Columns / Discourse / May 9, 2012

Check the Reel: Blockbusters that will never be

Say what you will about Hollywood’s current creative state, at least they’re consistent. “The Avengers” was made after six films (including two false starts) of preparation and “Harry Potter” made it to its eighth and final installment, proving that a lengthy book series can be realized in its entirety on the big screen.

“Of course,” you say. “Once you adapt one book in a series, you have to adapt the rest.” For a popular series like “Harry Potter,” yes … but in a business as fickle as moviemaking, there are no guarantees, even with seemingly safe, previously established properties. Take these failed film sensations …

“The Chronicles of Narnia” – C.S. Lewis’ beloved fantasy series, because of or despite its Christian subtext, has clearly endured over the years and the first adaptation of its most popular entry, “The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe,” performed admirably. Yet here Hollywood hit a brick wall: after you translate the more “action-packed” stories to the big screen (“The Lion, the Witch and The Wardrobe,” “Prince Caspian,” “The Voyage of the Dawn Treader”) how do you deal with the rest? Plans were drawn to adapt “The Magician’s Nephew,” Narnia’s creation myth, before financial issues made this unlikely. Aside from some brief spectacle, “The Magician’s Nephew” plays subtly and quietly, a problem also faced by most Dr. Seuss stories. And even if it is made, what of “A Horse and His Boy?” This story offers up a questionable portrayal of an Islam-like religion. How can the end of the world and everybody in it, as we see in “The Last Battle,” be turned into a mainstream, family-friendly hit? Count on Hollywood to not even bother.

“His Dark Materials” – All the problems faced by “The Chronicles of Narnia” apply doubly to “His Dark Materials.” Philip Pullman’s atheist response to C.S. Lewis has enough following that a movie adaptation was worth some investment, though not enough to wipe away any insecurity over the books’ subject matter (in a nutshell: killing God). “The Golden Compass,” overly sanitized and marred by executive wrangling, came out to much criticism from both supporters and opponents of the original books and failed to make much of a splash. Don’t bank on any sequels.

“Atlas Shrugged” – Who would have thought that Ayn Rand would be considered blockbuster material? Clearly those who possesed some of the countless hands that “Atlas Shrugged,” Rand’s magnum opus and a Bible to many objectivists and conservative-libertarians, passed through for nearly 50 years in various attempts to turn the half-philosophical, half-narrative behemoth into a functioning film. “Atlas Shrugged, Part 1” only reached theaters because it was rushed into production on a shoestring budget before anyone could object. The result, predictably, came out shoddy and incomplete, and audiences followed critics’ advice and avoided this film. “Part 2” out of a planned three has barely scrounged a budget to cover its production, but I can safely say “Part 3” will remain an objectivist pipe dream. Guess we will never know who John Galt is.

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