WGN America gives a pilot order for a ROADSIDE PICNIC

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picnic cover

Be still my beating heart. And this time it’s not because Nick could be nearby and I’m avoiding him, but because I’m genuinely excited to hear one of my favourite books could be coming to the small screen.

Cable channel WGN America, home of Salem and the recently cancelled (and well regarded) Manhattan, has (as per Hollywood Reporter) given a pilot order for a drama series based on the classic 1971 Russian science-fiction novel ‘Roadside Picnic’ written by Arkady and Boris Strugatsky.

Jack Paglen (Transcendence and the upcoming Alien: Covenant) will write the script and executive produce alongside Alan Taylor (Game of Thrones, Thor: The Dark World), who will also direct the pilot.

For those of you unfamiliar with the novel, firstly read it – it’s brilliant, and secondly it revolves around the events following a mysterious alien visitation that left behind six “Zones” scattered around the world filled with mysterious and dangerous artifacts and anomalies that humanity is struggling to understand. Access to the Zones has been restricted by world governments and the UN, and aggressively policed for fear of unknown consequences.

The main protagonist is Redrick “Red” Schuhart, a “stalker” – someone who illegally enters the Zones to retrieve the valuable alien artifacts at great cost to themselves, mentally and physically, and sell them on the black market.

The novel’s name comes from an analogy for the event given by one of the characters, Dr. Valentine Pilman (and via Wikipedia), comparing the alien visitation to a picnic:

A picnic. Picture a forest, a country road, a meadow. Cars drive off the country road into the meadow, a group of young people get out carrying bottles, baskets of food, transistor radios, and cameras. They light fires, pitch tents, turn on the music. In the morning they leave.

The animals, birds, and insects that watched in horror through the long night creep out from their hiding places. And what do they see? Old spark plugs and old filters strewn around… Rags, burnt-out bulbs, and a monkey wrench left behind… And of course, the usual mess—apple cores, candy wrappers, charred remains of the campfire, cans, bottles, somebody’s handkerchief, somebody’s penknife, torn newspapers, coins, faded flowers picked in another meadow.

And we’re the animals picking through the trash, exceptionally dangerous trash that can, in the case of “meatgrinders” or “witch’s jelly”,  kill you in a heart beat or worse – or not, as some can be beneficial too.

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The novel was the inspiration behind the 1979 Russian science-fiction art movie Stalker, and more recently the ‘S.T.A.L.K.E.R.’ trilogy of video games – another favourite of mine.

The story could work very well on the small screen as it draws on many themes such as humanity’s coming to terms with alien life, government conspiracies and corporate intrigue, small-scale human drama and exploration of the unknown – and can easily merge the drama, horror and science-fiction genres. I’ll be keeping a beady eye open for any more news concerning this one. What do you think?

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Last Updated: March 8, 2016

  • Andre116

    Sounds cool. Never read the novel though.

    • Alien Emperor Trevor

      I highly recommend it. Only read it myself early last year – for a sci-fi book that’s 45 years old now, it’s barely aged.

  • MAN, how would they possibly get it right? I have doubt, many of them. How can you recreate one of the most atmospheric novels and games in a movie or series? I get the feeling this will be a series…
    I just don’t see this working. 🙁

    Remember there were those Russians who worked with GSC to create a Stalker series, that shit never happened. And it’s obvious why…

    • Alien Emperor Trevor

      Well it’s a pilot order for a potential series, so a lot will depend on how well that’s received before they go ahead properly, but so many series don’t even get to that stage. And it’s a cable channel, so they don’t have to be family friendly if they don’t want to.

      But yeah, I’m nervous & optimistic at the same time. 😀

      • Can relate to the emotional roller coaster. I want to believe, but I’m as skeptical as most of us who’s pent more than a year exploring the internets.

        I wonder what the series focus will be, the action aspect of the Stalker series or the more mystical aspect of Roadside picnic?

        • Alien Emperor Trevor

          I’d really go for a drama / psychological horror mix, not so much action. The zones really mess people up.

          • That’s what I would like as well. Character build up, mystery and lots of horror with strange things happening.

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