The Sparrow remains unfilmed, after 15 years of sustained effort by people passionate about getting a movie adaptation produced. What’s the problem?


Here’s the conventional wisdom. There’s a big market for science fiction action movies, but despite the success of films like “Moon”  and “Inception,” there’s no market for science fiction drama. As one insider told me, “Not even could get anybody to go see  ‘Solaris.’”


Since 1996, when The Sparrow was published, there have been three screen adaptations of the novel. Two of them were commissioned by major studios for huge stars: Universal Pictures and Warner Brothers  Then and I wrote a third screenplay, on spec. Our version was a close adaptation of the novel, and that is currently the only version on the market.


A few days ago, I heard fromwho wrote the adaptation meant for Brad Pitt. When WB took a pass, the rights to his screenplay eventually reverted to Michael. He sent me a link to the asteroid mining venture that’s been in the news lately, and took that opportunity to ask what was happening with the Sparrow adaptation that Karen and I wrote.


My answer was, “Not a damn thing.” We still hope that director will find a way to make the movie, but as Karen’s agent said, “I love the story and the characters and the world and the philosophy and religion. However, I believe that Hollywood’s version of this would eliminate almost all of that.”


When Michael asked if I was willing to discuss permission to bring his adaptation to market again, I thought hard about what that might mean. In many ways, the Seitzman screenplay is clever and well-thought out. In the present market, his version of The Sparrow has a far better chance of getting produced than the Russell-Hall screenplay because his story skews toward action-adventure without totally losing what made the book work.


If I said yes to Michael, if he managed to sell his screenplay, and if a studio decided to make the movie [insert many additional ifs here] hundreds of jobs would be created. My own son is a film and digital media editor in Hollywood, so I know how important each new TV show or movie is to people in the industry. Hollywood productions are America’s most popular exports, and that’s not to be sneered at in today’s economy. Plus: the mere announcement of a movie option results in a flurry of buzz and publicity – that’s just about the only kind of advertising that a book can get these days.


So I did not simply cry, “Get thee behind me, Satan!”


What I kept circling back to was this: every few days, I hear from a new reader who has been profoundly moved by The Sparrow, or from someone who rereads it yearly. Many people have told me that The Sparrow is their all-time favorite book. No one is more surprised than I, but no amount of self-deprecating humor can change the fact that readers around the world have an intimate and important connection to a novel I wrote 20 years ago.


So I have turned Michael’s request down. I did not consult with anyone before I did so. I didn’t tell my agents, or ask my son, or talk to my husband. This was a personal decision, made from the heart.


Michael’s adaptation made sense in the context of what Hollywood is likely to buy and/or produce, but it changed too much of the story for it to be satisfying to the many readers who genuinely love that novel. And I don’t want to spend the rest of my life apologizing to people who would feel betrayed by a screen adaptation that didn’t face up to the central issues of the story.

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Published on April 27, 2012 07:41 • 368 views
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message 1: by Patricia (last edited Apr 27, 2012 02:33PM) (new)

Patricia Your integrity shines! Strength of character seems to be in short supply these days ~ I'm glad to see yours is well in tact, despite temptation. And a huge temptation it must be!

I am one of those who was awestruck by The Sparrow, launched right into Children of God and hold them both in the highest regard (loved them!!!). Would I like to see it on the silver screen? Absolutely. But not if it was mangled, flattened, "actionized".

Who filmed The Hunger Games? (I should know, but I don't) I've heard it stays very true to the book (I'll find out this weekend), which was also fairly complex on various levels... just a thought!

Thank you for sharing this post, Mary. I adore, adore, adore your work.


message 2: by Candace (new)

Candace Thank you, Mary! While it's frustrating that this deserving book hasn't been brought to the screen yet, you didn't let a watered-down action/adventure version ruin this much-loved story. That would have broken my heart. I would have wept if the soul of your amazing book had been left out of the screen version. Don't these people read the book? Twenty years later, I still think about the characters. I've re-read the book (and the sequel) twice. I've recommended them to numerous people. And I know I'm just one of thousands who feel the same way about The Sparrow. It's at the top of my all-time favorite books. It's better to keep hoping that your script will make it to the screen someday than to settle for anything less.


message 3: by Marsha (new)

Marsha JUst wanted to take the opportunity to tell you how much I loved Sparrow. I read every book you write. Thank you for widening my horizons, taking me to different times and places and filling many an hour with your wonderful prose and stories.


message 4: by Diana (new)

Diana I just ordered The Sparrow based upon your recent post about the screenplay.


message 5: by Candace (new)

Candace @Diana, you might as well go ahead and order the sequel, The Children of God, too. There are things that happen in the first book that will be explained in the second. Major things. The Sparrow works as a stand-alone book, but the sequel is a must-read, imo. For instance, you'll know from the beginning - so I'm not giving anything away here - that something happened to Emilio Sandoz that affected him physically. But you won't know *why* it happened until the second book.

Happy reading. And get ready to fall in love. And laugh. And cry. Repeat.


message 6: by Diana (new)

Diana Thanks for the info, Candace. I'll look for it!


message 7: by Kathleen (new)

Kathleen I like the way you think. And I think a great film will come of this someday.


message 8: by Terri (new)

Terri Thank God! I would hate to see hollywood ruin another one of my favorite books. The movie version of the Golden Compass or The Lion, The Witch, and the Wardrobe should give you a relatively good idea of what hollywood would due to with a deep, rich, complex, thoughtful, and moving story. :shudders:


message 9: by Dyer (new)

Dyer I have enjoyed both of these novels and was moved mightily by the stories and the characters. I cried I laughed and had the air knocked out of me on several occasions. I'd love to see both of these books made into movies. I agree with your earlier statement about how making this movie would provide many jobs in a shaky economy. I also agree with the authors who believe that once they sell their book to a studio it is out of their hands and into the hands of hopefully very creative people who can capture the spirit of the work while working their own creative magic. In this way much of the hype which is generated around many major science fiction movies will stimulate many of this genres young fans to read the book as well as see the movie. This way many new fans will be exposed to your wonderful story.


message 10: by Andrew (new)

Andrew Leon I'm of mixed feelings about this. When I first saw that it was being optioned as a movie (with Brad Pitt), I was really excited. I mean, really excited. I would love to see your book as a movie, and I believe it's possible to do a decently faithful adaptation if you can find the right people to work with. For decades, people thought that a Lord of the Rings adaptation would never be possible, but Peter Jackson pulled that off. It wasn't faithful in every detail, but he captured the spirit of the books so well that it was possible to overlook where he changed things.

However, Hollywood tradition says that it's much more likely that they will screw it up, and I'd much rather not have a movie than have a bad one.

On a different note, since high school, I've had two books that I've said I think everyone should read: The Hobbit and Watership Down. There are plenty of other books that I've loved, but I've felt that those two books were also significant enough that I think everyone should be exposed to them. I'm dangerously close to adding The Sparrow to that list. I need to read it again before I commit myself to that position, though (I plan to re-read it as soon as I figure out what box it's in (we moved in the fall and not everything is unpacked, yet)).

On yet another note, I just finished A Thread of Grace and enjoyed it very much. Hopefully, I'll have a review of that (while mentioning The Sparrow and Children) up on my blog before the end of the week.


message 11: by Diana (new)

Diana I also loved Watership Down. I think of it a lot even though I read it years and years ago. A Thread of Grace was my first Russell book. Loved it, although the topic was not lovable.


message 12: by Ellen (new)

Ellen Mary, Thanks for the update on this issue and also thank you, thank you, thank you for your thoughtful decision. The Sparrow and Children of God would both be amazing movies in the right hands, but you'll know when the time is right.


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