The producers of the 2016 film Arrival have picked up the rights to adapt another short science fiction story: The Message by Ken Liu, which has all the hallmarks that brought Denis Villeneuve’s film such considerable acclaim.
The story follows an archeologist who reunites with his estranged daughter during a mission to a distant planet to study a long-extinct alien civilization. The pair encounters some problems on the planet that relate to the demise of the aliens and their own relationship.
The Hollywood Reporter says that 21 Laps and FilmNation’s Shawn Levy, Dan Levine, and Aaron Ryder will produce the adaptation and that they’re currently working to find a director and screenwriter for the project.
Liu originally published the story in 2012 in Interzone magazine. It’s not available online to read, but you can listen to an audio version on StarShipSofa (at the 18-minute mark). Liu noted at the time (there are some minor spoilers for the story at that link) that he was inspired to write the story partly because of his own experiences as a new parent: “Communicating with your child is just as challenging as trying to communicate across thousands of years, across millions of miles.”
There are echoes of what made ‘Arrival’ really great in this story
Arrival, which is based on a story by author Ted Chiang and directed by Villeneuve, followed a linguist as she is recruited to help communicate with aliens that arrive on Earth, which unexpectedly changes her relationship with time. While first encounter films are often fodder for big, special effects-laden action scenes, Arrival went the opposite direction by telling a deeply personal and emotional story, balanced against the spectacle of aliens arriving on Earth.
Laps and FilmNation earned a slew of Academy Award nominations, including Best Picture, Best Director, and Best Adapted Screenplay. (It won for Best Sound Editing). The Message has all the ingredients to repeat that success: the relationship between the father and his daughter, which is set against the backdrop of ancient alien ruins, with a mysterious problem that they have to confront at its core. Clearly, they’re hoping that this story will bring some of the same recognition.
This project is just the latest of Liu’s to be picked up for adaptation. AMC is working on an animated series based on his short stories called Pantheon, while his debut novel, The Grace of Kings, was optioned a couple of years ago for the foundation of a film franchise. More recently, Netflix adapted his story Good Hunting for its animated anthology series, Love, Death + Robots earlier this year.
Disclosure: Liu contributed to a short story for a book I edited, War Stories: New Military Science Fiction, back in 2014.