) guiding the show, which will hopefully avoid the pitfalls of 2007’s movie adaptation The Golden Compass and maintain more of an adult tone.

Scheduling and advertising will be important for the series, as the excellent Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell suffered from misleading promotion, which gave the impression of a Harry Potter-style fantasy – and aired on the wrong channel, BBC1, when BBC2 would have been far more appropriate.

Fantasy legend Neil Gaiman has certainly been a busy lad, with no less than four TV adaptations of his writings in the works, as well as his mooted big-screen version of Gormenghast, which was last seen as a BBC2 series in 2000.

Actor Joseph Gordon-Levitt (Looper) was due to direct a movie version of Gaiman’s Sandman, but that recently hit the buffers.

First up is American Gods for Starz in the US, which has an impressive cast including Ian McShane, Peter Stormare, Jonathan Tucker and Crispin Glover.

Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell
Would BBC1’s Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell have fared better on BBC2?

Sean Harris (Mission Impossible: Rogue Nation, Jamaica Inn, The Borgias) has since left the production to be replaced by Pablo Schreiber (Orange is the New Black, The Wire) in the role of troubled Leprechaun Mad Sweeney, with Bryan Fuller (Hannibal, Pushing Daisies) as showrunner.

Gaiman’s Anansi Boys, which occupies the same fictional universe as American Gods, was optioned by BBC1 in the UK back in 2014, while his anthology Likely Stories has been commissioned by Sky Arts in the UK, featuring a cast that numbers Johnny Vegas (Benidorm, Ideal) and industry veteran Kenneth Cranham (Rome, War & Peace, Layer Cake), with a score by Pulp frontman Jarvis Cocker.

Directors Iain Forsyth and Jane Pollard helmed and co-wrote the critically acclaimed 2,000 Days On Earth, a portrait of Aussie Renaissance Man Nick Cave.

Good Omens, Gaiman’s end-of-the-world collaboration with the late Terry Pratchett, is also being considered by the BBC for a miniseries, while Lucifer, the Fox show based on Gaiman’s character from Sandman, has recently been renewed for a second season.

Other fantasy projects with adult themes on the horizon include NBC’s Midnight, Texas (due to be transmitted this autumn), based on the novels by Charlaine Harris (True Blood), and the BBC’s The City and The City – Tony Grisoni (Red Riding, Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas, Southcliffe) developing China Mieville’s cult novel about the cities Beszel and Ul Quoma, which occupy the same point in space and time.

And last, but by no means least, Robert Jordan’s Wheel of Time series, said to be the highest-selling serious fantasy novels since The Lord of the Rings, are rumoured to be under consideration by Sony for either AMC, Netflix or Amazon.

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