Film Adaptation: Eucalyptus by Murray Bail

Just a few days before shooting was due to start on the film adaptation of Murray Bail's Eucalyptus, production was halted. Exact reasons are sketchy at this time, but the general consensus is that problems with the script are the base cause.

"The Australian" reports that there have been "creative differences" between Russell Crowe, the executive producer, and Jocelyn Moorhouse, the writer-director. Added to that, Murray Bail has been a little bemused by the casting of Nicole Kidman in the lead female role: Kidman is 37 and the novel's character Ellen is 19.

I really don't have a big problem with Kidman in the lead: good make-up, judicious lighting and she could look like she was in her early twenties - no nose required. Anyway it might be said (but not by me, of course) that Kidman has had some "image enhancements" over the years which have helped her look younger. The problem I find is with the roles of Crowe and Moorhouse. I've always thought the executive producer was the person who either put up the money or got the package together to bankroll the production. Having that person in one of the main roles in the film strikes me as a possible conflict of interest: the executive producer wants the best for the film as that will help ensure they get their money back, and the actor wants their role to be bigger, always bigger, even if it hurts the balance of the script in the process. If those two roles work well together, or if one player plays against their role, then things might work out. I'd say that most times they won't.

Writer-directors either work very well or fall in a heap. Woody Allen is able to undertake both roles because he gets the script done first, and then employs an ensemble cast for his films, working to his own timetable. And for a long time he worked outside the studio system, or at least arranged standard funding. M. Night Shyamalan also works as a writer-director and is a perfect example of why this doesn't always work. His first film, "Sixth Sense" was a huge hit because he had time to get the script right before moving into director-mode. Each subsequent film shows a dilution of quality which I would put down to script problems, caused by Shyamalan having too much to do in too little time, and consequently falling short. We really won't know what his true abilities are until he writes a script for someone else, or directs a film without writing it.

In the case of Eucalyptus, the film is being financed by Fox Searchlight Pictures, and features two Oscar-winning actors, and it might have been three if Geoffrey Rush hadn't pulled out due to scheduling problems.

[Just as an aside: what was the last film with three Oscar-winners in the lead roles? I can't think of any.]

So the pressure was on. Crowe hasn't been making more than one film a year lately which seems a good schedule, but Kidman seems to be the female equivalent of Jude Law at present - she's everywhere. Her schedule must be a nightmare to organise. So more time pressure was applied to fit the film production into her calendar. And then the studio wants it finished and in the theatres by the end of the year to make it eligible for the 2006 Oscars, and the house of cards starts to get very shakey. If it all slots into place, well and good. But you wouldn't want to bet the bank on it.

I have no idea which of these possible problems caused the final collapse. The script seems the easiest to blame, ego- and creative-wise. At this time the main players intend the production to go ahead later in the year, with a November date being mentioned. I sincerely hope it does. Eucalytus was, in my opinion, one of the best Australian books of the 1990s. If the film does nothing other than bring people back to the original source novel, then it will have served its purpose. And as a last thought: I wonder if Geoffrey Rush will be free then?

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This page contains a single entry by Perry Middlemiss published on February 16, 2005 10:25 AM.

Combined Reviews: The White Earth by Andrew McGahan was the previous entry in this blog.

Perth International Arts Festival: Writers' Week is the next entry in this blog.

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