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Saturday, May 09, 2020

Masons and the Media: 'Langdon' and 'National Treasure' Updates

by Christopher Hodapp

It's almost like the heady days of 2004 all over again, with both Dan Brown's Da Vinci Code sequel The Lost Symbol AND National Treasure back in the media news. 

As reported over the last several months, NBC is adapting Dan Brown's novel The Lost Symbol as a TV series for the fall season (although heaven only knows how the COVID shutdown will affect production schedules). The six-year delay in the original book release helped to set off a flurry of Masonic-related books and TV documentaries in the mid-to late 2000s, and the novel turned out to be a 500+ page love letter to the fraternity. Masons everywhere hoped it would be made into a full-length, big-budget Tom Hanks feature after The Da Vinci Code and Angels & Demons, but were disappointed when Sony Pictures skipped it over to film Inferno instead. 

Now The Lost Symbol is being resurrected as a TV series instead, re-framing the story around a younger, freshly-graduated Harvard symbologist Robert Langdon and set as a prequel to the first three films. 


The new series is entitled Langdon, and American-born Australian actor Ashley Zukerman (who recently played Nate Sofrelli on HBO's Succession) takes on the title role.

Producer Ron Howard's Imagine Television and NBC have brought in Dan Dworkin and Jay Beattie to write the script for the pilot film. The two writing partners created ABC's The Crossing, and most recently served as consulting producers on Star Trek: Discovery and American Horror Story. Past credits also include the Scream TV series, Revenge, Scorpion, Criminal Minds and Netflix's new teen adventure drama Outer Banks.

The Primetimer.com website somehow obtained a copy of the Dworkin/Beattie synopsis of the pilot episode for Langdon and posted it on their website yesterday. It reads, in part:
We open on shots of bazaars, mosques and ancient ruins. We're in Turkey, where we ultimately settle on the Patnos prison, an aged facilty surrounded by the high moutains of what used to be Armenia. In the yard, we focus on a chain with a guard pulling at one end, and an American inmate on the other. Meet ZACHARY SOLOMON (25), skinny, dirty and scared. A second guard approaches with a thin wooden cane. He smashes it hard on Zachary's feet. Other inmates are watching the spectacle, apparently learning a lesson. Zachary has tried to escape. As the camera pans over the cell windows, we push in through the bars of one, where an inmate seems to be in some sort of trance, not bothered by the sounds of despair outside. As the camera rises, it's revealed that he's seated upon a symbol drawn in ash on the floor. It's a TRISKELION. Then we hear ROBERT LANGDON (33) in voice over.
He's in Harvard, teaching. He's a bit cocky, but his students seem to love him. His class is about symbolism, as all sorts of symbols of the past and present appear on a screen behind him. He explains how what was relevant then is revelant now, and how people on the internet sometimes use these symbols to push an agenda, creating fake news and conspiracy theories. He says we have a responsibilty to distinguish fact from fiction. Later that day, Langdon is in a bar with a fellow professor, STAN. His phone vibrates with a text from PETER SOLOMON (50) who asks him to call him back ASAP. Peter is the director of the Smithsonian, and Langdon's mentor. Outside, he makes the call, and it's Peter's assistant who answers. He says Peter needs Langdon's help in D.C. right now.
The next day, as he settles into Peter's private jet, Langdon calls KATHERINE SOLOMON, Peter's sister. She's in Cambodia, in a Buddhist Temple. She's surprised by the call and doesn"t know anything about what's happening with her brother. What Langdon really wants to know is if she's available for dinner. There's history here. But she can't, she's buried in an important project. Once in Washington D.C., Langdon has a sweet memory that's shared with us in flashback. It's three years earlier and he's at Princeton, defending his thesis to a room full of faculty heads, including Peter. As Langdon arrives at the Capitol Building, he quickly realizes the hall where a gala is supposed to be happening is empty. That's where he was supposed to meet Peter. A JANITOR confirms no such event was scheduled that day. Langdon reaches to his phone to call Peter and it's his assistant's voice again on the other end of the line. But his tone is different now. Turns out it's not his assistant, it's someone who calls himself MAL'AKH. He tells him Peter is not here, he's in Araf, which means Purgatory.
Not far from Langdon, a family of visitors are wandering. One child seems to be bored... until he stumbles upon a HAND. His mom's face fills with terror as she sees it too. Meanwhile, Mal'akh tells Langdon he has to find an ancient portal in the city and unlock it. Only then Peter will returned from the in-between realm. Click. The line goes dead. Langdon wonders if it's a joke. He takes notice of a chaotic crowd that has gathered around what is now fully revealed to us as a severed hand propped up on a wooden base, with three fingers curled down and index finger pointing up. There are tattoos on the fingertips, and a ring on the middle-finger. Langdon knows exactly what it means...
If you read the novel, you can already see it's sticking fairly close to the source, but you can expect more deviations as it progresses. The book had some major problematic visual plot points that won't transfer well to film, but it seems that the core of the story will be the same. If so, chances are pretty good that the Masons will still come off well. Let's hope so. NBC and producers need to bear in mind that the guaranteed worldwide Masonic audience (and swath of potential cheerleaders) for Langdon runs into the millions. The Scottish Rite NMJ's recent in-depth surveys show that most of the population in the U.S. has a very positive image of the Masons. It would be foolish to disappoint us or treat us badly onscreen in order to satisfy the juvenile conspiracy theory/world takeover/Masons are Satanic/alien abduction crowd. Dan Brown didn't go that way, so let's hope NBC doesn't, either.



No word yet as to whether producers have contacted the Scottish Rite SJ's House of the Temple to ask where to park the grip trucks, catering vans and honey wagons. While everyone waits, I'll shamelessly hurl out a reminder that I wrote an entire Masonic guidebook to The Lost Symbol back in 2009 when the novel was released. Check out Deciphering the Lost Symbol.

*   *   *  



Meanwhile, as reported here last November, Jerry Bruckheimer's production company is hard at work on new National Treasure projects for the Mouse House. That's plural now.
 
The first two National Treasure movies, premiering in 2004 and 2007, starred Nicolas Cage as historian and treasure hunter Benjamin Franklin Gates and made a surprisingly tidy fortune for Disney. According to another piece on the Primetimer.com website, not only is a third NT film now in the works, but so is a separate Disney+ streaming TV series with a different cast. 
"We’re certainly working on one (National Treasure) for streaming and we’re working on one for the big screen," says Bruckheimer. "Hopefully, they’ll both come together and we’ll bring you another National Treasure, but they’re both very active….The one for Disney+ is a much younger cast. It’s the same concept but a young cast. The one for theatrical would be the same cast.”
Take all that for what it's worth, which sounds more like ballyhoo and hot air than definite deals. No casts, no dates, no scripts. Not yet, anyway. But if either or both do come off, the  first NT film was noteworthy for its day by being among the first to treat the Masons as the good guys instead of bald-headed, cat-stroking super-villains. It would be nice if they picked up that thread again.

In any case, it sounds like Hollywood is interested in Freemasons again, for a little while anyway. Heck - the History Channel has even been re-running Book of Secrets from 2012 with Alice and me yakking about the Freemasons for the past month. 



We live forever youthful in reruns.

All of this new bit of Masonic-related showbiz development doesn't happen in a vacuum. These stories started popping up last summer in the wake of success of AMC's Lodge 49 and the Hulu airing of the Sky TV series Inside the FreemasonsOne thing Hollywood is filled with are band wagoneers who are terrified to go first with a new idea, but fall all over themselves in a rush to capitalize on territory someone else staked out ahead of them. The announcement of the Langdon project in late 2018 directly led to a sudden interest in another National Treasure project. That makes the irony of the connection between these two projects come full circle just as it did in 2004, and once again set up another competition to see who gets their 'Masonic' project onscreen first.



Meanwhile, if Knights Templars are your thing, History's planned third season of Knightfall  has just been axed as of yesterday. The last episode of season two aired nearly a year ago, and the viewership of 625,000 was down almost 50% from the first season, even with Mark Hamill on board. Knightfall was History‘s lowest-rated series, so you York Rite guys just weren't loyal enough I guess. 

Shoulda made them all Masons and put them in Rosslyn Chapel...

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