By Oliver Lyttelton | The Playlist April 15, 2011 at 1:17AM
Will Also Be Lensing Brad Pitt & Marc Forster's 'World War Z'
Few authors have the devoted following that Neil Gaiman has. Since his early days in the comics world, the British sci-fi fantasy author and goth heartthrob, has consistently expanded his audience, to the extent that his books are now mainstays in the top reaches of the bestseller charts, and his 1.5 million Twitter followers hang on his every word. Furthermore, while he may not have the prose skills of a contemporary like, say, Michael Chabon, he's a hell of a storyteller, playing with myth and folklore and refashioning it into something new, and entirely compelling.
But Gaiman's never quite had unqualified success with film and TV versions of his work. His BBC TV series "Neverwhere" was crippled by a meager budget, Matthew Vaughn's adaptation of "Stardust" was a tonal mess, and his (actually rather interesting) screenplay for "Beowulf," co-written by Roger Avary, was let down by Robert Zemeckis' dead-eyed pixel puppets, leaving Henry Selick's charming "Coraline" as the only home-run success. But there's still plenty in the works: he's penned an imminent episode of "Doctor Who," and been set to write a Chinese-backed adaptation of the classic tale "Journey to the West," while Neil Jordan is gearing up to direct "The Graveyard Book" and Warner Bros are still developing a TV version of Gaiman's graphic novel masterpiece "The Sandman." And now there's one more on the slate.
Rumors have been circulating for a few weeks now that Gaiman's best-known adult novel, "American Gods," was heading for an adaptation, with the writer hinting in interviews that a "director and cinematographer" with "many, many Oscars" had been pursuing him for the rights. Now, we know who Gaiman's suitor was, as Deadline report that HBO are in talks to team with Tom Hanks' company Playtone for a TV version of "American Gods," a project brought to the company by Robert Richardson.
You should know Richardson by reputation alone -- he's one of the top directors of photography in the business, having started out with Oliver Stone on all of his early films, before working with Quentin Tarantino on "Kill Bill" and "Inglourious Basterds," and Martin Scorsese on "Bringing Out The Dead," "Shutter Island" and the upcoming "Hugo Cabret," among others. He's had six Oscar nominations, and won twice, for Stone's "J.F.K." and Scorsese's "The Aviator."
Richardson doesn't have a screenplay credit to date, but the plan is that he will write the pilot alongside Gaiman himself, and we imagine the pair will also serve as executive producers on any eventual series, and we assume that Richardson's intending to make his directorial debut on some aspect of the project. It's clearly a passion project for Richardson if he's pursued Gaiman for so long, which bodes well for the series, while Playtone's long relationship with HBO, on projects like "Band of Brothers," "Big Love" and "John Adams" suggests it's a likely candidate to get made. What's unclear at this stage is the scope of the series -- it could end up being a limited mini-series, like "Mildred Pierce," a longer one-season show, like "The Pacific" or even an ongoing series, if Gaiman's prepared to plot out new adventures for the characters.
The plot involves Shadow, an ex-convict recovering from the death of his wife, who accepts a job as a bodyguard for a mysterious con-man named Mr. Wednesday, only to discover that his new employer is actually an incarnation of Norse god Odin, who's recruiting the traditional deities, whose powers have slipped, for a battle against the 'new gods,' created by America's love of technology, celebrity and the media.
It's dense stuff, and probably much better suited for a TV take than a movie, so the move makes sense. There's no exact word on when the project will move forward, but as Bleeding Cool recently revealed, Richardson is about to start lensing on Marc Forster's "World War Z," so we're probably a couple of years from seeing this on screens, assuming it gets that far. But it's another impressive feather in HBO's cap -- and there's becoming fewer and fewer excuses for not subscribing.