Now, the part everyone cares about: how would a Myst movie even work?
This is a really tricky question (and probably why the ideological split happened). You want it to be able to be understood by people who are new to the canon and who only remember Myst as “that’s a game, right?” But you also want to be able to please the people who have been fans for up to nearly two decades now, because those are the people who are going to do passionate word of mouth evangelizing for you. I mean, yes, there will presumably be a media campaign, maybe with a game and a book to go with it. But getting people already excited about the property to like it (should be) important.
So, what elements need to be in a Myst movie to make it successful? This is a loaded and complicated question. After all, what appeals to an average audience and what appeals to a SF/F one and what appeals to the fans are not going to be the same thing. So how do you attempt to negotiate these conflicting needs in order to get a piece that still feels like the property but is crowd-pleasing?
(This dilemma is likely why the wank happened.)
Here’s my personal opinions of how to handle this. Feel free to disagree with me!
-Myst Island: You need to include things that are recognizable. When most people hear Myst, they think of the first game and the island, because that’s often as far as they got. Myst Island has got to be in the movie in some form.
-Visual Spectacle: Visual awe is a key Myst experience. There are tons of beautiful inspiring places in the games and books. The glory of Ages like Channelwood or Selenetic, the fantastical underground cavern of D’ni, the tropical beauty of Riven… make the most of the silver screen!
-Key series themes: The Myst franchise is filled with moral tales and themes. If it doesn’t address at least one, it’s not a good representative. Family ties, betrayal, humility versus pride, these themes recur.
-The Outsider trope: The franchise has a lot of lore and history in it, and this means it’s likely to be overwhelming. Fortunately, in nearly all of the components there’s an outsider character who is being introduced to the world for the first time, making them a natural protagonist and audience substitute.
What would I adapt?
As much as everyone really loved the idea of doing Book of Ti’ana, I’m against it. While starting at the first point in the series chronologically is a good idea, it’s a really sweeping and complex story and I don’t think it would be a good first entry point. On the other hand, Book of Atrus is a smaller-scale and tighter-focused story, which means that it won’t take as long and won’t confuse people with the number of characters and the pace of events.
Here’s what you’d have to cover in BoT: meet Aitrus and Veovis (explaining along the way who are the D’ni, why are they going to the surface, why did they stop), meet Anna and see her father die and explain why she’s exploring, introduce Anna to D’ni, do her trial, do the splitting up of the Aitrus-Veovis friendship, see Anna learn to Write, see gemedet, do the marriage, see baby Gehn, do the A’gaeris and Suahrnir plot, watch Veovis get arrested, have him get loose, see Anna save Aitrus, see more A’gaeris plotting, have D’ni fall, Aitrus’ death, Anna and Gehn go to Cleft and end.
Now, here’s BoA: Meet Atrus and Anna, see the traders and Flame, the rain in the desert, battery experiment, Anna explains D’ni, Gehn shows up, descent to D’ni, life on K’veer, Age 37 and all those events, Atrus runs away, Atrus goes to Riven, meet Katran and see her Writing, stage the mini revolution, be whisked away to Myst, end on Myst Island with the now-famous journal entry narration.
Guys, BoT is not going to fit into a 2 hour movie. Or even a 3 hour movie. I’d rather see BoT as a 6-hour miniseries than a bastardized 2 hour movie version, even if it means the visual effects aren’t quite as impressive. BoA is still not quite going to fit 2-3 hours, but it’s a LOT less complicated than BoT is, even if I did explain it at length. BoT needs a ton of different scenes and takes place over many years, BoA takes place over fewer and only needs a few major setpieces. If you trim down a lot of the growing up scenes into montages rather than full scenes, you can basically slim it down to Part 1: The Cleft, Part 2: D’ni, Age 37, and Writing, and Part 3: Riven and Myst. Give each segment 45 minutes and you’re about on time. BoT the book has 7 segments, and you really can’t compress it much more than that (except maybe for cutting out Veovis’ first imprisonment and just having the destroy D’ni plot). I would be willing to wager cash that BoA would be a way easier adaptation to do.
I would also be up for a new story. I don’t know what kind of new story we could get that would tie in Myst Island and the D’ni City, but going this route would have the advantages of not a.) leaving anything out of one of the books, and b.) not causing huge rage about said leaving out. Maybe something during the time period of young Sirrus and Achenar growing up on Myst Island? Or hell, how about something modern-day, making a movie about the DRC’sdiscovery of D’ni?
Basically, what I think is this: a movie trying to narratize any of the games will be a failure. The first two novels would be acceptable choices, because in either Atrus or Anna we get the outsider figure to lead us by proxy. But the best choice would be a completely new story, something that doesn’t run as much “adaptation risk”.