Wednesday, December 07, 2005


Via Camille at BookMoot I see that the usual Hollywood machinations are in progress to bring the Encyclopedia Brown books to the big screen. For a couple of years when I was in fourth and fifth grade, the EB books were a staple of mine, although there were times when I'd get a little incredulous that the ten-year-old kid could figure out every case that came his way; and also, as the series went on, some of the solutions started to take on an Oh, come on! vibe. I'm thinking of the little linguistic-trap cases, where EB would sagely note that an innocent person in the case involving both archery and a two-floor house would have heard him say "The stolen item is an arrow flight away" (indicating outside) as opposed to "The stolen item is a narrow flight away" (indicating upstairs). Somehow, I don't think that would pass muster on an episode of Law & Order.

Reading the news article, I'm surprised first that apparently an EB movie has been in one pipeline or another for over twenty years, going back to a time when Chevy Chase and Goldie Hawn would have starred, in 1981 or 1982. (These two had a very charming chemistry in Foul Play, a caper flick I've always liked.) Now, I'm not sure if Chase and Hawn would have actually played EB and his friend Sally Something (Kimball? It's been years, folks), or if they'd have played EB's parents.

I'm also surprised -- well, surprised isn't really the right word, more disappointed -- at this:

Deutsch [the guy who owns the EB film rights] said the script he commissioned from the screenwriter Ryan Rowe significantly updated the character, and he envisions the series as more an action-adventure type movie rather than a straight-ahead detective story.

So an EB movie would probably end up looking more like Spy Kids or, more nostalgically, The Goonies than the EB books. Well, on the one hand, the format of the EB books renders them specifically unfilmable; but one wonders why the a priori assumption that kids aren't going to be interested in a mystery. Kids aren't stupid; they don't need action and adventure in every movie that gets aimed at them. EB was never about thrills-and-spills; the only instances of fisticuffs in the books that I remember were very brief, and always consisted of local bully Bugs Meany getting punched by Sally Kimball. Even if Donald Sobol's EB adventures stretched credulity a bit, why can't we have a good entertainment for kids that involves things like, oh, thinking and detailed observation?

I'm also given pause by the name of the filmmaker who is currently interested in this: Ridley Scott. Now, Scott's a very established filmmaker, obviously, but when I consider his previous efforts, which all tend to be very heavy, ponderous, and visuals-laden films, I see little that makes him the obvious choice to do a movie about a ten-year-old kid who opens a detective agency in his garage. This kind of project needs a kind of whimsy, doesn't it? Something more along the lines of, oh, a Robert Zemeckis or a Rob Reiner or a Joe Dante -- guys who did Back to the Future or Stand By Me or Gremlins, not the guy who did Bladerunner and Gladiator and Black Hawk Down. Which brings me to this bit from Scott:

Scott and Deutsch agree that the characters are appealing because they show children to be more clever, and observant, than adults.

Scott added, "Any mustiness that comes from the period in which the books were written will disappear when contemporizing the setting."

Well, in the first place, it's not that the characters show children to be more clever and observant than adults, because many of the mysteries in the EB books don't involve adults at all, so the books more establish that EB himself is more clever and observant than, well, everybody. There's no grand statement about how dumb adults are in the books, and in reality, EB stands in the classic tradition of very intelligent detectives in mystery fiction. He's another Holmes, Nero Wolfe, or Hercule Poirot. He just happens to be ten.

The second part of that quote also rankles: Scott will handle the "mustiness" of the books' original setting by "contemporizing" them. Well, ugh. Why does this thing have to be contemporized? Just looking at The Daughter's collection of movies, there are time periods all over the place represented in those films. The assumption that kids today won't relate to EB and his adventures if he's not using the Net and playing games on his X-Box or whatever is really annoying. An action-adventure movie about kids in a contemporary setting can be a good movie, I suppose, but it wouldn't really be an Encyclopedia Brown movie, would it?

(And the worst thing is that the movie should have been made in 1987, when Wil Wheaton could have played Encyclopedia. Stupid movie development hell!)

UPDATE: Oh, yeah: would someone tell me why the books of this author haven't been snapped up by someone in Hollywood? If done well, these would make great movies!

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