News: Westworld Creators To Adapt Michael Crichton's Sphere for HBO

You may not know it if your only exposure to the story is the thoroughly-just-ok 1998 film, but Michael Crichton's Sphere is an excellent novel; arguably one of the prolific sci-fi author's very best. The 1987 bestseller is a fantastically creepy, psychologically-powerful story with fascinating themes and very cinematic setpieces, which has the potential to make a much better screen adaptation than the one we already got. A very rushed production, motivated mostly by a desire to capitalize on the success of Jurassic Park, technological difficulties related to shooting underwater, and disagreements with the studio about what the film should be, all contributed to the adaptation not being nearly as good as it rightly should have been, from a director like Barry Levinson and a cast like Dustin Hoffman, Samuel L. Jackson, Sharon Stone, and Liev Schreiber. The untapped potential of that film has long made Sphere seem ripe for a remake - and now we are finally getting one, in the form of an HBO series. And considering the magic that HBO has worked in reimagining Michael Crichton's Westworld, this seems like it could be a perfect match.

Sphere tells the story of a group of scientists and psychologists who are sent to a deep-sea research station to investigate what appears to be a UFO that crashed into the ocean floor hundreds of years ago - but which appears to still have life signs coming from within. On the derelict ship they find a mysterious alien sphere which seems to be some kind of living machine which can reach into the minds of the people who come into contact with it, and manifest their subconscious thoughts as reality - but also their nightmares. Within the claustrophobic confines of the deep-sea base, they find themselves trapped with not only the very real dangers of their psychic manifestations, but also their own unraveling psyches, as exposure to the sphere and its effects takes a heavy psychological toll. The setting of the underwater base is a powerfully tense and claustrophobic one, as the potential for disaster literally closes in with the water pressure. The sci-fi/horror of the psychic manifestations and otherworldly technology of the sphere is ripe for some creepy visuals (Crichton's novel was just as big an influence on Event Horizon as Hellraiser, though that connection is much less discussed, and much less showy). And the psychological-thriller aspects, and tense interpersonal dynamics, are just as suspenseful and key to the novel's success as the more fantastical elements. All in all, it is a very well-rounded, effectively-told genre blend which finds Crichton at the top of his literary game. It also gives plenty of room for HBO to expand the story and turn it into a full-season exploration of those themes and possibilities.

Indeed, the show is being created by the same people who brought us Westworld, as well as the recent, critically-acclaimed HBO reboot of Perry Mason. Westworld writer Denise Thé will be Sphere's showrunner, and Westworld creators Lisa Joy and Jonathan Nolan are producing it with her, at Perry Mason's Team Downey productions. Very little other information about the show is currently known, so it's hard to say exactly what this adaptation will look like. Westworld is, of course, a very loose adaptation of Michael Crichton's original, which really just uses the source material as a springboard to go in its own direction, but it's safe to say that Sphere has aged a lot better, and feels a lot more contemporary, than the original Westworld, and might make itself more conducive to a more direct translation to the screen. Sphere is also a much more finite concept, given its specific "these people go to investigate this thing" premise and its claustrophobic location, so it seems like it may be more ideal as a one-season limited series than an ongoing show. It's hard to know what we could expect here - a one-season, more faithful adaptation of the book, or a Westworld-esque springboarding into completely different territory - but either way, the combination of these showrunners and this novel is extremely exciting.

- Christopher S. Jordan

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