Tales of Woe [Book Review]

David Hughes’ Tales from Development Hell & The Greatest Sci-Fi Movies Never Made (Revised and Expanded)

David Hughes is a man very much after my own heart, he has written two volumes here that chronicle the stories that never got told about the movies that, for the most part, didn’t get made.  They are never anything less than an engrossing read.  A few years ago I stumbled across a copy of the original edition of The Greatest Sci-Fi Movies Never Made in Hillsborough public library and once I started reading I was totally engrossed.  For years I’ve been on and off researching the story behind one of my favourite films and I saw in Hughes’ book something I’ve always wanted to produce, the story behind the making of, or in his case the story of the nearly making of.

In Tales from Development Hell Hughes uncovers the stories behind the development process that sees millions of dollars spent on films that are never made.  Where brilliant ideas are tossed aside in favour of something more familiar or safer and scripts are re-written in order to please 8 different people before you sign a star, and they demand a re-write.  If you ever find yourself in the situation where you are sat watching a film and wondering ‘how or why did any group of humans come to think that it was a good idea to do that?’ then this book goes a long way to offering answers to those questions.  Chapters range from the aborted Total Recall sequel to  the lengthy gestation of Indiana Jones IV (the script was ready in 1995!) and even including the near miss of the various attempts to adapt Neil Gaiman’s Sandman. Hughes’ research is thorough and is fortunately garnished by the experiences and insights of world class script writers like Steven de Souza and Gary Goldman.  One drawback about a book like this is that it makes you pine to see some of these films, these unproduced masterpieces.  One such is the Sly Stallone vehicle ISOBAR, described as being a bit like Alien on a futuristic train. To be directed by Ridley Scott with Joel Silver producing at the height of his late 90s powers and with production design by Scandinavian nightmare merchant HR Geiger it sounded like a strange but heady brew that could be potentially brilliant.  But it all fell through, as it so often does.

Hughes’ revised and expanded version of The Greatest Sci-Fi Movies Never Made addresses one of the key problems encountered since the original edition was published, some of the films got made!  Inevitably the stories of their tortured development continue the fine tradition of backstabbing, re-writing, lying and always throwing money at a problem until it goes away established in the earlier edition.  Included as extra are chapters on the aborted attempt to make a film adaptation of The Outer Limits and the outrageous sounding 1930s development of an oil painting animation of John Carter of Mars.  I’ve found a video online of the test animations done for John Carter of Mars, which I’ve stuck on the end of this entry.

I’m basically green with envy over David Hughes, he’s written books I’d like to have written but he’s done it much better than I ever could.  For movie fans these are great reads with mysterious characters, hateful villains and some fairly put-upon writers at the core. Read ‘em, and inside you’ll have a little cry for all the dreams that the factory manages to mangle.

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