The story behind Darren Aronofsky's film The Fountain is almost as intriguing as the film itself: Originally, The Fountain was a blockbuster with a $70 million budget that starred Brad Pitt and Cate Blanchett. But "creative differences" struck, and The Fountain was cancelled at the last minute—leaving Aronofsky (Pi, Requiem for a Dream) to fire the film's crew, auction off the already-built sets, and realize that his dream of making a cerebral, abstract sci-fi film was dead. Luckily, Aronofsky realized that he could still do The Fountain, albeit in a different medium altogether: Aronofsky and artist Kent Williams adapted The Fountain's screenplay into a graphic novel. Along the way, Aronofsky rediscovered his love for the project, rewrote his script, convinced Warner Bros. to pony up $35 million, and replaced Pitt and Blanchett with Hugh Jackman and Rachel Weisz. The result was last fall's The Fountain—a very different film from the one Aronofsky had originally conceived.
Interestingly enough, Aronofsky and Williams' excellent graphic novel of The Fountain has been available for months, and the novel is a fascinating alternate version of Aronofsky's story. Williams' otherworldly painted art aside, it's Aronofsky's grander, broader plot that's the real attraction here: One man goes through a 1,000-year-long journey—first as a conquistador, then as a scientist, then as a lone space traveler—to save the woman he loves. Like the film, the book is at times abstract and strange, but always heartfelt, disarming, and challenging.
That alone will make The Fountain infinitely rewarding to some, and infinitely infuriating to others. Regardless, Aronofsky shows a surprising adeptness in adapting cinema to the unique demands of sequential art, while Williams' gorgeous art manages to be eye-catching yet never distracting. Comparing the film and the novel is a unique, engrossing experience—some stuff's wildly different, yet the story's core themes remain solidly intact.
"I've always had a passion for the graphic novel medium," Aronofsky writes in his afterword. "Largely because it's a place you can tell stories that are far from typical." True. And while the behind-the-scenes story of The Fountain is far from typical, the best—and most unexpected—thing about this graphic novel is how easily it stands on its own, as an equally strong and moving, though very different, experience from the film.