The recent announcement of a fictionalized Lovecraft biopic (and the lingering Ripley’s Believe it or Not movie) makes me smell a trend, one that’s been going on in comics and books for years: instead of adapting the works of beloved authors/telling the same biography again and again, Hollywood is looking to mix biography with fiction. What if Sir Arthur Conan Doyle solved mysteries? What if Charles Fort personally got involved with the paranormal?
And now: what if Harry Houdini was a globe-trotting adventurer?
Summit has acquired the rights to The Secret Life of Houdini: The Making of America’s First Superhero, a biography of the legendary magician and escape artist. Here’s what The Hollywood Reporter says:
The comprehensive tome, published in 2006 by Atria Books, has become
known for insinuating that Harry Houdini acted as a spy for Britain and
was asked to be an adviser to Czar Nicholas II’s court in
prerevolutionary Russia. The book also portrays the master escape
artist and magician as a debunker of con artists who pretended to be
spiritualists, leading to the controversial theory that Houdini’s death
was caused by the spiritualist movement as payback.
But Summit doesn’t want a biopic – they want an adventure story starring Houdini. It seems like the title may have been their favorite part of the book.
I can already see the outline of this film: Houdini travels the world, doing shows but actually on missions for the government. While he’s investigating the Germans, he discovers their new bomb program is being led by a mystic; not only does he thwart the Germans inventing the A-Bomb thirty years early, he debunks the mystic! Ka-Pow! But in the epilogue, we discover that the mystic was part of an international conspiracy of spiritualists… some of whom may even be on the level. Stay tuned for the sequel; Houdini Unbound!
This comes, I believe, from adaptation fatigue. There’s just a dearth of properties remaining to be adapted, so the next best thing is to use familiar names. After this, hopefully, comes the next part of the cycle: original films that are just heavily ‘influenced’ by the original properties. Ie, instead of a remake of a Hitchcock movie or a movie where Hitchcock fights a serial killer, we get a movie described as Hitchcockian that rips off six different Hitchcock movies.
This is Hollywood.
Behind every great book adaptation is a forgettable first try. — By Ryan Covey