Neil Shusterman’s Scythe Could Herald a New Direction for Sci-Fi Blockbusters

Neil Shusterman’s Arc of the Sickle series has captured the hearts of many readers, including myself, since its first issue in 2016. I finished the first novel in one sitting when I was home sick from work with a cold. A gripping sci-fi novel perfect for a day like this, I read over 400 pages of Scythe in six hours.

Scythe has long been viewed by me as a prime contender for adaptation, and it turns out I’m not alone. For my “Please Adapt” column, I’ve selected a book that’s already being adapted, although the “progress” here is slow and a bit cumbersome, which is a rare occurrence. Let’s start talking!

Here are some minor spoilers for Scythe. I won’t spoil Thunderhead or Tollgate because I haven’t read them yet.

The story so far:

When I started researching this article, I was both excited and scared. Behold – a Scythe adaptation is in the works! However, the adaptation has gone through quite a bit of a turnaround, changing hands multiple times to date. Universal Pictures and Amblin Entertainment are behind the project. Sierra Gamble, known for The Illusionist, You and Supernatural, originally wrote the screenplay. Gamble withdrew from the project in 2020 to make way for a new draft by It and Annabelle’s Gary Dauberman. In November 2022, news broke that the “Scythe” series was once again being re-drafted by a new writer, with Steven Spielberg also involved. All the while, Shusterman served as a producer.

The project is still under development, and we don’t know when it’ll hit our screens. Spielberg’s attachment is why we’re both excited and wary (depending on how you feel about the Ready Player One movie adaptation).

Still, “Scythe” has a lot going for it and would be a lot of fun if it makes it to the big screen.

Vision of “Utopia”:

In Shusterman’s world, medicine and technology have eliminated most of humanity’s problems. An artificial intelligence known as Thunderhead controls much of our daily lives. You can fall from buildings and come back to life without much effort or resources. There are only two things that can outright kill or “pick up” a person: fire or a sickle.

Scythes are creatures trained to wipe out populations, and each scythe does it differently. Some try to stick to statistics, to justify their kills with numbers. Others take a more random approach. Still, others decide who to target by looking for someone who is already tired of life. Most people both respect and fear the scythe. Our protagonists, Rowan and Citra, become apprentices to Faraday the Scythe, learning how the Scythes are used and the inner workings of the organization that manages them. But more on that later.

The concept offers a refreshing change of pace when it comes to the cinematic stories we’re used to seeing. Young people’s dystopian tropes ended years ago: Maze RunnerThe Hunger Games, Divergent, and more, before the trend finally faded and the superhero craze took full hold. Shusterman’s Sickle takes a different direction, asking a bold question: what would utopia look like?

In a world free from death and disease, population needs to be brought under control. The result, as you might expect, is a “utopia” with its own set of unique problems. Scythe’s world is visually and conceptually interesting, and that’s already one of its great strengths. Given the unique puzzles that come with it, you’ve got a pretty good premise to adapt.

A mysterious heart:

Shortly after taking Rowan and Citra as apprentices, Faraday the Scythe disappeared. It turns out that he took in two disciples, which violated some unwritten rules. His disappearance triggers the central mystery of the novel, which Shusterman deftly combines with the world-building burdens of his imaginary utopia and the inner workings of Reign of the Scythe, which we’ll get to shortly.

The driving plot of “Scythe” provides a lot of narrative material for potential viewers. The mystery at the heart of Scythe makes it easy to root for Rowan and Citra as they learn how to navigate their new community (which may be more hostile than one might think) and try to unravel what happened to their mentor. In a movie, the details need to be at least a little condensed, and the mysterious angles will help us empathize with the characters and their struggles in the fish-out-of-water scenes.

To be clear, I’m not suggesting that mysteries are shortcuts to character development. We still need to spend enough time getting to know Scythe’s characters. However, in the movie version, we will spend less time in this fictional world, and focusing on its mysteries will help the audience to easily become involved in the protagonist’s journey.

Dirty rotten politics:

Byfar my favorite aspect of Scythe is the institution of Scythedom itself. Scythes are bound by precepts that dictate who, how and why they can “gather”.

Scythes are not bound by the normal laws of society. Instead, they hold secret meetings three times a year. There, they vote on new rules and appointments.

Not all Scythes agree on how collection should be done or how they should generally behave. Tensions between different factions of the Scythe Party have spawned interesting political intrigue that will be a lot of fun to watch on screen. The “bad” scythes are delightfully evil in the books, and encounters with them are always fun to read. With the right cast and writing team, they could really be a major highlight of a movie.

I’ve kept this section short on purpose so I don’t spoil too much, but rest assured, Scythe’s political threads offer plenty of adaptable content.

Outlook: Likely

The Arc of the Scythe is as close to a sure thing as I could find in the Please Adapt column. While potential writers keep changing, updates from Shusterman himself always provide hope. With the studio and Spielberg on board, things look good for a Scythe movie, and possibly even a full-blown series adaptation.

Right now, we may not have a release date or even a release window, but the Scythe project is still in development, which is something to be excited about!

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