THESE projects would have cost, and possibly made, a lot of money
ARE you an incurable movie trivia bore? Are you capable of whiling away long winter evenings speculating about just how history would have panned out if Lucille Ball had aced her audition for the part of Scarlett O’Hara, or if Alejandro Jodorovsky had directed Dune instead of David Lynch, or Hitchcock had made his mooted modern-dress Hamlet starring Cary Grant?
Are you just really, really into The Lord Of The Rings? If so, you either need to get out more, or get this book, which will satisfy your nerdiest cravings.
David Hughes, a screenwriter himself, explores the tangled histories of films that never came to be and films that changed beyond recognition during the endless shenanigans and recriminations of the production process. The remake of Planet Of The Apes could have been an Oliver Stone film; Darren Aronofsky might have reinvented Superman as a mean, gritty urban vigilante; and as for the battle for the monkey virus panic story that would become Outbreak, well…
If tomes such as Peter Biskind’s Easy Riders, Raging Bulls and Sharon Waxman’s Rebels On The Back Lot are driven to a large extent by personal gossip about the larger-than-life characters whose decisions frame movie history, Hughes’ focus is more industrial than personal.
His interest isn’t particularly in people screwing each other over as in how infinite minor scrapes, bothers and rivalries can turn the production process into the titular hell; and how certain seemingly promising projects are so antithetical to Hollywood’s commercial requirements that they simply never find a route to market.
The chapter that deals with the prolonged but impossibly fraught efforts to bring Neil Gaiman’s beloved comic book Sandman to the screen highlights Hollywood’s tendency to seize on cult objects and then attempt to relieve them of everything their fans most love about them; but the long study of the fortunes of the Batman franchise emphasises how a maverick director (Tim Burton) can sometimes strike a commercial vein without compromising his vision.
We are very firmly in mainstream Hollywood here, which means that a lot of the films Hughes discusses sound as if they stood every chance of being nowhere near to “great” (James Cameron remaking Fantastic Voyage? Arnold Schwarzenegger on a bloody religious quest in Crusade? TJ Hooker: The Movie?). Rather they’re projects that had they been realised would have cost, and possibly made, a lot of money.
Those with a more avant-garde palate might regard these stories as representative of everything money-driven and anti-creative about the film business. Hughes also goes in a great deal for very long plot synopses of films that don’t exist, which can try the patience.
But as a guide to what can and does go wrong, and how much film production is shaped and skewed by twists of fate and clashes of personality, this is a fascinating study, clearly and smartly written and with an underlying charge of irreverent fun.
Author: David Hughes
Titan Books , £9.99
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