Cussler’s Last Stand
Will Dirk Pitt's creator sink the fictional adventurer's Hollywood career?
MATTHEW McCONAUGHEY AND PENELOPE CRUZ are big draws, but don’t look for Clive Cussler in line when their new film, Sahara—based on his 1992 book—opens March 25. The novelist has no immediate plans to see the $130 million flick, which marks the first time in 25 years that Dirk Pitt, Cussler’s swashbuckling explorer, will appear on the big screen. In fact, Cussler is suing production company Crusader Entertainment (now known as Bristol Bay Productions) for at least $10 million, charging that they bungled the script.
“Raise the Titanic was bad enough,” says Cussler, 73, referring to the 1980 flop that was the first—and only—film based on his 18-book adventure series, which has sold more than 100 million copies worldwide since 1973. Raise the Titanic, which starred the relatively unknown Richard Jordan as Pitt, grossed just $7 million. “They butchered that movie, and of course it was a bomb—even though the book was good,” Cussler says. “It’s the same thing with Sahara. I don’t believe the script they’re using has much to do with the book.”
In a 2001 deal that reportedly brought Cussler more than $30 million, Crusader optioned film rights to three books in the Pitt series. Sahara, the first installment, finds Pitt tearing across the North African desert with sexy UN scientist Eva Rojas (Cruz) and wisecracking sidekick Al Giordino (Steve Zahn) as they race to save the planet from a deadly toxin. But Cussler claims the final Sahara script “just wasn’t up to snuff.” “I wanted to work with a screenwriter, but they wouldn’t let me,” he grouses. The production company, which declined to comment on the issue, will meet Cussler in a Los Angeles courtroom later this year.
Happily for the Dirk Pitt–obsessed, the author is less cantankerous about the cast. Although Hugh Jackman was his first choice to play the dark-haired, green-eyed Pitt, Cussler OK’d the casting of McConaughey. “He could come off as a good Pitt,” he says. “I don’t really know who else was around.”