Friday, January 6, 2017

Mermaids at the Movies: Thoughts on Empires of the Deep, and the Future of Merpeeps on Screen

Way way back in the day when Garrett and I first started the blog, we were all anxiously awaiting news on the Chinese fantasy epic Empires of the Deep.It was billed as a big ole' mermaid movie, something we really haven't seen to this day. In the years since, it has become a fabled mess of development hell, boasting four director changes, a massive budget, and perhaps most disappointingly, a non-existant release date.

Produced by Jon Jiang, a billionaire Chinese real estate mogul, the film is currently shelved. It's the sort of thing that has become somewhat legendary in Hollywood circles. I won't go into the whole history, but if you want the facts, check out this amazing article ( It's a long read, but well worth it.

I'm a huge fan of bad movies, and obviously mermaids, so Empires is forever fascinating to me. When we started this blog, merbooks were exploding all over the market. They were just about everywhere you turned. I believe it's slowed down a bit recently, as the paranormal romance craze in particular has calmed in favor of sci-fi dystopia and fairy tale retellings, but merpeeps are not uncommon at all.

And usually, when something gets big in the book world (particularly YA), studios scramble to capitalize on the teenage dollar. These are people who generally have enough disposable income to see a movie most weekends and have the time to do so. That's why you saw Hunger Games be adapted so fast. Mockingjay had been out for less then a year when the first film was released theatrically. That's also why you saw a million similar properties adapted in near record time as well, to varying degrees of success (Divergent, The Giver, Mortal Instruments to some extent).

What does this have to do with Empires? It may explain why the American market won't touch them with a ten foot pole. We've had plenty of fairly popular mer-series happening over the past five years, but none snapped up to the screen. Is it budget costs? There are a lot of effects involved with creating underwater life and realistic looking merpeople. Is it waning interests? Maybe. But even playing off the nostalgia for Splash and the Little Mermaid would drum up some nice business. In fact, Disney at one point was releasing a live action adaptation of Little Mermaid, with Sofia Coppola set to direct. Coppola departed the project and we haven't heard anything since (the blog also reported on that one when it was announced, as Sofia is one of my very favorite directors. I'm heartbroken that she's not attached anymore).

It's a puzzling situation. Mermaids still seem to be a popular item in the mainstream, but they just can't seem to get them to the silver screen. I've already written about the Splash remake that has been casted and announced, but that's no guarantee of anything actually seeing the light of day. And arguable the last big mermaid movie release was.....Aquamarine, a Nickelodeon produced kids film based on the middle grade novel (it's actually pretty cute and fluffy, and required viewing as one of the only mermaid movies that made it to public release). You could maybe count Ondine, the Colin Farrell led film of a vaguely Selkie persuasion. Pirates of the Caribbean's fourth installment involved merpeeps but they definitely weren't a big part of the main plotline and for the most part pretty quickly disappeared (jury is out on whether or not we'll see them again in the fifth film).

I think the audience is there. I really do. But the cautionary tail (oh man, I did that) of Empires of the Deep lives on in the minds of any Hollywood exec/producer, and indie films usually can't swing the budget. With so many projects having fallen through, and many more announced and then buried, it may be a while before filmmakers can bust out of the mold and maybe give the merpeeps a shot at silver screen stardom. Until then, we'll make do with what we have.