Splice Director Vincenzo Natali Digs Tunnels

Harry Potter publisher Barry Cunningham proudly declared that he had found the next world-shaking smash when he signed up authors Roderick Gordon and Brian Williams and published their book The Highfield Mole, renaming it Tunnels. It doesn't seem that he was quite right – there's three Tunnels books so far with a fourth to come soon and I only know of one person who's read any of them at all – but the first in the Tunnels series, unsurprisingly just called Tunnels itself, was at least was a very well received book by the press.

Today, Relativity Media announced that they have signed Cube and Splice director Vincenzo Natali to direct their big screen adaptation of Tunnels.

The book's protagonist is a 14 year old Albino boy Will who follows his father into a series of subterranean tunnels. What he finds down below may seem superficially reminiscent of The City of Ember, or perhaps more so Journey to the Centre of the Earth, but it struck me as also having a lot in common with The Village. To say more would be spoiler material, I think – and not for just one film.

The 'villains' of the book are the Styx, a kind of militia of religious guardians, if you can imagine. They hate the people from our world, up above their tunnels, calling us Topsoilers. The Styx rule with an iron rod and routinely use fear to keep the underground colonists in line. There's a solid and well defined idea at the heart of the story, and understanding the Styx is the key to it.

He's a truly excellent filmmaker so I've got every confidence that Natali will do a great job with this picture and only hope the screenplay is up to snuff. Scriptwriters Simon Sandquist and Joel Bergvall directed the original Swedish version of The Invisible and, more recently, the massively delayed Sarah Michelle Gellar movie Possession – which makes them 1 for 2, by common account. It's a coin toss.

The film will be based upon only the first book in the series (not always the case – the Spiderwick novels were all condensed into one film, the Lemony Snicket picture took in the first few volumes) but, of course, if it's a hit, we'll be seeing the rest before long, I'm sure. What I'm not too sure about is if the adaptation will keep the cliff-hanger ending of the book. The Golden Compass wisely ditched the teaser ending when it started to look unlikely that any follow-up would be coming along.

Alongside Peter Jackson's still-officially-only-rumoured film of Mortal Engines, it looks like there will be another strong adaptation of young-reader fiction stepping up to fill the void after the Potter pictures are all played out, and each of them from a hugely exciting director too.