Popular Appalachian Trail Book–‘A Walk in the Woods’ to Finally Be Made Into Hollywood Movie
“Robert Redford just bought the movie rights to Bryson’s book,” someone reported to me at Pine Grove Furnace State Park in 2005 during my thru-hike. This, incidentally, is the halfway point on the Appalachian Trail. Thru-hikers are renowned for attempting to eat a half-gallon of ice cream in an hour to complete the ‘half-gallon challenge’ (I failed miserably). Indeed, when I walked inside the store to purchase my half-gallon, there was an article on the wall announcing that Robert Redford’s Sundance Institute had bought the movie rights to Bill Bryson’s all-time bestseller, A Walk in the Woods.
“Hey, I’m glad I’m doing the AT this year,” I said to my hiking partners. “It will be single file up the trail after they make this movie. And Redford says he’s gonna play Bryson and Paul Newman is gonna’ be Katz (Bryson’s hapless sidekick).”
“We need to go ahead and make the movie,” Redford said, “before Paul ends up in a wheelchair.”
Alas, Redford and Newman were not able to reunite this one last time. Honestly, I think it’s a great shame. They would have been perfect for the roles for this most popular of Appalachian Trail books.
Since then, I have heard countless rumors that the film was on the cusp of being made. “They’ve been shooting up there in the hills overlooking town,” someone reported to me with great certitude in 2008 at the Trail Days Festival in Damascus, Virginia. But nothing ever seemed to come out of these stories, which left a palpable sadness in the hiking community. For while many AT veterans have been quite critical of various aspects of the book (Bryson’s serial exaggerations, the two of them getting off the trail on multiple occasions, etc.), the fact is the book has been highly popular in the hiking community. In fact, the number of thru-hikers (and section hikers) jumped upon its publication back in 1998.
Heck, I had selfish reasons to hope for the film to be made. For starters, I originally got the idea of thru-hiking the AT from reading his book. And after doing the thru-hike, I was so turned on by the richness of the experience, I decided to write my own book, Skywalker–Close Encounters on the Appalachian Trail. Like many new writers, I had wondered if I could even write an entire book. But the AT is such a rich experience that I ended up having to agonize over cutting the manuscript down to manageable size. And while the book hasn’t sold even a fraction of what Bryson’s book has, it nonetheless has done much better than I could have expected. Of course, like most authors of trail narratives, I hope the film will generate yet another burst of attention towards this great national scenic trail.
Apparently, veteran Hollywood filmmaker, Richard Linklater, is going to take a stab at doing the film. Redford will play Bill Bryson and Nick Nolte will be Katz. My first thought is that these are two great actors who fit well the roles, although truth be known they are both getting a little long in the tooth. Bryson and Katz were in their mid-forties when they walked the trail in 1996.
But this time it really does appear they are going to make the movie. “’A Walk in the Woods’ is the kind of movie that has something to say but can also be really commercial because it’s just so funny,” Redford said. “It will be nice to get back to doing a comedy.”
Bill Walker is the author of Skywalker–Close Encounters on the Appalachian Trail. He is also the author of Skywalker–Highs and Lows on the Pacific Crest Trail, The Best Way–El Camino de Santiago, and Getting High–the Annapurna Circuit in Nepal.
Back when talk of this possible movie started, I really thought that George Clooney, Nickolas Cage or Kevin Costner would be good choices to play Bryson and they still may be. They don’t have the slight British accent. For that reason, a good choice might be, with a bit more weight, Hugh Laurie (TV’s House).
Back then I would have gone with John Candy for Katz. He would have been perfect. Another good choice would have been John Goodman, but, like Redford, I think he’s too old for the part now. Perhaps Jack Black or Billy Gardell (Mike and Molly) would fit the part.
As much as I have enjoyed Redford in movies over the years, his age just doesn’t fit the part at 70.
This movie could have two strengths: the beauty of the regions hiked through, and the comic dialog. Properly filmed and produced, it could be a winner. This movie begs a narrator, we have to be inside the head of the author.
You’ve got more ideas than me about the movie (They honest to God ought to hire somebody like you to consult on the darn thing). My one thought is that DeNiro would have been a good Katz. But he’s a bit long in the tooth now. I worry they’re
going to change the character of the book by some miscastings.
Bill Murray in his prime would be the ideal Katz. If fact, that is who I always saw in my mind’s eye when reading the book.