Blood Meridian and the challenges of adaptation

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By Ewan Bissell, 3rd Year History

Cormac McCarthy is the man behind some of the most memorable adaptations in recent decades. With hits like The Road (2009) and No Country For Old Men (2007), why has his 1985 novel Blood Meridian never been swiped up by Hollywood?

Many books fall into the category of unadaptable – some are too non-linear, they simply wouldn’t fit on screen, some haven’t been adapted because the authors simply hate cinema, and some, just refuse to be adapted.

Viggo Mortensen and Kodi Smit-McPhee in The Road (2009) | IMDb / Dimension Films

This is the category that Cormac McCarthy’s Blood Meridian falls into, a book that no matter how many times Hollywood’s biggest names have tried to bring it to life on the silver screen, they have been shut down by overbearing executives or unforeseen circumstances.

“That’s all crap” Cormac McCarthy said during an interview with the Wall Street Journal in 2009 on the topic of his 1985 epic Blood Meridian being ‘unfilmable’. So the story goes that some of the biggest powers in Hollywood set out to produce a feature length Blood Meridian across the years and failed. Ridley Scott had a script, working with Bill Monahan, but couldn’t find the studio funding.

James Franco later attempted an adaptation, even filming a test sequence, only for the rug to be pulled out from under him when the project was cancelled. If after 35 years a film adaptation remains elusive, in part related to the challenging source, and in part due to studio reluctance, does this really make the novel unfilmable?

Much of the book is ladled with McCarthy’s lyrical prose, so much so that it becomes part of the fabric of the novel.

The key challenge with studios is the terrible violence that occurs throughout the book, but specifically through much of the second half. How could a studio put their name to a bleak and brutal tale? At the same time comes the trouble of adapting the content artistically. Much of the book is ladled with McCarthy’s lyrical prose, so much so that it becomes part of the fabric of the novel.

Tommy Lee Jones in No Country for Old Men (2007) | IMDb / Miramax Films / Paramount Vantage

Characters and themes become expressed by the words of the narrator around them, something which appears tricky to adapt to film. Another issue would be the casting of the two central characters – The Kid, later The Man, and Judge Holden. While obviously someone could play these characters no matter their magnitude in the book, they would only be compared to larger than life figures.

Characters and themes become expressed by the words of the narrator around them, something which appears tricky to adapt to film.

Despite these troubles, from both studio and artist, McCarthy himself sees a simple answer as he outlined in the same Wall Street Journal interview from 2009: “the issue is it would be very difficult to do and would require someone with a bountiful imagination and a lot of balls. But the payoff could be extraordinary."

A bountiful imagination and a lot of balls. It seems simple enough, but what could possibly be the solution to these seemingly insurmountable problems for some of the biggest names in Hollywood? What most immediately comes to mind is making the film an animated one. Animated gore and violence is pretty much impossible to make as visceral and studio-averse as a live action version would be, and has the potential to retain the artistic integrity of the novel.

Furthermore the animation could aid in capturing the visual imagery that fills the book. Nonetheless, while Blood Meridian may be challenging to adapt, it’s certainly not impossible, with the right imagination, a studio gamble, and a strike of luck, there might just be a great adaptation in the near future.

Featured Image Credit: IMDb / Dimension Films


What are your thoughts on Blood Meridian being adapted into film?

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