Over the next six months, moviegoers will have ample access to young adult adaptations where the fate of the world rests in the hands of few. You’ve got Mortal Instruments: City of Bones coming out this week, The Hunger Games: Catching Fire hits theaters in November, and the first half of next year will see films like Divergent and The Maze Runner making their millions. So it’s about time we see an adaptation of a popular YA novel that doesn’t involve the ruins of civilizations or potential apocalypses. So it’s good news (relatively) that Universal is in the process of acquiring the series The 39 Steps from DreamWorks, who has been sitting on the project for the last five years without much progress. Now we’ll just have to wait and see if Universal can possibly keep a director attached.
The multimedia embracing series was published by Scholastic, whose president Deborah Forte is attached to produce. DreamWorks snatched up the film rights to the series before the first book, The Maze of Bones was even published back in 2008, and Steven Spielberg was set to produce and possibly direct. Things took a turn for the worse when Spielberg dropped out of the project and was replaced by Brett Ratner. But Ratner’s other projects got in the way, and once he opted out, director Shawn Levy attached himself to the adaptation during the production of The Internship. But that was over a year ago, and we hadn’t really heard anything since.
Universal should be a good fit for 39 Steps, seeing as how nearly every popular film they put out ends up getting a sequel. It helps when there are this many books serving as source material. Before Levy was involved, a screenplay was written by Jeff Nathanson, but it isn’t clear whether they’ll be keeping that version or hiring someone else to re-adapt.
It wasn’t ever clear how many books from the series were being used anyway. The first arc of the series was 11 books, with six volumes comprising the second arc. A third arc will begin in October when Unstoppable is released. The THR story twice calls it an “adaptation of Scholastic’s 10-book series,” so maybe they’re taking on the whole first arc.
The Cahill family, the most powerful lineage in human history, sits at the center of The 39 Steps, and Amy and Dan are two orphans who figure out that they were born into the Cahills. All of the family’s branches are invested in a hunt for 39 clues, or ingredients, which will unlock the “power” of the family name. Clandestine organizations and other mysterious historical fun abounds.
The series has expanded beyond the books with a special collectable card series and an interactive game online. You can bet that the viral marketing for Universal’s film will also get in on these types of tie-ins. To get you in detective mode, you can watch a brief preview for the first book series below.