Sony is apparently reviving their on-again-off-again Houdini movie with new writer Max Landis. Originally a straight biopic, the Houdini script was then pepped up with the Downton Abbey-friendly twist of “…and Houdini falls for a glamourous woman spiritualist”. I guess the nascent idea was to move it toward being an American riff on the Sherlock Holmes reboot movies, while also appealing to the fans of British TV costume drama.
This week there’s news of a new Max Landis script, set to have more of a horror/mystery tone… “telling the story with an H.P. Lovecraft influence” (Deadline). Which holds out the tantalising possiblity of us seeing a 30-foot high Lovecraft glowering down from the silver screen.
But movies that won’t appeal much to the Korean / Chinese / world market are hard to sell to studio bosses. Digging up dusty old American hero-brands from the pre-1939 era may also feel rather risky after the recent studio-threatening failures of The Lone Ranger and John Carter of Mars. So I’d have to suspect that Houdini might not be a $200m tentpole movie. However… if Sony is really going ahead with a major Doc Savage movie soon, then it would make financial sense for them to hedge their bets and re-use Doc‘s expensive 1920s costumes and props in a smaller Houdini movie.
So what might it look like? I’d guess at a stylised period look (think the first 30 minutes of Sky Captain), coupled with a romping Indiana Jones-like mystery/archeology story. Houdini, Lovecraft, and Lovecraft’s bespectacled boy-archeologist protege Bobby Barlow (who is Not What He Seems), all racing through dark versions of National Treasure puzzles to uncover a Mysterious Forgotten Tomb or similar. Also on the trail of the mystery is the sinister Madame Blavatski — who is also Not What She Seems, pretty nifty with the ol’ psychic powers, and who turns out to be the concealed love interest of Houdini. A fairly conventional adventure, perhaps (hey, it’s 6.30am and I’m writing this before breakfast…), with superhero-like Theosophist powers vs. Lovecraftian monsters to liven up the escapology. If Sony’s Houdini movie is indeed intended as a safe backstop for the finances of a big Doc Savage tentpole, I guess conventional may be what’s required. Both the monsters and psychic powers could be pretty much invisible or shadowy, to save on SFX costs, although extensive dream/flashback sequences could bring scale and visual drama to some of Houdini’s escapology stagings. Here’s also hoping for a lovely $50,000 shot of Lovecraft slowly realising… “what, my monsters are actually… real!?”