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OFF BEAT: Case over lukewarm 'Sahara' kicked back to trial court


Adding insult to injury, producers of the 2005 box office failure “Sahara” are losing millions in legal fees after losing more than $50 million on the film.

After eight years of litigation trying to pin the blame on author Clive Cussler for the film losing more than $50 million, the lawsuit is now entering its third act following the Colorado Supreme Court’s Oct. 21 decision to send it back to the California trial court in Los Angeles where it all began. The Colorado court found that the California trial court erred by dismissing the film producer’s Colorado action for failure to state a claim.

“Sahara,” a movie starring Matthew McConaughey as master adventurer Dirk Pitt, a character from Mr. Cussler’s widely read adventure novels, was released in 2005 with the expectation of becoming a successful movie and eventual film franchise similar to the Indiana Jones series.

Instead, the film was plagued by preproduction problems, opened to mostly lukewarm reviews and grossed about half of its $130 million budget. As a result, plans to produce additional Dirk Pitt movies were scrapped, and the fallout spawned litigation in California and then Colorado, with Bristol Bay Productions L.L.C. alleging it was fraudulently induced into purchasing the film rights to the Cussler novels based on the author’s inflated representations of readership figures.

In both California and Colorado courts, Bristol Bay sought to hold Simon & Schuster Inc., Penguin Group and Mr. Cussler’s literary agent responsible for the underperforming film based on the theory that Bristol Bay would not have purchased the film rights had it known the author had sold only 40 million books, not the more than 100 million he claimed.

Rather than settling the dispute, however, the Colorado Supreme Court remanded the case to the California trial court saying that that jury had made a mistake in tossing the case on a mere technicality.