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FROM PAGE TO SCREEN: DROOD (2012)
 



 

Drood is just one of nine movie projects that IMDb.com says that director Guillermo del Toro has “in development” right now . . .

The other projects include Hater (a “zombie” movie of sorts based on the novel by Brit writer David Moody), Frankenstein, Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, The Witches, Death: The High Cost of Living (the character from Neil Gaiman’s Sandman comics) and Deadman (the DC Comics superhero).

When exactly del Toro will get round to Drood – or any of the other projects for that matter! - is a bit of mystery though.

While del Toro won’t be directing all of the above projects and will probably only be involved as producer or writer on most of them, someone should have told the 44-year-old director of movies such as Hellboy 1 & 2 and Pan’s Labyrinth that directing a multimillion dollar prequel to a special effects blockbuster such as a Lord of the Rings prequel (The Hobbit) is the sort of thing that will keep one quite busy and will probably result in one getting grey pubic hair as Steven Spielberg so colorfully remarked of his experience on Jaws.

Slated for a 2012 release Drood will be based on a 2009 novel by Dan Simmons, an American author who made his reputation with the Hugo Award-winning Hyperion Cantos series of science fiction novels (ironically also a project which Hollywood has been trying to get off the ground for several years now).

Simmons has been moving away as of late from this sort of Ian M. Banks-style space opera albeit with more literary aspirations. The Terror, the book he wrote before Drood, was a fantastical recounting of a real-life doomed 19th century Arctic expedition. In this book the crew were slowly hunted down and killed off by a giant ice bear with supernatural powers. (This makes it sounds worse than it is - you have to actually read it yourself.)

Drood is similar to The Terror in the way it blends fantastical elements of the supernatural with actual historical events and people. (Simmons’ next book is titled Black Hills and features a “Red Indian Shaman” who in true Forrest Gump style witnesses most of American history, starting with Custer’s defeat at Little Bighorn.)

Drood is sold as being the actual “secret” memoirs of one Wilkie Collins. Never heard of him? Not your fault. Wilkie Collins was a hugely popular writer of sensationalist novels in Victorian England. Wilkie is of course largely forgotten today, except for one thing: he was a close friend and occasional collaborator of Charles Dickens, who you maybe have heard about.

"Nothing much actually happens in Drood . . ."

Yup, more than a century on and Jim Carrey and Robert Zemeckis are making underperforming 3D CG animated movies with Disney’s money based on Dickens’ A Christmas Carol whilst no-one knows who the heck Wilkie Collins was! Problem is that Collins knows this, which makes Drood a bit like Amadeus with Wilkie being Salieri to Dickens’ Mozart.

The narrative kicks off with Dickens telling Wilkie of the then-famous Staplehurst Rail Disaster in 1865. Dickens was a passenger upon the doomed train and narrowly escaped death. In the immediate aftermath Dickens helped rescue survivors and in the process met a spectral character named Drood. Drood is clearly some sort of supernatural being with his ability to effortlessly glide in his opera coat like a cheap Dracula clone from one disaster victim to the next, stealing their souls.

Later on, Dickens became obsessed with finding Drood and drags Wilkie along on his quest to Undertown, a vast underground city beneath Victorian London. Here Drood is rumored to rule over hordes of brainwashed followers who do his every bidding, no matter how diabolical. (Cue maniacal laughter here.)

Dickens’ obsession soon becomes Wilkie’s own and in time Wilkie becomes convinced that Dickens has ritually murdered an innocent to escape mind control by the enigmatic Drood. The only problem is that Wilkie isn’t a particularly reliable narrator, consuming copious amounts of opium as the novel progresses. What is real and what isn’t? the reader soon finds asking him- or herself.

It comes as no surprise that del Toro wants to make Drood into a movie. He calls it a “dazzling journey through a crooked, gaslit labyrinth” on the front page of the book’s paperback edition.


(Author Dan Simmons)

Drood clocks in at 771 pages. Normally condensing a book like this into a full-length feature film will be an issue, but not in this case.

You see, nothing much actually happens in Drood. Once one takes out all the material superfluous to the central plot then not much actually remains. That is because Drood reads more like biography of Dickens than the “masterwork of narrative suspense” Stephen King calls it.

It is filled to the brim with Simmons’ pain-staking and meticulous research on the famous Victorian writer’s life and the book often comes across as a history book rather than an actual work of fiction.

We had no problem with this, but many readers will probably find Simmons’ info dump (as if he was too afraid to lose any of his research) annoying. Any future movie version will probably excise most of the material too. It could be successfully argued that Drood is several hundred pages too long as the story often loses sight of its central narrative and plot. It is however a testament to Simmons’ prowess as a writer that the pages do indeed “fly by” as The Daily Telegraph states on the back cover.

Problem is that once Drood becomes more like an alternate history horror flick and less of a Dickens biopic then it isn’t particularly exciting or interesting. Three hour Victorian Epic or 90 minutes phantasmagorical diversion? That would be up to the film-makers, but to be honest we’d rather see them turn Simmons’ Hyperion Cantos into a three-hour space epic. Who knows? Maybe with the huge success of Avatar there will be someone out there in Hollywood crazy enough to do it!


 



 

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