Has a book ever become a movie so quickly? Published by HarperCollins last August, just five months ago, I Am Number Four by Pittacus Lore arrives in theaters next month. Of course, the YA science fiction novel, first in the Lorien Legacies series, is not really by Pittacus Lore, who is one of the Loric elders mentioned in the book. Rather, I Am Number Four was pseudonymously co-written by adult author James Frey and Jobie Hughes, a graduate of Columbia University’s creative writing program. The extremely quick path from page to screen makes some sense, since film rights to the project were sold before the book was.
As a November New York magazine article about Frey’s Full Fathom Five book packaging company revealed, publishing interest in I Am Number Four was triggered by a bidding war that erupted over film rights to the project, with J.J. Abrams on one side and Steven Spielberg and Michael Bay on the other. Spielberg/Bay won that battle, and HarperCollins quickly grabbed print rights in a multiple-book deal. In fact, the Wall Street Journal reported in November that several elements incorporated into the script by the film’s screenwriters made their way into the novel itself.
Spielberg’s DreamWorks will release the movie on February 18, with distribution handled by Disney’s Touchstone label, as part of a 2009 deal between the companies. Alex Pettyfer stars as “Number Four,” aka John Smith, one of a handful of alien refugees from the planet Lorien on the run from the marauding Mogadorians who have nearly wiped out the entire Loric race. Hiding out on Earth and pretending to be a human teenager, John is aided by his mentor (played by Timothy Olyphant), discovering and honing his superhuman abilities while the Mogadorians pick off the remaining Loriens one by one. Dianna Agron of Glee fame plays Pettyfer’s love interest; the film is directed by D.J. Caruso (Eagle Eye; Disturbia).
I Am Number Four landed on the New York Times bestseller list when it was published last summer, and despite the negative portrait of Full Fathom Five painted by New York (I Am Number Four is Full Fathom’s first project), the film has been generating buzz (“Pittacus Lore” has even done interviews), and it has a shot at being one of spring’s bigger movies. HarperCollins is producing a hardcover tie-in edition of the book with a 150,000-copy first printing, and both the publisher and Disney have had major marketing plans underway for months. HarperCollins has run two promotional sweepstakes on its I Am Number Four Fans Web site: the first, which concluded in November, offered a chance to attend the upcoming I Am Number Four movie premiere; the second offers an “Ultimate Movie Swag Gift Basket” among other prizes.
Disney, meanwhile, was seeding the market this past fall with teasers, trailers, and advertorials in magazines including Seventeen and Teen Vogue. This month, Disney will release a Find Number Four iPhone app, which will allow users to enter a sweepstakes and instant-win game, among other activities. The app comes embedded with text messages, voice mails, photos, and a game, as users try to “help” John flee the Mogadorians. A cast tour, held in conjunction with retailer Hot Topic, and other media appearances are planned for February, leading up to the film’s release.