[The image above (like the one at the bottom of this post) is from a design by Paul Lasaine for an abandoned version of Moby Dick developed by Dreamworks, directed by the Brizzi brothers. You can see several more images at his blog. The plan was to tell the story from the whale’s point of view; a fascinating idea that the studio didn’t want to follow up. My whale fixation continues in a post about Bela Tarr’s Werckmeister Harmonies.]
I’m planning to post updates here on Spectacular Attractions about the two forthcoming adaptations of Moby Dick, along with notes about earlier versions. It’s something I’m distracted by at the moment, so this is an outlet. If anyone has further information than I can gather from the Web, please add comments below.
Here’s some of what we know so far. Timur Bekmambetov, director of Wanted is signed to direct a massive-budget version for Universal Pictures, which will begin shooting once he’s finished making Wanted II. From what I can tell, it sounds like they’re inspired by the graphic-novel aesthetic of 300, which preserved the pictorialism of Frank Miller’s original text but, for my money, made it too pristine and over-designed to be emotionally engaging. The script has been written by Adam Cooper and Bill Collage. You may find Cooper’s statement enticing: I find it kind of ominous:
Our vision isn’t your grandfather’s ‘Moby Dick’. This is an opportunity to take a timeless classic and capitalize on the advances in visual effects to tell what at its core is an action-adventure revenge story.
To that end, they’ve removed Ishmael’s first-person narration. This means that we can see lots more scenes of Moby Dick trashing other ships, without being limited to one character’s perspective. But Ishmael’s narration is always subjective, questionable – part of the drama of reading Moby Dick is feeling the distance between literature and experience. You can feel the narrator’s urge to communicate every detail of what he sees, but you can also feel the mystique of folklore, the tingle of secondhand reports of a sea monster. Seeing more of Moby Dick undermines some of the mythic structure of the novel, in the same way that remaking Jaws with lots of close-up views of a CGI shark would throw away what made it frightening in the first place. But obviously, it’s too early to judge. Certainly, Melville’s book provides plenty of opportunity for awesome spectacle, but it would be a shame if that came at the expense of its ability to create a detailed picture of life on a whaling ship, or the complex psychology of its narrator.
First up, though, Mike Barker is directing another adaptation for TV (produced by Germany’s Tele Munchen Group) with a budget of over $25,000,000, with William Hurt as Ahab, Charlie Cox as Ishmael, Gillian Anderson as Elizabeth, Ethan Hawke as Starbuck, Apocalypto‘s Raoul Trujillo as Queequeg, plus Eddie Marsan and Donald Sutherland. It’s written by Nigel Williams, who scribbled a damn fine script for HBO’s Elizabeth I with Helen Mirren, and used to write episodes for Jim Henson’s The Storyteller: let’s hope he’s still got some of that knack for tale-spinning. There’s quite a bit of teasing info, and lots of photos from the set, at the website of Shelburne County, Nova Scotia, where the film finished shooting last month: it was dressed to look like 19th-century Nantucket. I’m afraid you’ve already missed it, but there was an auction of props used in the film: see here for pictures.
On her blog, Gillian Anderson hints at a harmonious set with good relations amongst the cast, but also that it was “cursed”:
Anyhoo so here is LAX and on my way to the welcome drizzle of London before the welcome sunshine of somewhere else and time just flies and flies and I wish I could tell you what I’m doing next but I can’t and Oh there was Moby Dick which was so much fun and such a great group of people not least of which was the director Michael Barker who is an angel of a man and Ethan (Hawke) and Charlie (Cox) and then William (Hurt) and oh my Donald Sutherland who I would give my left anything to properly work with again. It was blessed. Well, and cursed but I won’t go into that.
I think we would want an adaptation of one of the most monumental literary expressions of reckless obsession to require similar levels of anguish to recreate. That’s probably a silly superstitious belief, but there’s a strong mythos that surrounds the big productions that run into difficulties. It would seem cheeky to remake Moby Dick with too much ease, when it took Melville so much effort to drag out of his mind, condensing his arduous seafaring experiences into a gargantuan statement of the awe and danger of nature. It is scheduled for completion early in 2010.
How odd that we’ll get two adaptations in such a short space of time. The differences between them will, I hope, prove interesting and illuminating on the topic of transitions from literary to screen media.
- Barker’s film also shot in Lunenburg, Novia Scotia in October. See here for some Flickr photos taken of the sets, and you can find comments and images about the shooting from blogs such as Legs and Wings (especially impressive images, including a revealing glimpse of greenscreen) and RV Mirror. Any more? Just let me know.