Published by Titan Books
The story is almost as old as Hollywood itself. Following the early movie business boom and the creation of huge, powerful studios, filmmaking stopped being strictly artistic and became big business. Anywhere big business and their money follow, complications are never far behind.
See if this sounds familiar: Someone has a GREAT idea for a movie. They sell that idea to a movie studio, who love it and promise their full support. Then, somewhere along the way, things go wrong. The studio wants changes. Directors or actors hired to the project want changes. Writers come in to rewrite and lose the original plot in the process. By the time it’s done, years have been spent, tons of money have been burned, and that original fantastic sure-thing idea is long gone.
This, my friends, is Development Hell.
Writer David Hughes is a screenwriter who has had more than a couple of his scripts wind up in Development Hell, and he uses that experience to launch into this book. In Tales from Development Hell: The Greatest Movies Never Made?, Hughes collects over a dozen different stories of films that just went wrong. Some finally got made, most did not.
This book will be very entertaining to anyone who loves film, especially genre films. Perhaps unsurprisingly, few low-budget romantic comedies find their way to Development Hell. The big budget action, sci-fi, and horror films are what really attract the demons of DH in droves.
The stories here are frustrating to read because so often one individual’s arrogance or stupidity derails a film that we’d all love to see. Ridley Scott and H.R. Giger once attempted to make a big-budget sci-fi/horror tale called Isobar, best described as “Alien on a train”. The description sounds fantastic: hardcore violent alien action on a high-speed train that isn’t going to stop until it reaches its destination…if anyone survives the assault by the xenomorph (a new creation, not related to Scott’s Alien) and potential destruction of the train.
In this case the film died primarily due to personality conflicts and changes demanded by an ever-revolving slate of stars and directors. In these multi-year revisions the creature went from an alien to an evolutionary leap to a man-eating plant before the project died entirely, no longer resembling the original idea or in the hands of the original creators.
Perhaps the most frustrating and absurd story is the tale of Neil Gaiman’s opus The Sandman and its checkered trip to the screen, yet to be completed. In the process of trying to bring Gaiman’s adaptation of the classic superhero to life, completely insane concepts found their way into the tale. A group of teenagers holding a séance were to be the cause of Dream’s initial imprisonment. A Sandman in tights was to repeatedly fistfight with the Corinthian. A demand that it be “more like Batman” is repeated more than once and never in reference to the darker Nolan version.
The villain in this tale should come as no surprise to film fans: Jon Peters, legendary Hollywood producer. Anyone heard the tale of Kevin Smith’s involvement with Superman’s film comeback? The infamous
“giant mechanical spider” story? That was Peters. The last take by Peters had insisted that Dream have a love interest, that the Corinthian be like Dream but more powerful, and to kidnap and menace Dream’s girlfriend at one point so there can be a huge fight.
Anyone who’s read The Sandman knows this is laughable beyond all comprehension, and it’s this kind of sad comedy that fills Tales from Development Hell. We hear about the many troubles that lead to Lara Croft reaching the screen, how many times Lord of the Rings was attempted prior to Peter Jackson’s triumph, what happened to Tim Burton’s Planet of the Apes, even the story behind that damned nuclear fridge in Indiana Jones 4.
It’s a very entertaining read, but it might be a little thick for people not seriously invested in film. Most of our readers here are movie buffs so you guys will get a big kick out of this. Other, less knowledgeable film fans might wonder why some of the decisions told in the book are terrific or tragic.
If you love film, especially genre films, this is a book for you. I know I enjoyed it greatly, although many of the stories filled me with sadness for the sheer, unbridled awesomeness we’ll never get to see.
4 out of 5