Why do I write on Neil Gaiman today, is maybe because I am reading his latest book The Ocean at the End of Lane. But it is also because the miraculous power that his work radiates which binds the reader effortlessly to the story he has imagined, makes me lament the paucity of such talents writing stories of the fantasy / adventure genre for Hollywood studios in recent times, who are creating only crumbling remains of what were meant to be glorious monuments. Studios are still seeking the scripts for movies that would bring them the success of the kind that the Harry Potter series and The Chronicles of Narnia have provided in the past. And the reason they are failing in creating yet another wonderful movie of such fantasy genre seems to begin with their lack of understanding of how a popular story should be converted into a tight screenplay that would eventually become a delightful movie. The previous weekend saw the Percy Jackson franchise get washed away, another failed attempt at converting a popular book series into a successful movie, and the coming week could possibly see a similar fate for Mortal Instruments: City of Bones which is the first of a six book fantasy series. And so it does seem time that the studios start paying attention in capturing the right book of this genre for creating a movie, and then get the screenplay perfect. If my suggestion was to be taken, get in Neil Gaiman. His book, his screenplay. Simply because, he is a genius who could hardly do anything wrong.
The Englishman, at 52 years of age, has done things in the world of literature and art that many would take a few lives to do. Short fiction, novels, comic books, graphic novels, audio theatre and films. We could write pages on Gaiman’s works, but for now we look at the connection between Gaiman and the world of films. Remember 2007’s Stardust? A film on a love-dizzy romantic who ends up with a fallen star and embarks on an adventure escaping a witch while being assisted by a pirate. Phew! Or 2009’s Coraline? The story of a curious 11-year old who escapes into an alternate world, the Other World, to escape the banality of her life. Two movies, that may not have been the biggest of hits, but achieved much critical acclaim, and were genuine gems in the genre of fantasy-adventure films which should not be missed. The connection? Both Stardust and Coraline are movies based on Neil Gaiman’s books. Sadly, these are the only two works of Gaiman that have received movie adaptations so far. Another of his novels, InterWorld is said to be adapted by DreamWorks Animation but nothing concrete has come out so far. Gaiman has however been a bit more involved in the world of films. He was the co-writer for the screenplay of the animated movie Beowulf and wrote the story and screenplay for a lesser known film MirrorMask. Interestingly, Gaiman has written and directed a short film too, A Short Film about John Bolton. But that is not enough. We need more of Gaiman. And in a much more glamorous large-sized form!
So what else has Gaiman to offer to Hollywood? The Sandman, of course. A 75-issue comic book series, it narrates the tale of Dream. Yep, the concept of dream that we know of takes a human-like form in this uniquely created Gaiman world, and the other characters are equally interesting, be it Death, Delirium or Desire and many more. Despite not having read it, I still have heard a lot about The Sandman series and is considered by many, the best of Gaiman’s works. Why it has not yet received a movie adaptation is confusing. It is rich in characters, rich in plotlines, and rich in creating a visually stimulating universe that has so much to offer the fans of fantasy films, who are in desperate need of something refreshing. Warner Bros. has worked on a film adaptation of The Sandman for many years. There have been drafts and re-drafts of the scripts but nothing has gone beyond this stage. In fact for the latter drafts that were sent to Gaiman, the author retorted by calling it “not only the worst Sandman script I’ve ever seen, but quite easily the worst script I’ve ever read.” At Comic-Con of 2007, he said “We need someone who has the same obsession with the source material as Peter Jackson had with Lord of the Rings or Sam Raimi had with Spider-Man.” And that is so true! For the lack of such obsession, the lack of this drive to convert a fantasy tale into the perfect movie has led to the demise of so many great stories, be it Eragon, InkHeart, The Spiderwick Chronicles, Percy Jackson, and the list could go on. We do need the perfect man to be involved wholeheartedly if The Sandman was to ever become the grand movie series that it deserves to be. One can wait for a little while for the right man to become available, can’t we? Wouldn’t Peter Jackson be done with The Hobbit series by 2014? Just a suggestion.
While The Sandman has its own complications that only an astute director can truly unravel and bring on the big screen, there are other works of Gaiman that deserve a look in by the studios. For these are stories with heart and soul, ones that can make you teary-eyed, and bring a smile at the same time, and all the while keeping the mystical element very much alive. One of his most popular books, American Gods, is reportedly under development at HBO for a television series. If that was to come true, one could count on HBO to create a visually appealing and enthralling television series, in a manner they have done recently with Game of Thrones. Another book by Gaiman that truly warrants a movie adaptation is The Graveyard Book, which is sort of like The Jungle Book, only this time the young boy lands in a cemetery and the ones taking care of him are ghosts. A book rich in imagination, nothing surprising since it is Gaiman’s work after all, it holds within it drama, romance, thrill, chase, and humour, ingredients that make for a perfect story when weaved together beautifully… ingredients that make for a perfect movie when held by the right hands. In January 2013, Ron Howard had been linked to direct a film adaptation of this book, and those are hands we would trust. But official announcements have not been made, and it could just be a story which dies an early death. Still with bated breath we wait, for someone to realise what potential this book holds, and how it could be turned into a delightful movie with lovable creatures despite the sinister setting. And if one does not wish to step further back, then Gaiman’s latest book The Ocean at the End of the Lane has the same elements once over again to make for a perfect tale, and a perfect movie. It has a much more simplistic countryside background, few characters, but rich content and an exciting adventure that would appeal to all age-groups. The book has been written in such a simplistic tone with a seven-year old as the protagonist that it juxtaposes well with the complexity of the story. A really good screenplay would be required here, for with such fantasy filled tales, a screenplay may make or break things. Maybe get Gaiman to write it. Or get him involved as a consultant on the film. But the bottomline for the studios is, grab onto what Gaiman has been writing and bringforth that true magical film we are missing in the theatres now. Do not build a lowly $50 million budget flick, but let it have the grandiose feel to it that it deserves. Take that gamble, for Gaiman’s stories deserve it. The Portsmouth City Council have recently announced that they would be naming a lane as The Ocean at the End of the Lane, that is all they can do to honor Gaiman’s works. The world of Hollywood can do so much more. It is about time… and we hope, that a Gaiman inspired movie is around the corner!