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Friday, March 1, 2019

What Could Have Been: The Lost Symbol

Renowned nobody Vertigo stumbled into his kitchen to post this blog for dying from Dan Brown Syndrome. Nonetheless, he presents What Could Have Been.

Well hello there, dear reader. Let's talk about. Dan Brown's Robert Langdon series, which stands as one of the best selling mystery series of all time. Our focus, however, is The Lost Symbol. Living up to its name, the film adaptation is lost in development limbo.

Let's start at the beginning film wise with The Da Vinci Code. Book wise, this thriller had sold over 80 million copies by 2009 and had been translated into 44 language. The book centers on a code within the famous Leonardo Da Vinci painting “The Last Supper”, which Da Vinci himself supposedly put a hidden code into claiming that Jesus Christ married prostitute Mary Magdalene. For those who don't know who she is: Christ saved her from being stoned (it's where the phrase, “let he who is without sin cast the first stone” comes from). While this is going on, a mysterious group is trying to prevent the truth about the Holy Grail from coming out and bring about the destruction of Christianity.

In 2006, Ron Howard (Apollo 13, A Beautiful Mind) helmed a film adaptation with Tom Hanks—who’s collaborated with Hanks in the past, including the aforementioned Apollo 13. Against a budget of $125 million, the film made a staggering $758.2 million, making it the 91st highest grossing film of all-time. Critically however, the film was met with less-than desirable reception, scoring a 25% on Rottentomatoes and being slammed for having abysmal pacing at best. This, fittingly, matched up with the criticism of Brown's novel.

Three years later, Angels and Demons was released. Canonically, this is the first Langdon story and centers on assassin's, the atomic bomb, and the Illuminati assassinating Cardinals. Once again, Robert Langdon must save the day; the good Lord telling us to believe or else the Pope will become Harry Truman 2.0 on the world. Indeed, Dan Brown has something for the Vatican.

Angels and Demons was better received than its predecessor, with most praising it for its faster pace, but still ended up with a 37% on Rottentomatoes as Dan Brown's storytelling didn't translate well to the big screen. Despite that, against a budget of $150 million, the film grossed $485.9 million.

Not long after the release of Angels and Demons, an adaptation of The Lost Symbol (which was released in 2009) was announced. The Lost Symbol holds the honor of being the fastest selling adult novel in history having sold a whooping one million copies in both hardcover and e-book format in the US, UK, and Canada in a single day. Plot wise, the book centers on the Robert Langdon trying to find the disappearance of his mentor, Peter Solomon. A member of the Freemasons, Solomon’s his is found at the Capitol Building in Washington D.C. during a fundraiser for the Smithsonian.

With the records the book itself had to its name, and the two previous films having grossed over a billion dollars combined, It was only natural that Sony would fast track an adaptation of this book. To write the screenplay, In 2010, Sony tapped Steven Knight, who wrote the critically acclaimed film “Dirty Pretty Things”. Later that year however, Sony brought on Dan Brown himself to handle the screenplay. While not abnormal for an author to have oversight of an adaptation of their work (Brown himself having served as an executive producer for The Da Vinci Code and Angels and Demons), it’s not common for them to write the adaptation itself. Unsurprisingly, Brown’s script wasn’t what would be used in the long run. Danny Strong, writer for the HBO television film “Recount” and later co-creator for the hit show “Empire” was brought on in February 2012 to assist Brown in the script.

At this point, the three year gap between Langdon films was fast approaching; production to an adaptation of The Lost Symbol should have begun yesterday and yet a script still didn’t exist. In fact, a final draft to the script wouldn’t exist for another year. In January of 2013, the Los Angeles Times reported that the final draft was expected to be submitted in February and Sony anticipated pre-production to begin in summer of that same year—something that fell flat on its face. In July, Sony announced they’d be skipping The Lost Symbol and would instead adapt the recently released “Inferno”. As was the case for the past two adaptations, Ron Howard would direct and Tom Hanks would star. The screenplay would be handled by David Koepp, whose one of the most successful screenwriters of all time.

The choice to skip over a Langdon book isn’t too peculiar when you take into consideration the choice to adapt The Da Vinci Code before Angels and Demons. However, in that case, one must also take into account the extreme interest in the book that lasted years. Numerous television channels had special after special taking the theory presented there as fact and that there was a genuine cover-up by the Catholic church. The choice to adapt that book was brilliant work of timing on Sony’s part. So as for skipping The Lost Symbol, the question lingering on fans minds was: why? Ron Howard’s answer—when asked by Sean O’Connell in an interview with Cinemablend—was remarkably mundane.

Cinematically, when Lost Symbol came out, I think our feeling, my feeling was that it's a terrific, another terrific novel. It's great material, but it felt like, coming close on the heels of Angels and Demons and Da Vinci Code, that thematically and tonally, it might feel a little bit too much like the other books, at that particular moment. [Inferno] immediately felt like a cinematic next step, and that excited us. Lost Symbol is outstanding and you know, someday, something important has to be done with it.

Response wise, it reads like more like a typical PR response that one would be told to give; the term “spin” comes to mind in fact. Generally, when a film has a total of three writers attached and they aren’t attached at the same time in a writer’s room or simply are a trio who work together, there’s something wrong with the script. At times, the succession of writers can salvage the film. Other times, they can’t. When it’s an adaptation of a book and you need someone to rewrite the screenplay that the writer of the book wrote, then that speaks volumes to what the quality of the book.

Nevertheless, O’Connell asked Howard if skipping The Lost Symbol meant that the book wouldn’t be adapted, to which Howard replied:

Well, we had scripts on it. We've had scripts on it, and that was the other thing. We just never could just internally crack it, to the point that we felt like this is, something we're dying, that we just have to sort of, we have to tell, and we believe audiences are going to want to see it. Each and every one of these has never been a situation [where] we're contracted to do them and we're backing into a release date, sort of doing any of the things that the other franchises tend to need to do. This has been a matter of getting a great Dan Brown book, seeing how the adaptation goes, see if it reaches that point where the studio and Tom and myself and Brian Grazer all look at each other and say, 'You know, we must make this.' And that's how we felt about Inferno.

Inferno was the lowest grossing Langdon adaptation, though it was also released around the same time as the Star Wars film “Rogue One”. In spite of that, against a $70 million, it made $220 million. Critically, it was par for the course with the other two Langdon films with 22% of critics giving it a positive review on Rottentomatoes.

As of the time of this writing, The Lost Symbol remains lost. In 2017, Dan Brown released another Langdon book entitled “Origin”. Whether or not that one gets an adaptation remains to be seen, but given the financial success the book saw, it’s likely it will. Or, perhaps, The Lost Symbol will finally be found and put to the big screen.

1 comment:

  1. Tyler "Bio" RodriguezMarch 1, 2019 at 12:51 PM

    This is a symbol I dont might being lost. I mean this guy cannot tell the difference between bit and byte, you really want to see a full screenplay by him?