Brad Pitt’s company has optioned the rights to the book The Lost City of Z, with Pitt producing and wanting to star as the legendary explorer Colonel Percy Fawcett. He’s even grown a ridiculous beard for the part.
But for the last several months, I’ve been reading that Pitt is threatening to bow out of the project if Paramount doesn’t compensate the film’s director what Pitt thinks they should. Apparently, he’s shaved off the beard and started work on a new zombie flick just to prove that he’s not kidding.
In the meanwhile, Pitt’s company still owns the rights while they shop around for another actor to play the part. There’s a rumor that Christian Bale is interested. I don’t see that facial hair working for anyone but Brad Pitt, but Bale is definitely a wonderfully skilled actor and could probably convincingly portray a carrot, if he had to. Although, with his reputation for becoming obsessed with his parts, he’d probably plant himself in the dirt and endure weeks of rabbit nibbles in preparation, so the idea of Bale getting involved in a vast and epic Amazonian adventure in the style of Lawrence of Arabia is kind of a scary thought. I’m keeping my fingers crossed that Pitt is just bluffing with Paramount, and will ultimately star in the role.
Colonel Percy Fawcett, a war hero, spy, and explorer, was the last of the great Victorian adventurers. In 1925, he launched his final expedition into the green depths of the Amazon jungle, in search of the lost city of El Dorado, the fabled and overgrown city of gold chased after by conquistadors and treasure hunters for 400 years, ever since Pizarro took hundreds of Spanish soldiers into the wilderness and emerged several months later with only a few dozen walking corpses.
Between 1906 and 1910, Fawcett had lived in the jungle while mapping the borders of Bolivia and Brazil, and he earned the reputation as the toughest man in the Amazon fighting disease, deadly snakes, piranhas, and tribes of cannibals. When he returned to London, he delivered a lecture to the Royal Geographic Society in which he told of finding dinosaur tracks in the jungle, giant snakes, and fantastic hidden worlds imprisoned and protected by unreachable cliffs. He showed his photographs. Colonel Fawcett also spoke of hearing whispers of an ancient kingdom lost somewhere in the jungle, an area virtually the size of the continental United States, and it concealed a hidden kingdom waiting to be discovered, a place drenched in impossible vines and forgotten to time.
If any of this sounds familiar, it should. Fawcett’s fantastical adventures captured the imagination of the world and inspired Sir Arthur Conan Doyle to write The Lost World. On a side note, right now I’m quietly imagining Jennifer O’Dell as the leather bikini-clad jungle girl Veronica on the TV series Arthur Conan Doyle’s The Lost world.
Fawcett claimed to have spotted clues to the lost city everywhere in the jungle. He found it in the customs of the Indians, in the oral histories and various legends of different tribes. He called it The Lost City of Z.
This was taken very seriously. Unlike so many others, Fawcett was not a soldier of fortune or a crackpot treasure hunter. He was a decorated war hero and a recipient of the Royal Geographical Society’s prestigious Gold Medal. Afterwards, he spent years gathering evidence to prove his case, digging up artifacts, studying petroglyphs, and interviewing more tribes. In 1920, he found a manuscript in a Rio de Janeiro library which showed a record of a Portuguese expedition to the Amazon in 1743 in which a lone survivor claimed to have once discovered the abandoned ruins of an immense stone city lost in the jungle and hinted at the approximate location.
In 1925, and with the whole world watching, Colonel Fawcett felt he had amassed enough information and set off, over the mountains of the moon and down valleys of the shadow, in search for his lost city with financing by the Royal Geographical Society in London, the world’s foremost repository of research gathered by explorers. His expeditionary force consisted of only three men, himself, his 21-year-old son Jack, and one of Jack’s friends. Fawcett believed that only a small group had any chance of surviving the horrors of the Amazon. He had seen larger forces decimated by malaria, insects, snakes, poison darts, starvation, and insanity. He knew better. He and his two companions would travel light, carry their own supplies, eat off the land, pose no threat to the natives, and endure months of hardship in their search for the Lost City of Z. Runners were sent back to civilization with daily dispatches for the newspapers, but eventually, the dispatches trickled to a stop. Months passed with no word.
Because he had survived several similar journeys into the Amazon jungle, his family and friends considered him to be near super-human. As before, they expected Fawcett to stumble out of the jungle, bearded and emaciated and announcing some fantastic discovery.
It did not happen. The expedition was never heard from again.
Over the years, the search for Fawcett became more alluring than the search for El Dorado itself. Rescue efforts, from the serious to the farcical, were mounted and found nothing, with hundreds more losing their lives in the search. Rewards were advertised. Psychics were brought in by the family. Articles and books were written. The legend of Percy Fawcett and his image as the intrepid explorer and lost jungle adventurer inspired the movie serials of the 1930’s and 40’s, which in turn inspired George Lucas and Steven Spielberg to create their Indiana Jones character.
So, yeah, I want to see this movie. And I hope Brad Pitt gets it done. The unknown seems so small in our modern age. Those olden days had explorers who blazed trails, we have people who follow trails already blazed. They had parchment and clues. We have GPS and Google maps, where the blank areas only hide secret military installations, not lost worlds.