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With 'American Gods' Dead At HBO, What's The Status Of Other Neil Gaiman Adaptations?

Photo of Oliver Lyttelton By Oliver Lyttelton | www.oliverlyttelton.com June 16, 2014 at 1:42PM

Though they're, at the most, halfway through the series, HBO is already starting to look for potential successors to "Game of Thrones," which recently became the biggest hit in the network's history. With "True Blood" wrapping up this year, they're very much in the market for another fantasy/sci-fi-type show: Damon Lindelof's "The Leftovers" will debut in a few weeks, and only a week or two back, it was revealed that Darren Aronofsky is developing an adaptation of Margaret Atwood's "MaddAddam" trilogy.
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Gaiman Feature

Though they're, at the most, halfway through the series, HBO is already starting to look for potential successors to "Game of Thrones," which recently became the biggest hit in the network's history. With "True Blood" wrapping up this year, they're very much in the market for another fantasy/sci-fi-type show: Damon Lindelof's "The Leftovers" will debut in a few weeks, and only a week or two back, it was revealed that Darren Aronofsky is developing an adaptation of Margaret Atwood's "MaddAddam" trilogy.

One show that won't be joining them, sadly, is an adaptation of "American Gods," Neil Gaiman's bestseller about old and new deities battling for control in the U.S. heartland. It was announced a few years ago that the network was planning a series adaptation of the book, with Scorsese and Tarantino DoP Robert Richardson writing and directing, and Tom Hanks producing, but the script never came together, and earlier in the year it was reported that FremantleMedia had taken over the rights.

Vulture spoke to HBO chief Michael Lombardo recently, and he confirmed that the network had dropped the project, saying that "I think we're all huge fans of the book, and I think the script just didn't — we couldn't craft the script as good as we needed it to be. I think we knew going in that it would be a challenge; every good book is a challenge to adapt it and find the level you need for it. The bar is high now for great dramas. And to find that bar — we tried. So it was a huge disappointment […] We tried three different writers, we put a lot of effort into it. Some things just don't happen. We have to trust at the end of the day, if you don't have a star with a great script, you're just not going to go through with it."

It's certainly a shame, as Gaiman's huge fanbase certainly gave this the potential to be something that could have been a 'GoT'-sized hit. But it got us thinking, that given how big Gaiman is in the literary world, relatively few adaptations of his work have made the screen: other than "Coraline" and "Stardust," most of his adaptations have ended up losing their way between optioning and actually getting the greenlight. So it seemed like a good time to sit down and work out the various Gaiman projects in development hell, and see what the chances of them reaching the screen actually are. Take a look below.

Sandman Joseph Gordon-Levitt

"Sandman"
After at least twenty years in various stages of development, this looks like it could be the next one to actually reach the screen. The graphic novel, one of the most celebrated in the medium, a fantasy epic revolving around the personification of Dream, made Gaiman's name, and was originally put in development by Warner Bros. in the late 1990s. "Pulp Fiction" co-writer Roger Avary (who went on to co-write the screenplay for "Beowulf" with Gaiman) was attached to direct a (pretty script) script by "Pirates Of The Caribbean" writers Ted Elliott and Terry Rossio. But after Avary, who wanted to use Czech animator Jan Svankmajer as a touchstone for the project, was fired, it was rewritten disastrously and unfaithfully by writer William Farmer. Gaiman would later call it "quite easily the worst script I've ever read." Word went quiet for years, until in 2010 a TV take went into development, with "Supernatural" creator Eric Kripke manning the project. It didn't get far, but last year, it was announced that David Goyer was producing a new take at Warners as part of their new effort to make DC Comics movies, with Joseph Gordon-Levitt producing, and likely starring and directing as well. The excellent Jack Thorne is writing the screenplay, and only last week it was revealed that the film's being eyed for a Christmas 2016 release, so we should be hearing more about this very soon.

"Death: The High Cost Of Living"
Technically a "Sandman" spin-off, this stand-alone graphic novel from 1993 focused on Dream's sister Death, a livelier, more Goth-y take on the character than the traditional Grim Reaper, who spends a day every one hundred years as a mortal, and bonds with a suicidal young man. Gaiman adapted the book himself, with the idea that he would direct, with pal Guillermo del Toro mentoring and serving as an executive producer. Long-gestating at New Line, and reportedly with Shia LaBeouf interested at one point, it eventually moved to Warner Independent, but was seemingly lost in the shuffle when the company was closed down. There's been no word on the project for a long time, and given Gaiman's busy schedule, if anyone makes it, it probably won't be him.

Books Of Magic

"The Books Of Magic"
Another early Gaiman comic, commissioned after the success of "Sandman," this was a four-part miniseries about a bespectacled young boy, Timothy Hunter, with the potential to be the world's greatest magician, who's taken on a tour of the DC Universe by some of the character's most mystical characters (The Phantom Stranger, Doctor Occult, Mister E and John Constantine, also known as the Trenchcoat Brigade). Later spun off into an ongoing series, it was optioned swiftly by Warners for a movie, and went into development in the early '90s. Sadly, it wasn't a happy process, as Gaiman told the Empire podcast back in 2013: "the first draft and the second draft scripts were really good. And they were good enough that they got everybody at the studio really excited. But now everyone is giving notes and now everyone is piddling into this thing because they really like the idea of 'smelling their own weight' and it's slowly turning into this sort of 'urine soaked blancmange' and it's no longer any good. Now the original writer leaves and a new writer comes in and all he knows is that the more you change, the more likely you are to have your name on the credit when they make it, so he's changing everything randomly. And then he's fired and they get somebody else in but now they've got a director and the director goes away and does his own draft and I look at the [current] script and it looks like they're about to make it - and for all I know they may have, because I called DC Comics and said, 'This has nothing in common with 'Books of Magic' anymore other than the heroes name is Tim Hunter and the movie is called 'Books of Magic.' And if this movie happens, all it will do is upset any fans of Tim Hunter and 'the Books of Magic' and make them feel used. It's perfectly adequate for what it is, which is terrible, so why don't we ask if [the studio] can pay us off and they can use the script and we take back the name 'Books of Magic' and they can call their hero something else.' And they did and I was incredibly relieved and I have no idea if that film ever got made or not." After that, the superficial similarities to Harry Potter (bespectacled 12-year-old English boy does magic) put paid to the project, though with that franchise wrapped up now, don't be surprised if Warners go back to the well with this at some point.

"Good Omens"
Co-written with "Discworld" author Terry Pratchett, this was, as the title might suggest, a comedic take on "The Omen," as angel Aziraphale and demon Crowley team up to stop a child from bringing about the apocalypse. Terry Gilliam, a perfect choice for the material, developed a version for a long time, and in 2002 came very close to getting it made with Johnny Depp and, maybe, Robin Williams in the lead roles, but the film couldn't quite the funding together (only a year later, and Depp would have been the star of "Pirates of the Caribbean," and it might have been much easier). Gilliam held on hope for some time, but in 2011, it was announced that a TV version was in the works, without Gilliam's involvement, through a production company set up by Pratchett with his daughter Rhianna.

Neverwhere

"Neverwhere"
Originally written as a (rather low budget) BBC TV series, this story of a fantasy underworld beneath the streets of London has subsequently been adapted by Gaiman as a novel and a comic, surfaced a couple of times as a movie; first in the late 1990s, and then again in 2007, with "30 Days Of Night" and "Hannibal" helmer David Slade attached to direct. Gaiman worked on the script for a year or two, but the project never moved forward, although last year's radio version, with a movie-worthy cast of James McAvoy, Benedict Cumberbatch, Sophie Okonedo, Christopher Lee, Natalie Dormer, David Harewood and Anthony Head, might point the way forward...

"Murder Mysteries"
Some would argue that short stories can be better suited to film translation than novels, but no one's ever successfully managed to make one of Gaiman's brief literary work so far. "Chivalry," which is about an old lady who discovers the Holy Grail in a thrift shop, was reportedly optioned by Harvey Weinstein in the 1990s with the idea that he himself would direct a version, but nothing ever came of it. More intriguing was "Murder Mysteries," a story set in heaven about the first murder, the murder of an angel: "Batman Begins" and "Man Of Steel" writer David Goyer optioned it and came close to directing. It's still reportedly alive, though: as recently as 2012, it was said to be set up at Legendary.

"Anansi Boys"
Probably the least satisfying of Gaiman's novels, this is a semi spin-off to "American Gods," focusing on the two children of titular spider trickster god Anansi. A light comic fantasy, Hollywood have never shown any particular interest, it seems, but it was announced earlier this year that a TV adaptation is in the works for BBC One.

Graveyard Book

"The Graveyard Book"
One of the writer's best loved works also has one of the most torturous journeys to the screen. A riff on Rudyard Kipling's "The Jungle Book" about a little boy whose family are killed and who's subsequently raised by ghosts in, yes, a graveyard, Originally in development as an independently-financed project to be helmed by Neil Jordan, the rights were later picked up by Disney, with the intention that "Coraline" helmer Henry Selick would make the project. But when the studio pulled the expensive plug on Selick's other, half-completed project with them, "The Shadow King," Selick bailed, and was replaced by Ron Howard. But given that Howard has countless other projects on the go, and briefly flirted with Warner Bros.' version of "The Jungle Book," we wonder how much of a going concern this still is; the book's very episodic, and a tough nut to crack.

"The Ocean At The End Of The Lane"

Gaiman's most recent, and best, novel, "The Ocean At The End Of The Lane" is a stunner, a magical coming-of-age novel with shades of Miyazaki. Last year, Focus Features and Tom Hanks' Playtone (Hanks must be a Gaiman fan, as he was developing the "American Gods" show too) teamed up to pick up the rights, with Joe Wright attached to direct and Jack Thorne writing the script. We assume that the screenplay worked out, as Thorne went on to get the "Sandman" gig, but the project's on the backburner for now, with Wright off making revisionist fairy tale "Pan." But hopefully that'll be a hit and get him the cred to make this one next, because on paper this is the most promising version.


This article is related to: HBO , American Gods, Neil Gaiman, The Graveyard Book, Sandman, The Ocean At The End Of The Lane, Television, TV News


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