Two Hollywood attempts to bring The Sparrow to the big screen have made me feel a certain kinship with Max Brooks. Both of us have written science fiction novels that were optioned for a Brad Pitt movie, so watching what’s happened to Mr. Brooks’ book World War Z has been interesting.
The movie is getting pretty good notices and Mr. Pitt’s performance is being praised, but most of the reviews include a paragraph like this one by Clint O’Connor in the Cleveland Plain Dealer.
“Brooks’ World War Z: An Oral History of the Zombie War, published in 2006, set off a bidding war between Pitt and Leonardo DeCaprio…. I have not read the novel but I’m told by people who have that very little made it onto the screen, and that it lacks the book’s political punch. Pitt beat out DiCaprio for the rights. Apparently he really wanted to make the movie. Just not the book.”
My first reaction was: that’s exactly what would have happened to The Sparrow. Neither of the Hollywood screenplays retained much of the story, even though they were still calling it The Sparrow. As my husband noted, the credits should have had a line that read, “Based on a title by Mary Doria Russell.”
My second reaction is this: I now know Max Brooks’ name, though I keep wanting to call him Marc. I had never heard of him before but now I’ve read about his book in at least three places this week, and I know he’s the son of Mel Brooks and Anne Bancroft, which makes me curious about the book, wondering if it’s got enough humor in it to make zombie lit palatable.
And that’s what makes a movie so important to a writer. It’s advertising no publisher will ever match. It’s name recognition. So as chary as I am about the many ways Hollywood can screw up an adaptation, I’m still hoping that A&E comes through and does the series based on The Sparrow.
(And before you ask — no news on that or on the effort to bring Doc to the screen. Believe me, when I find something out, you’ll hear about it!)
My third reaction is that of a proud mama: my son Daniel Russell is the film and video editor who cut the World War Z television ad! So it turns out that somebody in the family is involved with a Brad Pitt project after all, though it wasn’t the one we expected it to be!