Based on a title by Mary Doria Russell

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!





5 thoughts on “Based on a title by Mary Doria Russell”

  1. Instead of “based on a novel by…” most of these “adaptations” should say “Inspired by the novel…”. I can accept that much easier. So many of them are loosely based at best.

    Though there are some that are. The princess bride… of course, it was adapted by author himself, so that’s different. The Game of Thrones series is fairly faithful to the novels, though there are obvious changes. But then you find a movie like Clear and Present Danger, adapted from Tom Clancy’s novel and a travesty.

    “Inspired” however, is a looser term, and, I feel, a better word to use in this case.

    I do hope to see The Sparrow someday… but I also hope it remains reasonably faithful. I fear it won’t.

  2. Well, let’s see…
    Brad Pitt? Yes! (Even with the scruffy beard he’s been sprtin’ lately)
    Son of Mel Brooks and Anne Bancroft? Hard to go wrong with those genes!
    Mary’s son a force behind the TV ad? Very cool!
    ZOMBIES???!!! Zzzzz-zzzz. So 2010. No, thanks. One of the least-compelling phrases of the past few years: Zombie apocolapse. As one reviewer wrote, “With a title like that, at least that means there won’t be a sequel!”

  3. Oh – you need to read the book! I ignored it for a long time…thinking it was zombie yuck…and I was hugely surprised. It is very well written and very interesting. Pitt absolutely RUINED it. I waited all these years for a movie or a great HBO series based on it and this so-so non-zombie movie was what I got.
    Inspired by the title is exactly what it was – and it makes me all the more proud that you are holding out.

  4. Reminds me of “The Birds.” As Alfred Hitchcock stated, the only thing the film has in common with the original story is the title and both have birds in it. I used the original in my English classes, it was in the textbook (surprised me because most texts are politically correct and have weak stories in them.) After the story was read,I had them view the film. Great essays from those classes. Most preferred the original story. Their favorite scene, however, was the farmer whose eyes were plucked out! Cool!

  5. My first writing class in college, which inspired me to switch my major to lit/writing, was a screenplay class. Prof. Peacock said that maybe twenty pages of a novel get used in a movie. If viewers keep that in mind when they go to see their favorite work adapted to the silver screen, they might experience less disappointment.

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