Read: Adapting Blood Meridian
It's hard to think of a more universally acclaimed American novel of the last 40 years than Cormac McCarthy's Blood Meridian. It's also hard to think of a living American director less respected than James Franco. And yet, McCarthy's novel was set to be the next target on James Franco's one-man crusade to make mediocre films out of canonical literature—until the entire deal fell apart only hours after being announced Thursday because James Franco's team didn't acquire the rights to the book.
In the last three years alone, Franco (an occasional VICE contributor) has adapted the two most celebrated novels of William Faulkner—The Sound and the Fury and As I Lay Dying—and adapted another of McCarthy's great novels, Child of God. He's currently in post-production on an adaptation of Steve Erickson's surreally brilliant Zeroville as well as a biographical film about the life of Charles Bukowski.
On the one hand, you have to admire James Franco's taste. All of those authors, save perhaps Bukowski, are true geniuses of American fiction. Franco seems to have a true love of literature, too. He's published a collection of short stories called Palo Alto, the novel Actors Anonymous, and the poetry collection Directing Herbert White, among other books. While Franco's tastes run a little macho—and quite white—there's something refreshing about his desires to adapt brilliant literary fiction in a world of cookie-cutter action films and endless superhero reboots.
Sadly, none of his literary adaptations have earned a score above 41 percent on Rotten Tomatoes, and his adaptation of The Sound and the Fury received a dismal 22 percent. (The most universally mocked film of this year, Batman v Superman, still managed a 28 percent rating.)
Blood Meridian is a particularly tricky book to adapt. Both Tommy Lee Jones and Ridley Scott have backed out of making it before, and even Martin Scorsese was rumored to want to make it. The book's power rests in the gorgeous and near-biblical language in a violent hellscape vision of the Wild West. One might need to splice together the DNA of Terrence Malick, David Lynch, and the Coen Brothers into one mutant super director to do it justice. Could James Franco be up to that task? Well, if he can't get the rights to the book, we'll never have to find out.
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