Atuk (Inuit for "Grandfather") is the name of an unfilmed American film screenplay, intended to be a film adaptation based upon the 1963 novel The Incomparable Atuk by Canadian author Mordecai Richler. It is essentially a fish out of water comedy of a proud, mighty Inuit hunter trying to adapt to life in the big city with satirical elements on racism, materialism, and popular culture. Peter Gzowski's afterword adds some historical context, and elaborates on the satirized real-life counterparts of several of the novel's minor characters, including Pierre Berton.
A film adaptation was planned in the early 1970s by Norman Jewison, who purchased the film rights. Another adaptation was to have been shot in 1988. Although numerous Hollywood film studios have shown an interest in producing the film over the years, the movie remains unfilmed and the entire project in development hell. An urban legend claims that a curse has killed all the actors who have shown an interest in the lead role. These include John Belushi, Sam Kinison, John Candy, and Chris Farley.
In the novel, Atuk is a Canadian Inuit poet from Baffin Island who gets transplanted to Toronto; however in the proposed film screenplay Atuk is a native of Alaska who ends up in New York City. In the film adaptation, Atuk was to be the son of an Inuit woman and a missionary who dreams of seeing the world outside of the Inuit territory of Alaska. He sees his chance when a beautiful documentarian named Michelle Ross and her crew, arrive to film the village he lives in. Atuk stows away in Michelle's plane when her crew takes off from another village, after the crew lands in Canada. Michelle has no choice but to take Atuk with her past the border and into America.
The two end up at Michelle's destination, New York City. Meanwhile, powerful real estate mogul Alexander McKuen is planning to erect a massive metropolis on top of Alaska's wilderness called The Emerald. McKuen is clashing with environmentalists over the project, because they claim the city will poison the ecosystem there. McKuen is also having problems with his sixteen-year-old son Bishop, an underage drinker and smoker who is a terror at his school. Bishop goes joyriding in his boat while he is supposed to be punished, and crashes near the pier where Atuk is and begins to drown. Atuk jumps in and saves Bishop. Bishop befriends Atuk, and takes him out for a night on the town. Alexander decides to have Atuk stay at their mansion until they can put him up in one of their hotels, something McKuen's wife Vera objects to. McKuen reveals to Atuk that Michelle works for him, and tells Atuk he wants him to be a part of an image campaign for McKuen's project, Atuk accepts. Bishop is sent off to military school, and is angry at Atuk for having sold out to his father.
Michelle and Atuk travel back to Alaska to shoot the commercials for McKuen's Emerald project, in an attempt to reassure the environmentalists who are critical of the project. Atuk is put into dark makeup and is put through primitive Inuit paces, which makes him feel unnatural. But as they work together, Atuk and Michelle realize that they like each other very much. At a viewing of the commercial, Atuk realizes that by editing, McKuen has used him to sell his message. Atuk now knowing that he's been taken advantage of, breaks Bishop out of the military academy and using a dog sled, hurries to a hearing about plans for The Emerald and convinces everyone there that he was wrong to endorse McKuen's plans because the project will be bad for the land. With all of the investors for the project pulled out, McKuen and Bishop reconcile. Atuk returns to his village, but the next day Michelle arrives in a plane asking him to go to Hawaii with her. Atuk accepts and the two fly off in the plane, with Bishop in the co-pilot's seat.
Norman Jewison purchased the rights to a film adaptation in 1971. Jewison planned to shoot it in Canada after Jesus Christ Superstar. John Belushi first read the role of Atuk in early 1982. He immediately expressed interest in the project and was set to play the character on screen when only months later, on March 5, 1982, he was found dead in his room at the Chateau Marmont Hotel in Hollywood, California. Atuk next began production in Toronto in February 1988. Production halted after eight days. Sam Kinison said that his manager, Elliot Abbott, promised him creative control without clearing it with the studio. When Kinison attempted to rewrite the script, Abbott said that the studio tried to accommodate him, but Kinison grew difficult. Abbott and Kinison later severed their relationship. United Artists filed a lawsuit against Kinison in February 1988 in which they said that Kinison threatened to intentionally give a substandard performance. Producer Chuck Rovan briefly attempted to find a new lead but eventually gave up. Subsequent actors to take an interest in the role include John Candy and Chris Farley, both of whom died before the film could be made. Scriptwriter Tod Carroll dismissed rumors of a curse.
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