Feature published in Ceylon Today Sunday newspaper, 30 March 2014
To Go Where No Lankan Movie has Gone Before…
By Nalaka Gunawardene
Photos courtesy Dreams & Magic Entertainment
A young Lankan computer animation specialist and film professional is to direct an ambitious new feature film which is all about space travel.
Thilanka Perera is teaming up his father, veteran TV and film professional Maheel R Perera, to adapt one of Sir Arthur C Clarke’s short stories, “Into the Comet”.
This will be the first science fiction movie in Sinhala, as well as the first film of any genre to be produced in 3D Stereo in Sri Lanka, according to its producers, Dreams & Magic Entertainment (Pvt) Limited.
The production process was launched at the Cinnamon Grand Hotel in Colombo on 24 March 2014 with Economic Development Minister Basil Rajapaksa as chief guest.
The minister also unveiled the official website of the production, at http://www.intothecomet.com
In the short story, which was originally published in the American Magazine of Fantasy & Science Fiction in 1960, the entire story takes place inside a spaceship carrying a group of scientists to study a comet at close range.
“It is a challenge to turn this story into a full length movie, which we currently expect to run into around an hour and 40 minutes,” Thilanka said at the launch. “Our efforts will boost the capacity for movie special effects and Computer-generated imagery (CGI) in Sri Lanka.”
Thilanka, who first made a name for himself in computer animations when he was 12, has since gained industry experience in photography, videography and other digital technologies. This will be his maiden cinematic venture.
For co-producer Maheel Perera, ‘Into the Comet’ film has been in the making for over 15 years. Research and development work started in the late 1990s, but the film did not go into production as the necessary technology and resources were not available.
“We always wanted to do a world class production, and received Sir Arthur Clarke’s blessings at the time,” Maheel recalled. “We presented him an enlarged photo of the original spaceship envisaged for the movie, which he hung in his office room wall.”
This time around, Kelaniya University physics lecturer Charith Jayatilake has joined the effort as co-producer, providing the investment.
“Our cinema industry is hesitant to leap forward, to take chances with new technologies. It has not been easy for us to find a financier willing to support our innovation,” Thilanka said.
Maheel Perera serves as script writer and Stereo 3D adviser for the movie, while cinematography will be handled by Kavinda Ranaweera.
Thilanka hopes to identify his cast in the coming weeks primarily from among stage actors.
The movie’s success will depend critically on a strong cast and characterization. Some elements are to be added to the original storyline so as to provide an enhanced sense of drama and human touch, he said.
When Arthur C Clarke wrote the short story, which he originally titled “Inside the Comet”, the Space Age itself was in its infancy (having started in 1957). At that time, no human had yet traveled to space (Yuri Gagarin went up in April 1961).
Also, little was known about the make up and inside working of comets, periodical icy objects that come hurtling towards the sun every now and then. But Clarke extrapolated from what astronomer Fred Whipple had theorised in 1950.
Whipple speculated — correctly, as it turned out — that comets were really ‘dirty snowballs’ with their nucleus, a few kilometers in diameter, made of ices of water, ammonia, carbon dioxide and methane. There are also dust particles, which together make comets spectacular phenomena when they approach the sun.
The story involves a hastily assembled spaceship to get closer look at a spectacular comet that appears once every two million years. Astronomers on board accomplish their mission, but as the ship readies to return to Earth, its onboard computer suddenly malfunctions.
The disabled spaceship can no longer automatically plot the right path. The crew and craft risk being whisked off into deep space with the comet.
Then George Pickett, the sole journalist on board who is part Japanese, has a brainwave. He remembers how his granduncle used the Abacus – an ancient calculating tool still in use in parts of Asia and Africa – when working as a bank teller. He persuades the ship’s crew to use improvised abacuses to manually carry out thousands of calculations needed for maneuvering the spaceship…
Clarke envisaged more than half a century ago how a multinational space crew embarks on a scientific expedition – comparable, in some ways, to polar expeditions on Earth.
“Into the Comet” the movie will go into production later this year, and is due to be completed in 2015.
Several Arthur C Clarke stories have formed the basis of cinematic or TV adaptations in the past. The best known is 2001: A Space Odyssey (1968), whose core story came from a 1948 Clarke short story titled ‘The Sentinel’. It was expanded by director Stanley Kubrick who co-wrote the screenplay with Clarke.
In 1984, Peter Hyams directed 2010: The Year We Make Contact based on 2010: Odyssey Two that Clarke wrote in 1982 as a sequel to the original. And in the mid 1990s, Steven Spielberg optioned the movie rights to Clarke’s 1990 novel The Hammer of God. But the resulting movie, Deep Impact (1998) was so different from the book that Clarke did not get any on-screen credit.
See also – 2 January 2010: 2010: The Year We Make Contact…?
28 April 2008: H R Premaratne: The artist who built a space station for 2001