Sunday, May 20, 2012

Dirk Pitt Returns?

Recently reviewing the stats for this blog, I was struck by the number of web surfers who found their way to it looking for information about the possibility of Hollywood making more Dirk Pitt movies, whether sequels to Sahara (2005), or a new, "rebooted" series which starts with a clean slate (to judge by the frequency with which search keywords like "dirk pitt movie 2" and "any more dirk pitt movies" turn up in the section titled "traffic sources"). This seems to be mainly because of my earlier post, "Returning to Sahara: The Dirk Pitt Novels on Screen."

That post considered the pitfalls involved in translating Clive Cussler's novel Sahara from the page to the screen, rather than any plans for more Dirk Pitt films, about which I have heard, seen or read absolutely nothing – which is exactly what I would expect. The fact that Sahara was a commercial disappointment ordinarily would not rule out the studios taking another shot. After all, Hollywood has proven nothing short of fanatical about trying to squeeze every penny it can out of any and every established IP, and as fans can attest, the Dirk Pitt novels sure look like obvious source material for big-budget action-adventure films – especially as this franchise remains very much alive, new entries continuing to regularly appear on bestseller lists. Of course, as I pointed out in my previous post, adapting Pitt's adventures to the big screen is trickier than it looks, given how dated some of the plots have become (in light of changes in world politics, and industry sensibilities), but Hollywood has never been averse to seizing on a brand name and a few other select trappings (a character, a gimmick), and dispensing with everything else, and in the process launching a commercially viable film sequence, even as it leaves the purists unsatisfied. (They did it with James Bond, after all. And Jason Bourne. And Star Trek. And others far too numerous to list here.)

However, it is worth remembering that Sahara wasn't just a disappointment, but could be described without any hyperbole whatsoever as one of the biggest flops in movie history – and that this came on top of an earlier production of a Dirk Pitt film (1980's Raise the Titanic) which could be described in exactly the same terms. Indeed, one might say Cussler was lucky to see his series get a second chance, even if it took twenty-five years for this to happen. The way that extraordinary opportunity went has left the material seeming almost cursed – and silly as that may sound, one should not overestimate the rationality of this business. (In fact, when so much money is at stake, the factors to be weighed in the decisions regarding its use are so intangible, and every facet of commerce has come to be seeped in a casino mentality, one should bet on Hollywood's irrationality every time.) Perhaps even more frightening than any such curse, Cussler himself did not manage to have a good relationship with the producers, with the result a protracted, grinding legal battle in the aftermath of the film's financially ruinous shooting and release – and that is something that will frighten the least superstitious of Suits.

All that being the case, it may be a long time before anyone takes another crack at this series, if ever. However, for what it's worth, you can be sure that I will have something to say about any new developments in that story here.


Anonymous said...

Hey I love Clive Cussler too. I just finished reading Inca Gold. .. visit me on

Unknown said...

Yeah I'm a Big fan of Clive,starting with dirk and al now I'm reading The Fargo's and The Oregan Files,thing about the movie's is that none of the people in charge were Dedicated to the Book I often thought about how things I was reading about would transpire in a movie and the first thing in Sahara was they did not have Abraham Lincoln on the bow of that Confederate ship leaving America,anyway as long as Cussler writes them I will read them but when a movie come out I can't help but compare it to the book,so America Keep reading AMZ

Nader said...

Thanks for writing.

Yeah, I thought it was unfortunate they dropped the center of the historical mystery too.

You can see my thoughts about that and other book vs. movie issues at the post below

WalkaboutandWhittles said...

I watched Sahara again last night and I felt this film has aged really well - for a film that is ten years old it felt like an extremely well shot, well paced film with an awesome sound track. Other films that came out at that time, like Bourne Ultimatum which were my favorites for a long time to me now feel really dated, sloppy even; and whilst I didn't like Sahara when it came out, I really like it now. Sure the characterization is really shallow, and there are some silly bits to it. But the intro lead in with that cracking Dr John song is superb (I made my wife watch that bit twice as she was talking over it) and it unfolds from that point really nicely.The end is a bit lame but that could be said of many "successful" films. I think Sahara is definitely a "grower" much like the Bourne Legacy. It a shame that Sahara was such a flop because the franchise would have got better and better.

Nader said...

Hi Adam. Thanks for writing.
I haven't seen the film lately, but that doesn't surprise me. The film had its flaws, but I didn't think a lack of technical competence was one of them, and while the adaptation of some of the novels had its challenges, I certainly think there was potential for a series.
In any event, it's worth remembering that a principal reason for the film's being chalked up as a flop was the bizarre explosion of the production and distribution costs (which have since got a lot of press). Had it not been for that (and the bad buzz that tends to go with it) the movie would have had a fair chance of starting that franchise.

Anonymous said...

I like Sahara is it my favorite film? Well no, but I don't see where everyone hated it did it follow the book exactly? No it did not but what movie ever does? I really think they need to make more based on his books they are a great read and an excellent watch. Maybe make some based on Isaac Bell, or the Fargo's you couldn't go wrong with either.

Nader said...

Thanks for writing.

I think a lot of people feel the same way; even if the film wasn't the hit fans hoped for, active dislike (like we see for, for instance, many a Michael Bay film) doesn't seem to have been common. And it's not inconceivable that someone else will take a crack at the books.

I can't judge the suitability of the other Cussler franchises as well. Still, it seems to me that they'd have pretty much the same attractions as the main series does, without the stigma of being associated with two flops, but also less built-in audience. And Isaac Bell would have a tough time simply because period adventures aren't easy to market to a movie audience, even when they happen to be well-made.

Of course, there's another option. Given the sheer amount of material accumulated (23 Dirk Pitt books to date), the improving technical standard of TV action-adventure series', and the fact that so many recent TV shows are based on successful series' of novels (e.g. Game of Thrones), someone could try and get a Dirk Pitt TV show made. (And of course, if it does well, the Oregon Files-up to 10 books now-can easily be launched as a spin-off.) It'd take some careful handling to cope with the more dated, or more politically sensitive, elements, and it wouldn't be easy to do justice to the action scenes, but the possibility is there nonetheless.

brainofkjf said...

I am hooked on the adventures of Dirk Pitt and friends. Just finished "Poseidon's Arrow". I agree with the tv show idea, each book could be more fully explored over a TV season. Guess it's time to submit my "Sahara" scrpt; the one with Lincoln and the plot which sold a couple of million books, in it. N'cest pas?

Nader said...

Hi KJF. Thanks for writing--and apologies for the delay in replying.

When considering the TV show, my first thought was of a procedural-a new adventure every episode, maybe a few two-parters, perhaps a loosely structured arc here and there (more Dr. Who than Game of Thrones). Still, especially if one gets away from the big-time networks (and sheer bulk means that they account for a smaller share of original TV production than they used to), the tendency toward arc-based storytelling is much more commonplace, and particularly if we've got a show with short seasons (10 episodes, rather than 22+ a season), I could also see them basing each one on the larger, post-Cyclops books at least.

In either case, don't rush over to Hollywood with that script too quickly. I'm not up on the relevant law, but I do know that adaptations of stuff someone else has a copyright to can be a legal nightmare.

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