Novelist and Producer Point Fingers in Court; Whose Fault Was "Sahara?"

by | February 5, 2007 | Comments

Accusations are flying between author Clive Cussler and producer Philip Anschutz over who’s to blame for the 2005 adventure stinker, "Sahara," which cost an estimated $130 million to produce and brought in under $70 million at the box office.

The debate is two-sided; Cussler claims his career was damaged by the poor performance of the Matthew McConaughey pic, while Anschutz says it was Cussler’s script revisions and public badmouthing of the film that made for low profits. The two are currently in court (Cussler sued Anschutz’s Crusader Entertainment production company) over the film, which brings up interesting food for thought: whose fault is it when a movie tanks hard?

"Sahara," released by Paramount, is based on one of Cussler’s popular nineteen-book group of novels involving the fictional adventurer Dirk Pitt. By all accounts the film adaptation held hopes of becoming the first in an "Indiana Jones" style movie series, though that possibility quickly became unlikely when the film opened in April 2005 as a critical and box office failure. Critics gave the film (directed by Breck Eisner, son of Disney’s Michael Eisner) a disappointing 38 percent Tomatometer.

"Sahara": What $60 million in the hole looks like

According to court testimony, Cussler claims that despite being granted initial creative control, filmmakers ravaged the script with revisions that omitted important plotlines. He also says that his influence on the production dwindled after director Eisner came on board, negating his right to final say.

Crusader Entertainment, which is counter-suing Cussler, argues that final say was not part of the deal after the hire of the director. They also claim that Cussler inflated the sales numbers of his book by half (instead of 100 million, only 50 million) leading the company to believe that the character and story was much more popular than it really was.

As for the script, it appears that while Cussler approved a screenplay by Thomas Dean Donnelly and Joshua Oppenheimer (who co-adapted "A Sound of Thunder"), he had trouble settling for revisions by James V. Hart ("Contact," "Tomb Raider 2") and Josh Friedman ("Chain Reaction," "War of the Worlds"): "Cussler’s reaction to the changes was that Friedman ‘should have his keyboard shoved up his anal canal.‘"

Furthermore, Cussler claims that director Eisner subsequently had his own way with the script, "changing it from a serious action-adventure into a slick jog through Africa."

Cussler’s only other novel-to-screen adaptation is 1980’s "Raise the Titanic!," another Dirk Pitt story that bombed with critics and audiences alike.

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