I wish Bill Bryson all the luck in the world. After writing several interesting but not best-selling books, he hit the jackpot with A Walk in the Woods. It was his supposed memoir of walking the Appalachian Trail. Well, he didn’t hike it all – maybe a few hundred miles – and he annoyed all of us who did finish the trail.
It was only because he was Bill Bryson with several books under his belt that he was able to get the book published without finishing the trail. He wrote mostly about his drive paralleling the A.T. He only completed 870 miles out of (then) 2,174, but his book was funny and became a bestseller. It’s the book hikers love to hate.
It made the A.T. much more popular. For a few years after publication, many more hikers started the trail.
I remember getting on a ferry to a small island in New Zealand. I was wearing an A.T. shirt and a Kiwi looked at my t-shirt and said “Oh yes, the Appalachian Trail. I read the book.” And you knew exactly which book he meant.
A few years later, Redford bought the movie rights to the book. He was going to make a movie with Paul Newman, their last buddy movie. There were lots and lots of time-wasting discussions on where the movie would be filmed, how it would affect the trail and the number of people starting the trail. The Appalachian Trail Conservancy liked the publicity but worried about unprepared hikers going into the woods. The last I read about the movie, it was all going to be filmed on private land.
Then Paul Newman retired, soon died afterwards and the project died with it.
Now the movie idea seems to be revived. Press releases are flying that Robert Redford is going to play Bill Bryson and Nick Nolte will depict Katz, his fictional sidekick. It will be a comedy on how not to “walk in the woods.” Katz was the litterer who chucked his gear over the side of the mountain to lighten his load.
The problem is that Robert Redford is 77 years old and Nick Nolte is 71. Now there are plenty of hikers of both sexes in their 70s who have finished the A.T. However, that’s not the book Bryson wrote. Bill Bryson attempted to walk the trail when he was 45 years old.
The problems and challenges are different. That’s a generation apart. If you overemphasize how difficult the trail is (it’s not), it won’t be funny anymore.
I recently saw Redford in a movie where he was supposed to be about 60. It didn’t work. He looked and acted much older. Bradley Cooper and Jack Black would make a much more appropriate pair.
But I have confidence that Redford will put out a funny, commercial movie. The question is “will it actually happen this time?”