Hollywood movie studios, major book publishers and other content companies love to adapt works in the public domain.
These works often have instantly recognizable titles, characters and stories, so they have a built-in audience. As such, they’re much easier to sell to the masses than stories people are unfamiliar with. Plus, the companies don’t have to pay royalties or licensing fees to use the works.
This year, we’ve already seen Disney’s “Alice in Wonderland,” Warner Bros.’s “Sherlock Holmes” and Universal’s “Robin Hood.”
They are based, respectively, on a fantasy book from 1865, a series of detective stories first published in 1887, and a tale from English folklore. All are free-to-use stories in the public domain. They’re part of our shared culture.
These stories have perpetuated thanks to the public domain. Otherwise there would not be as many adaptations.
Part 2: Classic novels revisited
Director Paul W.S. Anderson (“Resident Evil”) is currently making a 3-D movie version of “The Three Musketeers,” which is based on the 1844 tale by Alexandre Dumas. The film will star Milla Jovovich (see on-set photo below), Orlando Bloom and Christoph Waltz. It’s set to hit theaters on Oct. 14, 2011.
The Jules Verne novel “Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Sea” (1869) is being adapted for Disney by director David Fincher as “20,000 Leagues Under the Sea.” Co-writer Randall Wallace said it will have “more heart and a more realistic lucidness” than what you’d normally expect from a fantasy film, according to Geektyrant.
Disney filmed the best known adaptation of the book to date as “20,000 Leagues Under the Sea” (1954), starring Kirk Douglas and James Mason.
Out this Christmas is “Gulliver’s Travels” starring Jack Black. It’s a takeoff on “Gulliver’s Travels” (1726) by Jonathan Swift. In this version, Black plays modern-day travel writer Lemuel Gulliver who takes an assignment in Bermuda, but ends up on the island of Lilliput, where he towers over its tiny citizens.
Director Alex Proyas (“The Crow” and “Dark City”) is working on a film adaptation of the 17th-century English poem “Paradise Lost” by John Milton. The movie will center on an epic war in heaven between archangels Michael and Lucifer.
Director Julie Taymor has filmed William Shakespeare’s “The Tempest” starring Helen Mirren, Russell Brand and Alfred Molina. It’s set to open on Dec. 10.
Also in the works are new movies based on “Treasure Island” (1883), “The Scarlet Pimpernel” (1903), “Don Quixote” (1605), “Arabian Nights” (1706), “The Mysterious Island” (1874), “The Raven” (1845), “Dracula” (1897) and “Tarzan” (1912).
And of course, Warner Bros. is prepping “Sherlock Holmes 2” for a Dec. 16, 2011, release. Robert Downey Jr. returns as Holmes, with Jude Law as Dr. Watson. Jared Harris, Stephen Fry and Noomi Rapace also have been cast in the sequel.
This is the latest in a series on how Hollywood and the public benefit from works off copyright and in the public domain.