The Invisible Man

You ought to be in pictures -- and Phil Anschutz® can put you there.

Picture this wildly improbable scenario: Brilliant businessman who abhors publicity and favors conservative causes slowly buys up much of the known world -- oil fields, Western art, real estate, railroads, sports teams, sports stadiums, a publicly ridiculed Baby Bell -- then ventures into the entertainment industry with the stated goal of making G-rated films and makes a splash at this month's Cannes Film Festival with the announcement of his latest acquisition: Clive Cussler's action-adventure books starring the dashing, definitely not G-rated, trademarked Dirk Pitt®.

Already, Hollywood is debating who should play the underwater adventurer, a crack shot and car collector, a legend with the ladies.

But the real story is the Invisible Man who shies away from photographers but wants to put Pitt up on the screen: Philip Anschutz, Denver's very own billionaire.

Cussler, who lived outside of Denver for years and still has a home in Telluride, had vowed that he would never sell another book to Hollywood after the abysmal job the movie industry did with Raise the Titanic, his first Dirk Pitt® novel published back in 1973. The star of that movie was the late Richard Jordan, hardly the sort of dashing fellow that would set Cannes starlets tittering, and the film sunk almost without a trace at the box office. And Cussler's books did just fine on their own, with over 100 million copies of the Dirk Pitt® novels in print.

Several of them wound up in the hands of Anschutz, a very persuasive fellow -- just look what he did to US West and the Denver skyline with Qwest's blue-light special. He convinced Cussler to sell Dirk Pitt® to one of his many companies, the Beverly Hills-based Crusader Entertainment that Anschutz formed last May with Howard Baldwin, part owner of the Pittsburgh Penguins and a man with his own notable movie credits. There's the direct-to-video soft-porn Night Eyes, for example, and Jean-Claude Van Damme's Sudden Death, which featured the novel combo of hockey (go Avs!) and terrorism.

According to Crusader's Web site, the company's goal "is to create adventure films that offer compelling, positive messages to our audience. We believe that gratuitous sex and profanity will obscure the positive message we wish to impart and compromise the entertainment and commercial value of our projects. Since we are committed to reaching viewers of all ages, we will make only films that are G-rated or, in some instances, PG or PG-13."

But while the massive amounts of violence in the Dirk Pitt® books -- boatloads of people get blown up or drown; individuals are exquisitely tortured, then killed by exotic animals and harpoon guns -- might not raise an eyebrow in Los Angeles, how about that hottie, Pat Schroeder-like congresswoman in the tight leather pants, one of the hero's frequent squeezes?

Fortunately, Cussler's already dealt with making his epics more palatable to the PG public: The unbelievable industry that is Dirk Pitt® includes not only hardcover, and trade paperback, and mass paperback, and recorded versions of his books, but also children's adaptations that are extremely family-friendly.

"We have forged a unique relationship with Clive, and are committed to maintaining the strength and integrity of his original vision and the amazing adventures of the characters he's created," Baldwin said at Cannes in announcing the Cussler project, which includes a three-year, first-look deal with Paramount Pictures.

First up in the Dirk Pitt® cinematic series: 1992's Sahara, in which "amidst the blazing, shifting sands of the Sahara, Dirk Pitt® will make a desperate stand -- in a battle the world cannot afford to lose." And that's just the book jacket.

Here's what's inside:

"Eva held a hand over her eyes to shade the sun and squinted. A man with a dive mask and swim fins was snorkeling alone in deep water beyond the breakers. He appeared to be spearfishing. She watched as he dove out of sight, remaining underwater for so long she thought he was surely drowning. But then he resurfaced and continued his hunt. After several minutes, he swam toward shore, expertly catching a breaking wave and body surfing into the shallows where he stood up...

"Despite a deep tan, his craggy face didn't bear Arabic features. His thick ebony hair was plastered down by the saltwater and the sun sparkled the drops of water clinging to the matted hair on his chest. He was tall, hard-bodied, and broad-shouldered, and walked with a loose grace that was impossible for most men. She guessed him to be close to forty. As he passed Eva, the man coolly licked his eyes over her. He was close enough so that she could see they were an opaline green, set wide with a clear glimpse of the white around the iris. He stared at her with such direct candor that it seemed to reach into Eva's mind and mesmerize her. Part of her was afraid he might pause and say something, the other part wishing he would, but his white teeth showed in a devastating smile as he nodded and walked past her to the highway."

Hmm. It was either Phil Anschutz or Dirk Pitt®.

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