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January 24, 2013

Heather Bremer: ‘The Graveyard Book’ film project resurrected

To call 52-year-old Neil Gaiman’s works classics may seem a little premature.

Can we really place a novelist among the likes of J.R.R. Tolkein and Lewis Carroll before his hair has fully grayed or death has forced him to put down his pen?

Generally, we do not. Novels gain appreciation from each new generation, and their worth as a piece of literature grows as (or if) those newcomers deem the works relative to their existence.

Gaiman, however, makes an excellent case for instant immortalization.

From his ground-breaking graphic novel “The Sandman” to science-fiction epics “Neverwhere,” “Stardust” and “American Gods,” Gaiman has cemented his place in literary history with rich, flawed and flamboyant characters, a dark and twisted understanding of the human funny bone and worlds that unfold as he expertly weaves their past, present and future. The English-born author, who also famously penned “The Doctor’s Wife” episode of “Dr. Who,” has been awarded some of the highest prizes in comic books and science-fiction, including the Eisner, Hugo, Nebula and Bram Stoker awards.

In 2002, Gaiman entered into new and somewhat terrifying territory. The master of weird and wonderful crafted his first “all ages” novel, “Coraline.” Often compared to Carroll’s “Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland,” the story of young Coraline’s misadventures in a strange world that seems too good to be true earned Gaiman another slew of awards and prompted a 2009 stop-motion film directed by Henry Selick.

On the heels of the success of “Coraline” at the box office — it grossed $125 million worldwide and ranks No. 2 in earnings among stop-motion films — Gaiman was celebrating the achievements of yet another “all-ages” delight, “The Graveyard Book.”

It weaves the suspenseful, scary and often touching tale of Nobody Owens, a young boy raised by ghosts in a cemetery after his family is murdered. As the boy reaches his teen years, Nobody is discovered by the being who claimed his family’s lives, the Man Jack. Nobody faces a race for his life among the dead.

The 2008 novel won the Hugo, Nebula and Bram Stoker awards and was the first to take home both the coveted American Newberry Medal and British Carnegie Medal for children’s books. It spawned plans for a stop-motion film, again to be directed by Selick. The studio set a release date for October 2013.

But Selick and the studio soon parted ways after conflicts over scheduling and development. “The Graveyard Book” film was laid to rest.   

This week, it appears the project has been resurrected, this time with some legendary screen power to guide it.

According to The Hollywood Reporter, Disney will breathe life into “The Graveyard Book” as a live-action film directed by Ron Howard.  

Howard, who directed “Apollo 13”  and “ A Beautiful Mind,” will oversee a new script. Imagine Entertainment, Howard and Brian Grazer’s company, will produce.

It’s a dream pairing for a story of nightmares and ghouls. One worthy of the literary legacy Gaiman has built and will surely add to in the years to come.

Heather Bremer, a former Herald Bulletin reporter/designer, writes a weekly column on movies, television and pop culture. Contact her at heatherebremer@yahoo.com.

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