There’s a long history in Hollywood of shelved projects, abandoned franchise dreams, stalled careers, and entire genres that lost favor or profitability. 9 times out 10 these problems and failures are the result of a myriad of complex issues and contributing factors. Sometimes though… Sometimes you can pretty much pin everything on one film that fucked it up for everyone. Whether it’s a movie that killed a rival project, destroyed a filmmaker’s career, squashed some brilliant idea, or took the shine off of an entire genre, this CHUD List will catalog the films that were just total, unapologetic Cockblocks.
Day 1 (Dinosaurs Cockblocked!)
THE COCK: Tim Burton’s Dinosaurs Attack!
Optioned by Warner Brothers for Tim Burton at the same time as Mars Attacks!, Dinosaurs Attack! was a Topps Trading Card property that followed the same pattern of childish humor, shocking gore, and an overall disregard for taste that made Mars Attacks! cards such a hit with kid and such an object of scorn with parents in the 1960s. While Mars Attacks! was successful until the outcry of parents forced Topps to halt production, Dinosaurs Attack! never found the success when it was released in the 1980s. Regardless, Tim Burton considered both properties as he looked for a follow-up to 1994’s Ed Wood.
THE BLOCK: Steven Spielberg’s Jurassic Park
The highest grossing film until Cameron’s Titanic several years later, Jurassic Park was Steven Spielberg’s monstrously successful adaptation of Michael Crichton’s novel. While it brought dinosaurs back to the forefront of popularity, it would also mark a watershed moment in the use of photo-realistic CGI as the ancient beasties were brought to life in a computer in a dramatically lifelike way. While the story was classically light and adventures, the graceful and naturalistic rendering of the dinosaurs set the bar unreasonably high for life-like depictions of dinos.
How it Went Down:
The story is simple: as Tim Burton considered his next project following Ed Wood (and Warner Brothers mandated that Burton only produce the 3rd Batman film), a screenwriter named Jonathan Gems brought the idea of movies based on Topps’ classic Mars Attacks! and Dinosaurs Attack! to Burton, along with sets of the cards. Gems had collaborated with Burton on the script for Batman, and had written several scripts for him since (all unproduced, and including a sequel to Beetlejuice). Burton dug the idea and the “anarchistic spirit” of the cards and Warner Brothers optioned both properties on his behalf. As Burton considered which of the two ideas to run with, it was ultimately the success of Steven Spielberg’s Jurassic Park that convinced him dinosaur movies were or would be overdone. The order came for Gems to write a script based on Mars Attacks! which eventually be Burton’s next live action project. Now, it’s not a definite fact that Burton wouldn’t have gone with Mars Attacks! anyway, regardless of what the dino-cinematic landscape looked like at the time. But if a little bike-munching scene in Pee Wee’s Big Adventure and the fact that dinosaurs are just so cool are anything to consider, then it would have at least been a 50/50 shot.
Bullet Dodged, or Greatness Robbed:
There is absolutely no doubt that Jurassic Park is better than whatever Tim Burton would have produced from the Dinosaurs Attacks! trading cards. It’s also true that we’d all be very different people, having never experienced the magic of (seemingly) real-life dinosaurs galloping, roaring, and ass-ripping across the movie screen. All of that said, had Burton’s quirk and childish sense of humor been unleashed on dinosaurs rather than aliens, I think we would have been in for a treat, and the film could have ended up as one of his enduring classics. If you doubt it, just check out the Remains section below, and take a look at the delightful madness of the source material.
Another possible positive effect of a Burton-directed Dinosaurs Attacks!…? Consider how few live-action dinosaur films there have really been since Jurassic Park. This is partly due to the fact that Spielberg’s blockbuster set such a high benchmark for the effects and treatment of the creatures that anything with a less monstrous budget and fewer resources wouldn’t have cut it with popular audiences. Had it been Tim Burton’s Dinosaurs Attacks! that hit in the early 90s, the same dino fever may have captured the zeitgeist, but based in a pulpier sensibility that would have let other films have a chance to play with dino’s too. The film would never have accumulated the same incredible box office returns (what with the likely cheesy stop-motion ‘saurs, and edgier humor), but it may have set a more forgiving stage for dinosaur-pictures.
Unfortunately though, the trajectory of Tim Burton’s career (and the fact that Mars Attacks! hasn’t aged all that well) suggests that we’re better off with the flawed but awe-inspiring Jurassic Park.
Verdict: Bullet Dodged.
The Alternate Universe:
Burton pulls the trigger on Dinosaurs Attacks! deciding that the dinosaur void left by Spielberg choosing to do Hook 2 (rather than deal with Chrichton’s demands) needed to be filled. The result was a messy, childishly unfunny, star-packed extravaganza saved entirely by the quirky dinosaur action and violence, rendered in colorful claymation. While not a phenomenon, the film is much more successful than its parallel universe sister-film, and sparks a wave of cheaper, cheesier dinosaur films from different studios. In the late 1990s, Ray Harryhausen is pulled from his de facto semi-retirement to provide the most sophisticated stop-motion creatures ever put to film, in a large-budget dinosaur picture that would be the culmination of the dinosaur wave. At the same time though, Sony’s disastrous Godzilla remake –which sported the most extensive use of CGI for animated creatures yet attempted– is released to poor response and still manages to fuck everything up. The Harryhausen project is scrapped, with photos of the fantastic test models living on via the internet.
The potential life of the project was so fleeting that there is no script or concept art to refer to. Instead, we must look at the source trading cards, which are some of the most amazing pieces of art ever created. Centering around a disastrous scientific experiment…
…dinosaurs suddenly appear in our world and start causing pain in spectacularly gruesome fashion…
…including some Kid Kill worthy child damage…
…this continues, and despite some human resistance…
…the dinosaurs are set to take over the world, culminating in the appearance of DINOSAUR SATAN…
…who is ultimately defeated by a scientist’s sacrifice. You can see the full collection on Bob Heffner’s retro-fan site, and then cross your fingers that this shit gets made by someone, someday. If you fall in love with these cards as hard as I have, know that there seem to be no lack of cheaply available sets on eBay.
• Burton On Burton, by Tim Burton, Mark Salisbury, Johnny Depp; Faber and Faber Limited, 1995 [revised 2006]
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