When it came to Hollywood, Philip José Farmer (January 26, 1918 – February 25, 2009) never had the luck of SF and fantasy writers like Stephen King or Philip K. Dick. His interactions with the film industry always turned out poorly.
His terrific novella, The Alley Man, about a Neanderthal living unobtrusively in the contemporary world, was repeatedly optioned, but never produced. One of his best novels, To Your Scattered Bodies Go, introducing “Riverworld,” a place where all of mankind has been reincarnated along the banks of an enormous river, was utterly botched and blanded out when filmed as a feature-length pilot (broadcast on the Sci-Fi Channel) for a series that was never picked up. As Wikipedia notes with grim understatement, “A number of liberties are taken in the film with regards to the source material. The original hero [Sir Richard Francis Burton] and villain are replaced by other characters, the timeline of events is compressed (including the learning of languages which is eliminated entirely), and the nature of the resurrection process and food and clothing production are altered.”
In short, everything interesting and original in Farmer’s Riverworld stories was either altered or eliminated altogether.
Which is really too bad, because Farmer was one of the smartest, funniest, and most conceptually original writers to work in American SF. He was among the most experimental SF writers of his generation, the first American SF writer to deal seriously with the taboo areas of religion and sex. He saw the hidden depths in pulp fiction, and wrote serious “biographies” of pulp characters like Tarzan and Doc Savage. Venus on the Half Shell, a novel written in the style of, and attributed to, “Kilgore Trout,” a fictional character created by Kurt Vonnegut, sold better than anything published by Farmer under his own name.
And so, sadly, there are no great or even good Farmer adaptations to which I can refer you. The closest film ever came to even approximating a Farmer book was George Pal’s Doc Savage: The Man of Bronze (1975), one of Pal’s lesser efforts that was made in consultation with Farmer (as Doc’s “official” biographer). As in the case of the Riverworld pilot, further entries in the Doc Savage series were anticipated, but the first film, compromised by the campiness that was fashionable at that time, did too poorly to warrant them. One more sad fact via Wikipedia: “Another script was written by Philip José Farmer, and included a meeting between Doc and a retired Sherlock Holmes in 1936, but it was never filmed.”
The New York Times obit is here.