Wednesday, April 20, 2005

Little Boys from Mars

The Hollywood Reporter announced today that John Cusack and Amanda Peet will star in film titled "The Martian Child", a story about a young boy who is adopted by a recent widower and believes that he is a martian. The film will be directed by Menno Meyjes, who is primarily known for
his work as a screenwriter. Meyjes has been kicking around for quite
some time now and worked with Spielberg on a few projects, including The
Color Purple, Empire of the Sun, and Indiana Jones and the Last
Crusade. His directorial debut was a film called Max, which was released in 2002, and also starred John Cusack. Max was a small independent film about
a young Adolf Hitler studying under an established art dealer. I
haven't seen the film myself, but it seems interesting, and I think
that Meyjes written work gives him promise as a director.

The screenplay is based on the novel which was also titled "The Martian Child" and was written by David Gerrold. Gerrold, who has been writing science fiction novels for years, used to be a TV writer back in the day, and wrote the famed Trouble with Tribbles episode for Original Series Star Trek. He also did an episode of Land of the Lost, and was a staff writer for one of my all time favorite TV cartoon series, The Real Ghostbusters! His recent TV works on Babylon 5 and Sliders lacks some of the same luster of his previous endeavors, but Gerrold continues to be a prolific novelist and has won the Hugo and Nebula awards for outstanding achievement in sci-fi lit.

The Martian Child was released in 2002, and almost falls into the novella category, with a page count short of two hundred pages. A brief perusal of Gerrolds published novels on Barnes and Noble.com reveal that many of his books are the type that are hidden away in the sci-fi/fantasy section of book stores, with 80’s like Choose Your Own Adventure covers, depicting aliens, saber toothed tigers in astronaut gear, and the like. But The Martian Chlld appears to be a departure from this sort of uber-genresized work and the description of the novel alludes to a more traditional literary conflict, sans space aliens.

The screenwriters on the project are the under the radar team Seth Bass and Johnathan Tolins. Bass and Tolins have written one TV movie, The Twilight of the Golds, which deals with the airy and light subject matter of a mother who discovers after some genetic testing that her unborn son might have “the gay gene”, and is torn over the issue of whether or not to have an abortion. Tolins seems to be the busier of the pair, having worked on Queer as Folk, as well as some punch up work for award show scripts (eek).

The Hollywood Reporter says:

“The script by Jonathan Tolins and Seth Bass is described as an unusual father-son relationship, and a cross between "Parenthood" and "E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial."

I like Parenthood, and I like E.T., yet I’m not totally sold on whether or not a film that tries to synthesize both of their unique elements can do so successfully. I like the idea of incorporating sci-fi elements into a family drama, I just think it will be a delicate balance to achieve. Also, let’s not forget that it stars John Cusack, an actor whom I think consistently delivers solid if not great performances. Amanda Peet I could go either way about, I thought she was funny in Saving Silverman but forgettable in Identity. I never saw that breakout Indie she did, Whipped, or whatever it was called.

This premise actually reminds me a little bit of the first act of A.I. which I thought was fantastic, which just focuses on Haley Joel Osmont’s character adapting to the family that has adopted him; and the emotional implications for both family and child. However, with this story, it seems (though I can’t be sure) that the child is not a martian and therefore lacks a true physical barrier that separates him from his family and makes him “other” the way that Osmont was in A.I. If The Martian Child deals strictly with emotional landscapes I think the film makers will need to be wary of falling into the trap of over sentimentality.

Still, for my money, with all the people and ideas behind it, this film has the potential to be tremendous, but in turn could also be tremendously average. We should keep our eye out for this one folks.

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