With the network's historical hit Spartacus prepping for its long overdue second season later this month, Starz has been given the go ahead for the retelling of another real-life historical figure in the new series Marco Polo.
Before Polo’s name gave rise to a popular swimming pool activity, he was a 13th century merchant traveler whose explorations did much to introduce Europe to Central Asia and China. In the upcoming Starz version, however, Polo is reimagined as something of an action hero, whose run-in with Kublai Kahn leads to a fantastical journey.
At present, the script for Marco Polo is being fashioned by Hidalgo and The Forbidden Kingdom screenwriter John Fusco - by a concept brought to him from none other than famed film producer Harvey Weinstein.
According to Weinstein:
"The stories and adventures of Marco Polo are timeless and we couldn’t be more excited to work with Starz and Electus on this project. We look forward to beginning production next year on what is sure to be a fascinating, martial-arts filled telling of one of history’s greatest explorers."
Yes, you read that correctly. Marco Polo is going to be a martial-arts series. But give credit to Weinstein for nonchalantly dropping the phrase "martial-arts filled" into his description, as though the aspect were a foregone conclusion.
Starz has a more detailed description wherein the series is set to take the historical figure and place him into a world mostly conceived by the imagination of Fusco.
According to the network:
"Marco Polo is Fusco's fantastical martial-arts epic, chronicling the famous adventurer’s early years in the court of Kublai Khan. Acting as the ruler’s spy, ambassador and explorer, Marco treks across the Far East and returns with tales of his journeys. In a court filled with political betrayal and forbidden relationships, Marco must use his martial arts training to survive, but it is his ability to enchant Khan with imaginative tales of his kingdom that is often his best tool to stay alive."
So, perhaps Marco Polo is not so much Enter the Dragon, but more The Adventures of Baron Munchausen – with some fisticuffs thrown in for good measure. Either way, Marco Polo sounds like a fit for the network.
Unlike HBO's Boardwalk Empire and Showtime's The Borgias, which both enjoy considerable leeway with the history part of historical fiction, Starz' brand of history-inspired storytelling typically employs a more fantastical approach - as is the case in the network's flagship series whose second season is entitled Spartacus: Vengeance.
Certainly, this new series will help fill the void left in the network's schedule after Starz declined a second helping of the fantasy series Camelot; favoring instead to pursue more grounded projects like Kelsey Grammer's Boss and Magic City starring Jeffrey Dean Morgan. At present, the tone being set for Marco Polo sounds like a return to form for the network.
Turning Marco Polo into a man of action is reminiscent of the various attempts to transform Leonardo Da Vinci into something similar. Currently, the Renaissance man has multiple projects at Universal and Warner Bros., envisioning the artist and inventor as everything from a sword-fighting romantic to a sort of 15th century Tony Stark. Interestingly enough, one such project, Da Vinci’s Demons, from Batman Begins writer David S. Goyer, has already been given the greenlight by Starz.
While it's unclear whether audiences will tune in for such an extravaganza, recent attempts to combine period pieces with a more modern take on action has produced incredibly disparate results at the box office with Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows doing quite well, while the critically maligned (unless you’re Quentin Tarantino) The Three Musketeers failed to garner much interest from American audiences.
Perhaps both films being born of literature, granted them some latitude in terms of the directorial vision, so it will be interesting to see whether something based in fact, such as Marco Polo, is granted the same.
Expect more news on Marco Polo as production on the series progresses.