The Shipping Blues

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Many fans of E. Annie Proulx were dismayed when they heard that the lead character in her award-winning novel "The Shipping News" would be played in the film version by John Travolta. Looks as if they had good reason. The movie, which was to be directed by Fred Schepisi and to costar Travolta's wife, Kelly Preston, has hit stormy water. After two years of preproduction, Columbia and Schepisi were unable to agree on a script. No one's talking, but Schepisi was apparently in favor of the faithful-to-the-book version turned in by Laura Jones, who has adapted several books for film, including "Portrait of a Lady" and "A Thousand Acres." Columbia, scared off by the book's less romantic aspects -- the main character is an overweight lummox who moves to bleakest Newfoundland -- wanted a more conventional love story. Both Travolta's and Columbia's reps say they're committed to the film. They only need to find a director and a script before Travolta finishes "The General's Daughter" and moves on to another irresistible project.