Director Franco?

Posted on January 4, 2011 by

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James Franco, I’ve read Cormac McCarthy – Cormac McCarthy is an (imaginary) friend of mine. Sir, you’re no Cormac McCarthy.

By Brian Dau

Remember that Next Great American Novel you’re working on? Cormac McCarthy has already written it. All of them.

Here’s a question to ask sometime if you ever need to get a party started – Is there a book that could never be successfully adapted to film? (You can thank me later.) I mention this question because yesterday Roger Friedman, who may or may not be a reliable source, reported that 127 Hours star and general overachiever James Franco is in talks to write and direct adaptations of both William Faulkner’s As I Lay Dying and Cormac McCarthy’s Blood Meridian.

These two novels (and authors) are staples of any list worth its salt of the best books of the 20th century, and yet a quick glance at Franco’s IMDB credentials reveals he has done nothing to prove himself as a competent writer or director beyond a 2005 flick about a writer living with a man in a gorilla suit. Instead, he’s arguably best known for his ability to look stoned and his involvement with running a superhero franchise into the ground.

But my criticism has nothing to do with Franco’s acting ability, which is perfectly tolerable. Nor am I that concerned with As I Lay Dying, which (secret time) I haven’t even read. I do, however, take notice when people are messing around with my favorite novel by a man who I believe to be the greatest living author. I am particularly sensitive following the general sense of disappointment I felt walking out of the theater after seeing the 2009 cinema adaptation of The Road.

That McCarthy novel, like Blood Meridian, is filled with deeply introspective and metaphorical passages where nothing much happens, yet you’re grateful to be along for the ride with such a brilliant writer. However, the novels differ in that the violence in The Road is brief, tense and often only implied, whereas the violence in Blood Meridian is omnipresent, detached from meaning and knee-deep in blood. Either way it’s not exactly a formula that easily lends itself to the silver screen, as The Road’s shortcomings proved.

Samuel L. Jackson isn’t getting on that plane with me, either.

What really concerns me is that producer Scott Rudin, who owns the rights to Blood Meridian and was involved with the Coen brothers’ brilliant take on McCarthy’s No Country for Old Men, is willing to entrust the film adaptation of one of the greatest novels ever written to someone as untested as Franco. It’s a situation that seems akin to asking a 5-year-old to land an airplane, except the airplane is on fire before it even takes off. I don’t care how talented the kid is, I’m not getting on that plane.

What is perhaps most disheartening about the whole situation is that, at one point, there was some hope for a film version of Blood Meridian. Following the success of No Country for Old Men, Ridley Scott, who has made a decent film or two, was attached as director for Blood Meridian. Eventually, however, he revealed that although a script had been completed for the film, it was perhaps something that “should be left as a novel.”

“Hi, I’m Hollywood’s Todd Field. I’m really into making dramas about relationships. Oh, I see you’ve fallen asleep already.”

The project then passed to actor/director Todd Field, who is notable only for his ability to get utterly forgettable movies nominated for Oscars. Now that he has apparently abandoned the project, we’re left with Mr. Franco. Look, I’m not saying Ridley Scott would have made a great Blood Meridian, as he doesn’t exactly have a flair for the literary, but I certainly trust him a whole lot more than a guy like James Franco.

At this point, it may be easier to just scrap the whole thing and deem a film version of Blood Meridian impossible. At least that way we won’t end up with another All the Pretty Horses.

Brian Dau

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