‘Arrival’ Production Team Reunites to Adapt a Ken Liu Story with ‘The Message’

     June 28, 2019


If you still haven’t seen the 2016 Oscar-winning film Arrival, now’s a great time to remedy that. Fantastically scripted by Eric Heisserer and featuring breathtaking direction from Denis Villeneuve, the heart of the story comes from Ted Chiang‘s source material, “Story of Your Life.” 21 Laps Entertainment and FilmNation Entertainment recognized that winning combination for Arrival and struck Oscar gold because of it. Now, they’re hoping for a repeat with a new feature adaptation of Ken Liu‘s short story, The Message.

THR reports that the production companies have acquired the movie rights to “The Message”, a short story from Liu that originally appeared in a 2012 issue of Interzone. The story follows an astro-archeologist who investigates and preserves the legacy of extinct civilizations on distant planets. When he’s reunited with a teenage daughter he has never met and never knew he had, together they explore a mysterious ruin and a cryptic message it contains. That’s the science-y side of it, but the heart centers on the pair’s discovery of their own relationship and a secret that will change them forever.

Liu talked about the real-world inspiration for the short story in his blog:

The direct inspiration here is, of course, the Yucca Mountain Nuclear Waste Repository, and specifically the “nuclear semiotics” project, which thought about the challenge of designing the site in such a way as to send a warning message to future humans throughout the subsequent millennia as the waste slowly decayed.


Image via Interzone

But Liu also talked about the difficulty in finding the “human element” of the tale, which took nearly 10 years:

You’d think this story would be easy to write for me. It contains some math, some alien archaeology, some chemistry, and even “single-bit errors” — all stuff that I love. But for many years, this story went nowhere. I think all the bits I mention above, the speculative elements, were sound, but I couldn’t find the human element. Characters shuffled into story drafts and then shuffled out of them, leaving no trace. They did not feel connected to the set.


I gave up on it for a while.


Then I became a father, and I realized that sometimes, to a parent, communicating with your child is just as challenging as trying to communicate across thousands of years, across millions of miles.


And so the story finally had the human element, the bones that would hold it up.

You can hear a narration of “The Message” here, starting at 20:40.

Nebula, Hugo and World Fantasy award-winner Liu has a number of written works in various stages of adaptations at the moment. Novels and short fiction alike, like “The Grace of Kings” and “The Paper Menagerie and Other Stories” respectively, have already been acquired for adaptation, while Good Hunting” was the inspiration for an episode of Netflix’s Love, Death & Robots. AMC’s Pantheon, with Craig Silverstein (Bones, Nikita) on board as executive producer, comes from a series of Liu’s interconnected short stories.

As for The Message, 21 Laps’ Shawn Levy and Dan Levine and FilmNation’s Aaron Ryder will produce, with FilmNation financing. The team is currently searching for a director and screenwriter, so stay tuned!

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