John D. McDonald was one of the finest popular novelists of the English language. Period. The man should be taught to anyone who wants to write, and his work should still be sold in grocery stores and airports. Compulsively readable, entertaining yet profound, his Travis McGee series was 21 books without a single weak entry, a rarity in publishing, and enormously successful in their day. If the books were relaunched with a major publicity push (they’re completely out of print at the moment), they could be just as successful now, especially in a pop culture primed by Carl Hiaasen and Stephen King, just to name two of the many authors who owe McDonald major stylistic debts.
Evidently one of the reasons that the book series is out of print right now is because 20th Century Fox wants to reintroduce Travis McGee on their timetable, focused on a Travis McGee movie that they’re developing for Leonardo Di Caprio to star in, produced by DiCaprio’s Appian Way Productions and Jennifer Davisson-Killoran and Peter Chernin. Now rumor has Oliver Stone in early talks to direct the film, scripted by Dana Stevens and Kario Salem, and based on the first book in the series, The Deep Blue Good-by. The film would star Leonardo Di Caprio as McGee, and if things went well, would hopefully kick off a franchise for the actor, one of the few working movie stars today without a franchise in his hip pocket.
In July of last year, there was a big story in the Los Angeles Times about how Amy Robinson (“After Hours” and “Baby, It’s You”) was the primary producer still pushing the rock up the hill, but her name doesn’t appear at all in the scoop that broke today at Deadline Hollywood. Makes me wonder if the studio muscled her off, or if it’s just an oversight in the story. Keep in mind that Deadline is also reporting that Di Caprio is discussing the idea of starring in Clint Eastwood’s J. Edger Hoover movie for Warner Bros., and that seems like something that would shoot sooner rather than later. Stone’s wrapping up work right now on “Wall Street: Money Never Sleeps” for Fox, and the film may debut at this summer’s Cannes film festival. That would be the first time at the festival for Stone, and it would mark a major return to pop culture center stage for the filmmaker, who’s been a bit adrift lately.
Travis McGee is a very simple character in terms of understanding the basic set-up. His personal philosophy is that you should retire young so you can enjoy it, and take your retirement in installments, as many months as you can between jobs. In order to finance a lifestyle like that, he’s developed an unusual line of work. He calls himself a “salvage consultant,” and he helps people on a private basis. If you’ve been swindled or robbed or manipulated or otherwise muscled out of money that is yours but that you can’t ask law enforcement to track down for you, Travis will recover it. And then he’ll take half.
He’s a white knight, a guy with a deeply seeded sense of right and wrong, and he’s an incurable romantic. The women who get close to McGee in the series have a dramatically decreased life expectancy, which only makes him more haunted and broken-hearted as the series wears on. It’s a great character, and at some point very soon, I’d like to start a series to re-examine his literary legacy. These books should absolutely be read and studied and memorized, and when adapting them, there’s very little work that needs to be done. Travis is a great character already, and McDonald’s got an amazing ear for dialogue. His action scenes are brutal, built out of character and necessity. It should be, for the right writers and producers, a cake walk.
Right now, I’m no fan of the screenplay that exists for the film. I’m hoping there are revisions I haven’t read. If you’re introducing Travis McGee to your potential film franchise on a surfboard, you are starting from a fundamental misunderstanding of the source material and should probably stop before you even waste the effort. Making sure the books are out of print is a good way for Fox to make sure that fewer people understand just how far off the mark the adaptation is, but it’s a terrible way of building up a sense of excitement about the film. You want to market Travis McGee? Make the books available. People will be excited if they know just how good the stories are. In the last year, I’ve given away at least nine different copies of The Deep Blue Good-by, and every single person who I’ve given the book to immediately starts to hunt for furtherbooks from the series at used bookstores.
And not one of them can imagine Leonardo Di Caprio when they read the character.
I don’t automatically dismiss this idea. It would be foolish to dismiss Stone and Di Caprio working together. Maybe the two of them are going to read the book, have a meeting, and decide they want to back up and start over so they can simply shoot what already works. All that the story today suggests is that the two of them are interested in the property, and in a collaboration. And based on just how great Travis McGee is… it’s little wonder they’re attracted to it.
We’ll keep you posted on further developments with any adaptation of The Deep Blue Good-by here at HitFix.
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