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Making Movies

Making Movies

Maybe it’s the pace of life.  Maybe it’s the overwhelming volume of choices we face every single day. Maybe it’s the near-death experience that our nation’s middle class has been going through over the past decade.

Whatever the roots of the situation, it seems that when it comes to our stories—books, movies and the like—America is going through a period of desperate cravings for cultural comfort foods. Book (and comic-book) adaptations, sequels, reboots and remakes dominate the screens at the nation’s multiplexes, with original stories an almost-forgotten relic of an earlier, more imaginative time.

All of which is prelude to the current situation involving an author whose work has lately become that same sort of familiar comfort food for this writer: Lee Child. Child’s work is reliably entertaining as he chronicles the adventures of Jack Reacher, a discharged military policeman who wanders the country without a home, his only companions a knack for finding trouble and an unbending code of justice. I’m pretty sure it’s the latter thread—common to both Reacher and my other mystery/thriller man-crushes, Spenser and Elvis Cole/Joe Pike—that keeps me coming back for more Reacher, as opposed to the series’ literary qualities. In fact, Reacher novels often read like classic pulps, embracing rather than avoiding cliché and giddily deploying over-the-top plot devices… and yet, they are dependably satisfying yarns that achieve genuine tension.

Child, who’s about to publish his 17th Reacher novel, has sold the movie rights to the series several times over, achieving many an author’s dream. Now, though, he’s suffering through the punchline of those decisions, as his loyal—some might say fanatical—readership reacts to the revelation that the “hulking,” 6’5”, 250-pound, dirty blond-haired, blue-eyed Jack Reacher will be portrayed on film by Tom Cruise. All shiny, dark, smirking 5’7” of him.

It’s sort of like casting Justin Bieber as The Hulk. You might throw the idea out there for a few laughs on Twitter, but for serious? C’mon.

And so, Child and his p.r. team are suffering through a period where every new post on his Facebook page about the forthcoming movie is greeted by literally hundreds of angry, derisive, almost ferociously possessive responses from his fans.

On the one hand, this has to be upsetting for Child. His fans are rejecting something based on the creation that has become his life’s work. On the other hand, the checks he has now earned several times over selling the movie rights to the Reacher series will never be uncashed, and the character in the books will live on to have new adventures. (Maybe in the inevitable movie reboot they’ll cast someone more suitable. Jason Statham?)

By contrast, Robert Crais, creator of Elvis Cole and Joe Pike, has resisted every attempt to drag his much-beloved characters onto the silver screen, seeming more than content to let them live only in his readers’ imaginations. I’ve contemplated this question once or twice myself, indulging in fantasies about who might play Tim Green, Jordan Lee and the rest of the cast of Believe in Me. If the opportunity came my way, would I jump on it, or turn my back?

I honestly don’t know. As an author who regards an adjective like “cinematic” as a compliment, the allure is undeniable. What novelists have to accept when selling movie rights, though, is that after going through the Hollywood grinder, their work will more than likely come out looking suspiciously like the exact same slab of meat loaf the producers dished out last year.

Cultural comfort food.  There’s absolutely nothing wrong with it… but it’s probably not my highest aspiration.

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