Four years after The Sopranos last aired, James Gandolfini is returning to the network that made him a household name. The actor is set to produce and star in Big Dead Place for HBO - about life on a research facility in Antarctica.
Based on the memoirs of Nicholas Johnson, Big Dead Place: Inside the Strange and Menacing World of Antarctica, the book – and soon the series – deals mainly with the curious adaptive behaviors exhibited by individuals living in the most uninhabitable place on the earth. Breaking Bad writer Peter Gould is reportedly developing the project – so don't expect this series to be Happy Feet 3.
According to Johnson's memoirs, the writer worked as a dishwasher and garbage collector for the frozen continent's McMurdo Station -- the enormous (by Antarctica standards) research facility that featured prominently in Werner Herzog's 2007 Antarctic documentary, Encounters at the End of the World.
Johnson's experience at McMurdo was one of isolation and mind-numbing boredom, brought about by the often deadly weather conditions that forced the camp's occupants to remain indoors much of the time. Like a frat house version of The Shining, the seclusion began to take its toll, and many at the camp would turn to alcohol to alleviate the onset of cabin fever.
The series aims to take a darkly comic look at a situation in which, through the pursuit of science and discovery, many very smart people make very dumb decisions – being stationed at McMurdo being the first, possibly.
Since Gandolfini's last excursion on HBO gave him experience in the sanitation industry, the actor will naturally be taking on the role of Johnson. At this time, there are no other actors attached, but the lure of HBO and Gandolfini will likely net top-notch talent.
Series or films in which the environment plays a role as large as that of the actors can be a tricky proposition. On one hand, you have a masterpiece such as John Carpenter's The Thing (we'll see how the prequel/remake stands up), and on the other hand, you have the disappointing adaptation of Greg Rucka's Whiteout. Both dealt with the menace of the Antarctica, and the notion of isolation, but with drastically different results.
Time will tell what side Big Dead Place lands.
Big Dead Place is part of a larger overall deal Gandolfini has with HBO. The actor has also produced two documentaries, Alive Day Memories: Home from Iraq and Wartorn: 1861-2010, and is an executive producer on the HBO film Hemingway and Gellhorn starring Clive Owen and Nicole Kidman.
Look for Big Dead Place on HBO sometime in the next year.