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For every movie that gets made there are a hundred that never happen. And for every version of a movie you see in theaters there are a dozen other versions that never made it past the script stage. In Neil Gaiman’s Sandman series Morpheus, Lord of the Dreaming, has a library filled with all the books that never got written. It occurs to me that he must also have a video library filled with all the movies that never got made. Here’s a look at some of those films. This isn’t the greatest movies that never got made, or the five we’re glad to have avoided, or the five I most wanted to see. It’s just five that intrigued me today. There are hundreds more to add to this list, and some day I may do so.
Sandman – Well, let’s start here. Sandman has been in development for quite some time, well over a decade at this point. At one point Ted Elliot and Terry Rossio, the guys who wrote the Pirates of the Caribbean movies, did a draft, which actually sticks fairly closely to the original Preludes & Nocturnes storyline from the comics. There are some changes – Constantine is out, so Rachel, the woman addicted to Morpheus’ dream sand, becomes heroine Rose’s mother – but the outline remains fairly solid. The story stretches from Morpheus’ imprisonment by Roderick Burgess in the 30s through to his escape in the 90s and his attempts to get the icons of his office – the pouch of sand, the helm that has been captured by demons in Hell and his ruby of power (owned here by the Corinthian rather than Justice League villain Dr. Destiny) – back, and includes many of the characters like Matthew the Raven and Lucien the Librarian. The serial killer convention is there, as are a number of other story points. Roger Avery took a swing at the script as well, and Neil Gaiman reportedly quite liked it.
But Jon Peters, the same evil maniac who wanted a giant spider in Kevin Smith’s Superman Lives script, had other ideas. He wanted Morpheus to be captured by a group of teens doing a Ouija board session, for instance. Despite having a good script, Peters hired a nobody named William Farmer to write an atrocious screenplay that basically recast Sandman as T2. In this version, Rose’s father captured Morpheus and stole his tools. When Morpheus escapes from captivity he gets beaten up (!) and sent to the hospital (!!) which just happens to be the same hospital Rose is at after being attacked by a lunatic yelling about ‘the Nightmare Man.’ When Morpheus arrives in the hospital he begins hunting Rose to kill her (for the good of the world, of course) while she is being protected by an angel – which turns out to be the evil Corinthian, who is Morpheus’ brother in this version. Their other brother is Lucifer, and the Corinthian and Lucifer have a bet as to who can get Morpheus’ tools first. I’ve never read this script, but everything I have heard about it makes it sound truly, truly atrocious.
Star Trek IV With Eddie Murphy – There are so many Star Trek movies that never were you could probably write a book about them all. Even JJ Abrams’ reboot of Trek trods ground very familiar in the video store of neverwas: at least two different Starfleet Academy type projects were floated in the past. The first happened when Star Trek IV was in the planning stages, offered as a contingency plan should William Shatner refuse to return for another sequel, as he had threatened. When Shat’s deal was sealed (it included a guarantee to direct Star Trek V), the producers and Paramount turned to figuring out where to go with the sequel to Search for Spock. They quickly settled on a time travel story (originally the crew would head back in time to the Amazon rain forest before it was destroyed so they could get a long-extinct plant needed to cure a 23rd century plague), and then when it was decided to bring the crew to the (then) modern day, a bolt of inspiration struck Paramount: bring in Eddie Murphy.
Murphy’s Beverly Hills Cop franchise was huge for the studio at the time, and the actor himself claimed to be a big Trekkie. He was pretty excited about getting into a Star Trek film, and a script was written where Eddie was a college professor who believed strongly in aliens and who liked to play whale songs to his students. At some point in the drafts put together for the film the Star Trek crew landed their Klingon Bird of Prey right into the center of the Super Bowl’s half-time show. The joke would be that everybody thought it was just a special effect.
Murphy met with director Leonard Nimoy, and while everybody was excited about the possibility of bringing Eddie’s fanbase to a Trek film, the studio began to get cold feet. The fear was that this pairing would destroy both Trek and Murphy. Eddie ended up passing and made The Golden Child instead.
Oliver Stone’s Planet of the Apes – We ended up with Tim Burton’s 2001 Planet of the Apes reimagining after a lot of other people came and went with their own takes on the series. Adam Rifkin was hired by Fox to not reimagine the film but do a sequel to it. The catch was that it would be a sequel to Planet of the Apes, ignoring the other four films. Rifkin’s movie would have had Charlton Heston’s son leading a Spartacus-style human slave rebellion.
But that fell apart and Oliver Stone came aboard as a producer and possible director. He took the concept in a totally bizarre direction – the Bible Code. Talking to Entertainment Weekly in 1993, he said ”My concept is there’s a code inscribed in the Bible that predicts all historical events. The apes were there at the beginning and figured it out. I don’t want to (say) too much more, except the stars will be hairy.”
The idea was that a disease was wiping out the human race today. Arnold Schwarzenegger would play Will Robinson (I don’t think this was meant as a Lost in Space tie-in, but who knows with this batty shit) as a genetic scientist who figures out the cause of the disease is in the distant past and, along with a pregnant colleague, travels back to the Stone Age to discover a world dominated by apes. To stop the plague they save a girl named Aiv. The time-traveling woman has a son named Adam.
Terry Hayes, the writer of The Road Warrior, did a draft, and Phillip Noyce was briefly attached to direct. Stan Winston was hired to do the ape suits, which were described as ‘animatronic.’ The studio and the filmmakers drifted apart over time, though, as Fox wanted more prehistoric comedy; Don Murphy, who was on the film as a producer, told writer David Hughes that a Fox exec was fixated on the idea of the prehistoric monkeys playing baseball but missing an important element, like a pitcher, that Arnold could supply.
Darren Aronofsky’s Batman – If you think that Christopher Nolan’s take on Batman is ‘realistic,’ Darren Aronofsky’s probably would have made you shit your pants. Aronofsky worked with Frank Miller on a script that adapted the comic book story Batman: Year One into a grim, violent R-rated feature.
The Batman franchise was up in the air after the disastrous Batman & Robin. Warner Bros began looking for a new direction; for a little while they considered adapting the cartoon Batman Beyond as a live-action movie, and they even entertained bringing Joel Schumacher back for Batman 5. But they also talked extensively with Darren Aronofsky, who had well-cemented his reputation as an edgy auteur. They went back and forth with him, and even brought in the Wachowski Bros to pitch a concept to Aronofsky.
Aronofsky wasn’t interested in making anything that resembled a Batman film that had come before. He also wasn’t interested in hewing close to Miller’s original comics. This film saw Bruce Wayne wandering the streets after the murder of his parents; he’s taken in by an auto mechanic named Big Al (Aronofsky’s version of Alfred). Bruce grows up a borderline psychotic who begins taking violent vengeance on street thugs. He turns an abandoned subway station below Big Al’s auto shop into his version of the Batcave. He puts a bus engine in a black Lincoln Continental as his version of the Batmobile. Over the course of the story he assembles the elements of the costume and persona of Batman (or The Bat-Man, as he’s called).
This Batman is the reality of what a guy in a costume beating up criminals would be like – insane, overdramatic, barely likable. The audience identification character in this script is really young cop Jim Gordon, the only clean officer in the entire Gotham City PD. Meanwhile, The Joker, Harvey Dent and Selina Kyle all show up.
Aronofsky’s script never got made, but its influence is evident on Batman Begins and The Dark Knight. The idea of a reboot began with Aronofsky, and he initially met with Christian Bale for the role of Bruce Wayne. The craziest thing about Aronofsky’s take, though, isn’t that it didn’t get made, it’s that Warner Bros considered an R-rated ultraviolent lunatic Batman movie for that long.
Jodorowsky’s Dune – Of all the unmade movies in history, it’s Alejandro Jodorowsky’s abandoned adaptation of Dune that most haunts me. I don’t know what the current fashionable take is on David Lynch’s movie – some days it’s cool to hate it, some days it’s cool to love it – but I’ve never particularly liked that film. I felt that the SciFi Channel miniseries version captured the letter of the novel, but none of the spirit.
Jodorowsky was almost born to make this film. Looking at El Topo and The Holy Mountain through the lens of him working on Dune you can almost see him ramping up to tell the story of Paul Muad’ib. Reading his science fiction comics you can see the kind of scope and scale and imagination that comes effortlessly to him. It would have been perfect.
Dune was first optioned by Arthur P. Jacobs, the guy behind Planet of the Apes. When he died the rights got scooped up by a French financier. He turned to Jodorowsky, who in turn looked to other great artists to help him bring his vision to life. He enlisted French comics genius Moebius as a designer, as well as Alien creator Dan O’Bannon and other Alien creator HR Giger. Jodorowsky wrote a script that was described being as big as a phone book, a script that would have made an 11 or 12 hour movie. He gave each of his collaboraters incredible freedom; each was assigned a specific aspect to design. Giger, for instance, designed Geidi Prime, homeworld of the Baron Harkonnen.
And then, in case everything he was doing wasn’t amazing enough, Jodorowsky reached out to Salvador Dali to play the Emperor.
But a film as ambitious in scope and budget as this (Jodorowsky spent millions merely on pre-production, and this was the 70s) couldn’t find the funding needed. The project was postponed indefinitely. The tragedy here is that Jodorowsky was the only person who probably ‘got’ the mystical aspects of Frank Herbert’s novel – Dune is not just a science fiction story and a rebel story but also a story of spirituality and magic and metaphysics. The birth and ascension of a Messiah is the sort of thing that Jodorowsky was fasinated with, and his vision of Dune would likely have changed the way that science fiction films were approached.