Monday, November 2, 2015

Movies about the Best Movies Never Made

After "Jodorowsky's Dune" and "The Death of Superman Lives," I started wondering what other cancelled films might have generated enough material and behind the scenes drama to make a good documentary.  The George Miller "Justice League" seems to be next in line, but there are plenty to choose from.  Hollywood is littered with ambitious projects that never came together, or were cancelled at the last minute, after quite a lot of work had already been done.  Below are a couple of possibilities I find particularly intriguing.

"My Peoples" aka "A Few Good Ghosts" - I could fill a whole list with cancelled Disney animation projects like "The Gremlins," "Reynard," "Chanticleer," and "Musicana."  "My Peoples," however, has the distinction of being the film that Disney was working on when traditional animation operations were shut down in 2003.  It would have been a bluegrass love story set in Appalachia, about a motley collection of folk-art dolls and toys who come to life, and try to bring together a pair of star-crossed lovers.  Stars were cast, music was composed, characters were designed, and story reels completed, but the film was cancelled as a major chapter of the studio's history drew to a close.

"The Tourist" - In the 1980s, the most infamous unproduced science-fiction script in town was Clair Noto's "The Tourist," about a female executive in modern day New York who becomes involved with a group of alien refugees in hiding on Earth.  H.R. Giger, fresh off of "Aliens," was hired by Universal to create some concept artwork, which is about as far as the production ever got.  What's really promising for a documentary, however, is the dramatic twists and turns of what was going on behind the scenes as the script went from studio to studio, the chief creatives fought for control over the project, and in the end several people involved literally never worked in this town again.  

"At the Mountains of Madness" - Several films could also be made about all the cancelled movies that Guillermo Del Toro has been involved with.  The one I keep coming back to is his planned adaptation of H.P. Lovecraft's "At the Mountains of Madness," which would have been a 3D action-horror film produced by James Cameron and starring Tom Cruise.  Universal balked after Del Toro insisted on an R rating.  There's a lot to chew on here, from the challenges of adapting Lovecraft, to Del Toro's refusal to compromise, to the ballooning financial risks faced by studio blockbusters at the time.  And there's no doubt that Del Toro has plenty of pre-production artwork squirreled away.

"Napoleon" - Kubrick's unrealized movies require a mention here, the most famous of which was his epic "Napoleon" project from the 1960s.  As with all his films he did massive amounts of research, much of it reproduced in a staggering Taschen's art book devoted to "Napoleon," that was published a few years ago.  A documentary on the project would really be a documentary on Kubrick and his process, which has already been covered to a some extent by other documentaries like "Stanley Kubrick's Boxes."  However, I still see a lot of promise here, particularly considering the scale and the ambition of the project.  Kubrick at one point intended for "Napoleon" to be "the best movie ever made."

"Star Trek: Planet of the Titans" and "Star Trek: The God Thing" - After the "Star Trek" series was cancelled, there were multiple attempts in the '70s to bring the series to the big screen before "Star Trek: The Motion Picture" would revitalize the franchise in 1979.  A documentary about two of those earlier attempts, "Planet of the Titans" and "The God Thing," would give us a glimpse of the "Star Trek" masterminds trying to find a new direction for the story as "Star Wars" was changing the science fiction landscape forever.  It's been long enough that the bigger egos involved have probably cooled off, but not so long that we'd be missing too many of the original players.  And we already know that the story has a happy ending.  

Honorable mentions: Francis Ford Coppola's "Megalopolis," Alfred Hitchcock's "Kaleidoscope," Alex Proyas' "Paradise Lost," Steven Spielberg's "Night Skies," David Lynch's "Ronnie Rocket," Terry Gilliam's "Watchmen," Paul Verhoeven's "Crusade," Ridley Scott's "The Train," Shane Carruth's "A Topiary," and about a dozen different versions of "Pinocchio."

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