By Gerard Wood 23 July 2009
Although news of planned adaptations of fantasy fiction for the screen come along fairly often, it’s not often that anything actually eventuates, or if it does, that the wait is worth it. More often than not the news arrives like a bolt of lightning and then proceeds to fade away so slowly that we’re generally still waiting for something to eventuate years after the news first broke (what did happen to the Elric and Shannara movies?).

The upshot is that it’s fairly difficult to become all that excited when news does break of yet another work of epic fantasy making its way to the screen, and to be honest I barely even registered HBO’s purchase of the rights to George R. R. Martin’s award winning fantasy series A Song of Ice and Fire back in 2007. But this project has been moving forward unusually fast, and with news this week that Sean Bean has joined the cast as Eddard "Ned" Stark, Warden of the North, and Lord of Winterfell, this adaptation is taking on some real substance. Finally it's worth the attention.

So, what do we know? While it may be obvious given HBO’s involvement, it’s worth stating at the outset that we’re obviously not looking at a big screen adaptation here. Although only four of the planned seven novels in George Martin’s series have been published, word is that HBO is planning to produce a TV series for the entire sequence of novels, with each series comprising 13 episodes. If there's a downside to this, it's that we’re obviously not going to get a big screen bonanza like Lord of the Rings. On the other hand, adapting a long, intricate and complex work of fiction as a television series is possibly the only way to do justice to a novel. Despite the heroic efforts of Peter Jackson and team, few Tolkien purists would be entirely satisfied with many of the compromises made in the Rings movies. Purely from a story telling perspective there’s far greater opportunity with a made for television series to be faithful to the text and avoid many of the compromises that are inevitable when reducing hundreds of pages to a couple of hours of screen time. A good example of this would be the SciFi Channel’s Dune mini series which might lack the big screen impact of David Lynch’s Dune, but the end result is far more recognisably Frank Herbert’s work.

A Game of Thrones, the first book in Martin's series, was published in 1996 and the fifth novel, A Dance with Dragons, is looking like having an early 2010 release, so all things being equal it’ll probably be 2016 before the final novel in the sequence lands on any bookshelves and can be adapted for the screen. If HBO really intends on adapting the entire sequence of novels, this not only represents some serious long term planning, but also a resounding act of faith in the quality of Martin’s writing and his ability to deliver.

But let’ not jump the gun. At this stage, we’re only looking at a pilot for the first series, and many a series has died an early death with the pilot episode.

Nonetheless, there are many good reasons why this project might succeed where so many others have failed. For a start, Martin’s gritty and realistic fantasy is quality writing. The first novel was nominated for the 1998 Nebula Award and the 1997 World Fantasy Award, and won the 1997 Locus Award; chapters published separately as the Blood of the Dragon novella won the Hugo Award for Best Novella in 1997. Furthermore, Martin plans to be involved with the production, perhaps as an executive producer with approval of scripts, so we can probably count on the integrity of his vision being retained. There’s also a hint that he may write one episode per season, although I’ve got a strong suspicion that there’ll be some pressure to finish writing the remaining novels before HBO runs out of material to film!

Tom McCarthy will be directing, based on a script by David Benioff (Troy, X-Men Origins: Wolverine) and D.B. Weiss. While McCarthy is perhaps best known for his acting, he does have two critically acclaimed movies to his credit as a director (The Station Agent and The Visitor). Interesting facts about Weiss, an author in his own right, are that he apparently wrote one of the many scripts for the doomed adaptation of Orson Scott Card's Ender's Game, and is working on the script for the I Am Legend prequel. As well as Sean Bean, the cast includes Mark Addy (A Knight's Tale), Peter Dinklage (Prince Caspian) and Harry Lloyd (from the BBC Robin Hood series). Filming is due to commence in Ireland in October.

So, for those who know nothing of the books, what can you expect? Benioff perhaps best captured the essence of the series, if not its gravitas, with an infamous comment in interview with the New York Magazine, describing A Game of Thrones as “The Sopranos in Middle Earth”. Make of that what you will!
Source of this article : SFF Media