[11 March 2014]
PopMatters Contributing Editor
Sometimes, it’s fun to play “What if?” What if Sean Connery had stayed on to play James Bond to the bitter end? What if David Lynch (or David Cronenberg) had helmed the final film of the original Star Wars trilogy, Return of the Jedi? What if the Beatles had played the various characters in their proposed adaptation of The Lord of the Rings, and what if Guillermo Del Toro had been given the cinematic carte blanche (and buckets of cash) to make his proposed hard-R homage to H. P. Lovecraft, In the Mountains of Madness, with Tom Cruise in the lead? Hollywood is filled with such possible projects, each one promising something special. Of course, film is a business as well as an artform, meaning sometimes, money and other pragmatic factors have to inject some sullen common sense into all that aesthetic excitement. A great idea doesn’t always mean a great final result. Huge bombs have been built out of wild ambition and free artistic license.
This might explain Tinseltown’s history of unrealized cinematic dreams, from the most ardent indie approach to the most mild of mainstream conceits. All stars have had their vanity vehicles rejected while name directors lose as many gigs as they get. In the end, most lovers of film don’t notice and the wheels of the medium’s machine continue to roll. However, usually long after the fact, we learn of projects studios passed on that, in retrospect, seem a helluva lot better than the junk they constantly spew in our direction. Would they represent a sizable risk? Absolutely, but does every experiment have to be the result of billions of dollars? No. Still, the legends live on, including the 10 titles selected here. As another installment in our Greatest Unmade Movies of All Time list, there’s no guarantee of eventual success. On the other hand, many of these DOA ideas continue to intrigue, including the first one on our list:
We included this for several reasons. First, we’d love to see what Tim Burton would have done with this film, not just the snippets of costume tests we’ve seen or the various character designs considered. Second, Kevin Smith’s script would have been a real fanboy freak out, with Messageboard Nation in a panic over how to react to one of their own messing with Supe’s mythology. Finally, considering the crapshoot that was Man of Steel, would this have truly been any worse? Burton eats Zack Snyder for breakfast, visually, and even a kooky Nicolas Cage would have been more interesting than old Henry Whatshisname.
Along with Stanley Kubrick, Orson Welles is one of the reigning late auteurs with a closet full of unfinished (or unmade) movies and ideas. This one has ten hours of raw footage in the can, but legal and financial troubles are keeping it from being completed. The story centers on a filmmaker (John Huston) who dies just after his 70th birthday. We go back to the night before and watch as he interacts with fellow creators Peter Bogdanovich and Dennis Hopper. A supposed satire of ‘70s era Hollywood, it would be interesting to see Welles’ take on the times.
Around the time of Vanilla Sky, Tom Cruise wanted to make a biopic about famed “Wall of Sound” producer and music industry madman Phil Spector. He even brought on Cameron Crowe to handle the duties behind the lens. With the story of his rise from wannabe musician to master of the studio control board, this potential project that had it all. Then Spector was accused of killing a woman in his house and that ended this possible production. Perhaps, in time, this effort can be resurrected, albeit with other players participating. For those who don’t know him, Spector is a surreal subject.
Who Framed Roger Rabbit? remains one of the most imaginative and important films in the entirety of the live action/animation archive, so naturally everyone wanted a sequel. The first idea pitched was a dozy with Roger and his pals in 1941, fighting to defeat the Nazis. For a while, it appeared almost viable. Then producer Steven Spielberg bailed, claiming he couldn’t satirize the Third Reich after Schindler’s List, and then the rest of the creative team lost interest. With its cartoons on the front lines and espionage subplot (Roger must save his future wife, Jessica, from the enemy) this has a lot of potential and pitfalls as well.
It’s the Biblical End Times vs. sly British sci-fi in this collaboration between Neil Gaiman and Terry Pratchett. At one time, Terry Gilliam was on the fast track to make this movie about the rise of the Antichrist, the drawing together of the fabled Four Horseman, and the desire of an archangel and a demon to stop such apocalyptic Judgment. When the money fell out, the famed expatriate Python gave up, with Gaiman and Pratchett now talking TV mini-series with another celebrated member of the UK sketch gods, Terry Jones. Given his eye and his crazed creativity, we still want to see Gilliam’s version.
This one is personal. I loved reading Plastic Man growing up. Even the postmodern take on the material made me smile. So when I heard the Wachowskis wanted to make this their post-Matrix follow-up, I was beyond ecstatic. After all, they just showed the world that they could push the boundaries of special effects, and with a visually complex property like this, they would need to be on their best aesthetic behavior. Then the Matrix sequels came along. And Speed Racer. And some personal issues. Now, there’s talk that the Wachowskis might revisit this material, with Keanu Reeves involved. I’m excited by the former. The latter? Not so much.
Francis Ford Coppola used to be one of our most ambitious and aggressive filmmakers, using his undeniable talents to make four of the most important movies of the ‘70s. But when the attacks of 9/11 occurred, this once thriving maverick decided to nix plans for this, an epic sci-fi adventure about the destruction and rebirth of NYC after a horrible disaster. While he mentions it every once in a while, it looks like Coppola is coping out, determined to do more “personal” films before even contemplating something this massive in scope and F/X, and that’s too bad. It has all the earmarks of a revelatory return to form.
At first, we were put off by the idea. Then, upon further review, it seems the perfect solution to Robert Zemeckis’ ongoing desire to make motion capture a viable cinematic approach. While previous efforts like Beowulf and A Christmas Carol came close, this retelling of The Beatles beloved animated adventure, in pure post-millennial 3D technology, could be something worth celebrating. After all, the Peter Maxx meets psychedelia of the original would be perfect for the 21st century format, and with the added textures and dimension, the end result could be something that both celebrates the Fab Four while reminding us of their cultural and artistic impact.
Blame Johnny Mnemonic. Back in 1984, William Gibson wrote one of the most important “cyberpunk” books of all time, and before you knew it, there was talk of a film. For more than a decade, various individuals tried to tackle the material, and then Robert Longo made this adaptation of another work from the author. And it bombed. Big time. Thus ended the idea that Gibson could reinvigorate the genre with his melding of old school science fiction and new world technology. Still, some see this as his greatest work, and as a great untapped film franchise. Splice‘s Vincenzo Natali is supposedly attached to it. We shall see.
Since David Fincher can do no wrong in our book, it bruises our brain trying to understand how his adaptation of the famed Arthur C. Clarke novel hasn’t been made years ago. Okay, so he’s not the most commercially successful auteur, but when you’ve made masterworks like Se7en and Fight Club on your resume, dollars shouldn’t trump desire. In the past, proposed star Morgan Freeman and his age/health were an issue, as was an appropriate script. If these things can be figured out, we’d be first in line to give our studio’s money to Fincher. He’s a genius.