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While Hollywood seems on a hot streak for outlandish historical genre pieces like Pride and Prejudice and Zombies and Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter, the latest hot pickup is showing a turn from the ridiculous and on toward the real with two of the 20th Century’s most eccentric figures.
Announced today via The Hollywood Reporter, DreamWorks has picked up Voices from the Dead from Changeling screenwriter and well-known comic scribe J. Michael Straczynski. Voices spins a roaring ’20s mystery thriller out of the real-life friendship between Sherlock Holmes creator Arthur Conan Doyle and escape artist Harry Houdini. Spinoff Online reached out to the writer shortly after this afternoon’s announcement for the first word on how the story and deal came together.
“I was doing some research into Houdini when I discovered that he and Doyle were friends,” Straczynski explained. “I hadn’t previously been aware of this, and was fascinated by their relationship. I managed to get a lot online about them, and I ordered Houdini’s book where he talks about Doyle, and Doyle’s book where he talks about Houdini … the more I dug the more interesting it became. Whey that friendship broke apart over their different beliefs, the heat was equal to if not greater than the friendship that spawned it.
“It was a friendship that dominated headlines in the U.S. and Britain … the world’s greatest magician and the creator of the world’s most famous detective. The story that came out in the screenplay is about 60 percent factual and 40 percent fiction.”
The story of Voices from the Dead is driven by the longstanding debate between the two men over the existence of the supernatural, with Doyle playing the supporter and Houdini the eternal skeptic. “Basically, Houdini believed that most mediums were frauds but there might be some real ones out there, and Doyle believed that most were real but that there were some frauds who needed to be weeded out, and their friendship lived in the space in-between,” Straczynski said. “It came down to a story that would put them at opposite ends of the spectrum. I didn’t want to do a story about magic, per se, because that’s been done so many times. Instead I wrapped the story around a murder mystery with supernatural overtones — is it real or isn’t it? — and set them on the path to find out, accompanied by someone who may or may not be a real medium. It’s an action story, a character story, there’s humor and some really scary stuff … I think it’s going to do really well, and I know that the folks involved want to get this made as quickly as possible.”
While he readies the sequel to DC’s Superman: Earth One, Straczynski also has a number of other movie projects in the pipeline, including two projects Jerry Bruckheimer Films: Shattered Union (based on the video game) and a sci-fi action movie called Vanishing Point.