In 1925, Lieutenant Colonel Percival Harrison Fawcett, his son Jack, and explorer Henry Costin journeyed deep in the Brazilian jungle determined to find El Dorado, or what Fawcett called “Z.” The British-born explorer and member of the Royal Geographical Society had previously mounted several expeditions, but had to turn back each time due to dangerous conditions.

After a final dispatch in which Fawcett wrote to his wife, “You need have no fear of any failure,” the trio headed off into the wilderness and were never heard from again.

In 2005, journalist David Grann set out to determine what happened. And he wrote a bestselling book about it. A book that did not go unnoticed by Hollywood.

What They Will Do:


They’re going to streamline this.

The book covers every inch of Fawcett’s life, his beginnings as a soldier, his family, his explorer training, his research and every single mission he ever went on, annoying interruptions like World War I included. Audiences allow a book, particularly a nonfiction book, to be so meandering. If that audience is me, they might even encourage it. A movie audience, however, might not forgive that sort of pacing.

Luckily for moviegoers everywhere, Fawcett battled American Dr. Alexander Hamilton Rice for expedition funding and “first” rights throughout his life. The film could easily make this rivalry a source of narrative tension and a type of glue to tie in the seemingly extraneous to the main plot: that last, fateful journey into the bush.

What They Won’t Do:


Include David Grann’s every-other-chapter investigations.

Which makes me sad, but I understand. Watching someone do research is boring. If they do decide to include Grann’s narrative style, however, Director James Gray could pick up the threads of tension Grann introduced in his book. Not only did Fawcett and co. mysteriously disappear, but also everyone who ever went to investigate.

That gave the chapters in which Grann uncovers hidden information about Fawcett more urgency. We know the author of the book we’re reading will live, but if he doesn’t let this story go, might something horrible happen to him as well? What terrifying secret will he discover deep in the jungle? Did his wife actually type up the manuscript because a python bit off Grann’s hands just as he found the city? Who knoooooows?

What They Should Do:

Discuss the significance of Fawcett’s vocation. “Explorer” was an actual career in the 1920s and Fawcett had to sit for an explorer exam before he could go on adventures in the jungle.

I reiterate: He had to take an explorer exam to relieve an explorer certificate, folks. That’s all 10-year-old me ever wanted!


But what did getting a major in exploration mean at the turn of the century? Why did these people feel so passionately about cartography and investigating the unknown? How did they view the civilizations already living on the lands they explored? All this drives Fawcett’s choices in his quest to find Z, and it creates some of the best character drama in the book, specifically in regard to Fawcett’s relationship with the Kalapalo tribe.


Percival Fawcett

Make Fawcett a cookie-cutter action hero.

Lieutenant Colonel Percival Harrison Fawcett was incredibly complex. I agree, given the source material the film’s genre might lean toward action/adventure or even psychological thriller, but would a bit of mystery and character development be out of place here?

No! Fawcett was a war veteran who went through extreme physical training to become a bona-fide explorer and returned to the Amazon again and again because he believed it was his destiny to chart the jungle. He left behind a devoted wife and family to do so. Having met the natives, he formed a different opinion of them than other “gentlemen explorers” and this would have cost him socially and professionally. And he was obsessed with finding the hallmark of a hidden civilization: Z. Action movies generally don’t have time to explore this sort of thing, given their pacing restraints. But this story’s too good to lose all that juicy stuff. Don’t make this The Lost City of World War Z(zz). I beg you.

Wish List Item:

I want Fawcett’s wife Nina to be more than the “thankless wife.” Of course women don’t jump at the chance to make sacrifices. Unless the marriage is loveless , though (and all the evidence in the book says Fawcett and his wife cared enormously for each other), they still try to support their husbands. Even if the husbands don’t always notice.

Chances of this happening: 30%. All they have to do is give her a line about how she misses him but loves what he’s doing and understands why he’s doing it. That’s it. Come on, people. You can do this.

The Lost City of Z will be released in limited theaters on April 14 and generally on April 21. It stars Charlie Hunnam, Sienna Miller, Tom Holland, and Robert Pattinson.

More fun reading! And background info for this post:

Media: Entertainment Weekly, BusinessInsider,,, public domain