Somewhere today, the Hughes Brothers are very, very sad.
As unlikely as it sounds, they once claimed that a big-screen version of “Little House On The Prairie” was one of the projects they most wanted to make. They grew up watching the show, and they felt a real love for the material.
As equally unlikely as it sounds, the director of “Your Highness,” “Pineapple Express,” and “George Washington” is now the man who will bring the Laura Ingalls Wilder books to the big-screen, with a script by Abi Morgan, best known for the Fassbender-f**king-everything-that-moves drama “Shame.”
I think it’s a no-brainer for some studio to develop this material again. After all, the books by Wilder were the inspiration for the TV series that ran from 1974-1983, but I would hardly call the show a faithful adaptation. The books are an industry unto themselves, and the eight books published while Wilder was alive were just the starting point. There were at least four books published posthumously based on her writing, and a number of other series that built off of what she wrote, eventually chronicling something like five generations of her family, from their time in Scotland to the age of her daughter living in San Francisco. Her personal papers have been combed through repeatedly by scholars and writers, and there’s plenty of material for the filmmakers to use when they sit down to decide what story they’re telling.
The TV series really only borrowed elements from the books, so I don’t think fans have to worry that they’ll be seeing the same thing just done with a new cast. They might recognize the characters, but the books function more like a time machine, detailing the way life worked for people who were settling new parts of America, and they are filled with all sorts of touches that make them feel authentic. They remind me in some ways of the “Great Brain” books, where you get a true sense of a different time and place, allowing younger readers a chance to really experience something authentic about a way of life that no longer exists.
About two years ago, I was sent the entire run of the TV show on DVD, and my wife, who lived in Argentina as a kid, flipped out. She told me that while they had the show on their TV channels, they only ever seemed to show about 40 episodes, all chosen at random from the nearly decade-long run of the series. She ended up watching the entire thing, start to finish, so for something like three months, I heard that song every day and saw bits and pieces every time I walked into the room. There are, after all, something like 140,000 episodes of the show. What struck me is that as the show developed, the actors grew further and further away from the characters as originally written, and by the time it went off the air, it was related in name only. That’s fine, but it leaves plenty of room for this film to exist as something completely different.
It seems like David Gordon Green is in the midst of trying to redefine himself as a filmmaker again, with some exciting prospects on the horizon. I really like his comedy work, and I think his time on “East Bound And Down” is some of his very best work, but I’m excited to see him head back to drama, particularly because I think he’s got an outsider’s eye that is right for this sort of stuff. He’s not some Hollywood brat, born and raised around the industry. When he does Southern, it’s real because that’s where he’s from. Whatever happens with this one, I would imagine that the writer-director combination is going to be exciting, and with Scott Rudin aboard to produce, I think it’s safe to assume they’re going to treat the books with respect and aim for something lasting and real.
We’ll have more on this one as it comes together.