Tales from Development Hell – Book Review
Reading Tales from Development Hell you’ll wonder how any movies get made by Hollywood at all!
By David Hughes, Titan Books
Probably the most frustrating thing about running a news service such as SciFiMovieHype.com that deals with upcoming science fiction movies is keeping track of all the various projects announced by Hollywood all the time.
As more savvy visitors to this site will know, very few of the movies which are announced actually get made at the end of the day. More excitable visitors will go “wow! They’re going to film [insert beloved book title here]! Let’s hope they don’t mess it up!” or “How dare they remake [insert beloved classic movie title here]!” More knowledgeable site visitors will take it all with a liberal pinch of salt.
What happened to the Escape from New York remake? Or the Dune remake? Ghostbusters 3? The Hyperion Cantos movie? Roland Emmerich’s Foundation? When Worlds Collide? Creature from the Black Lagoon? The Dark Tower? Chocky? Ridley Scott’s Brave New World and Forever War movies? The list of unmade movies is seemingly endless.
When some or other Hollywood producer announces with fanfare that they acquired the movie rights to this or that intellectual property and that Spielberg or Ridley Scott is going to direct it, we just roll our eyes and go, “yeah, like that’s going to happen.” In the meantime fandom works itself into frenzy on the Internet, not realizing that the fantastic novel they’ve always thought would be a great movie someday, the 1980s childhood favorite they believe should be left alone and the computer game that will be a kick ass action flick will probably never see the light of a cinema projector.
That’s because – despite of what the French and their auteur theory say – the movies are “art” by committee. They aren’t even really art when one thinks about it. They are not the vision of some writer sitting alone at his typewriter, but rather multimillion dollar enterprises in which investors not only want to make their money back and turn a profit too. And not even superstar movie directors are immune to the process: look at how many studios actually turned down two of the hottest directors in Hollywood at the time when they came round with the script for a project called “Raiders of the Lost Ark!”
When a script is green lit by studio bosses, the process actually begins.
“This script is perfect,” the insider joke goes, “who can we get to rewrite it?” Everyone involved in the “creative process” must have their own input, from the egocentric megastar who wants to make his or her role bigger to the director who is following his own “vision” to the various “script doctors” brought in to revise the script. Like in any organization everyone involved want to give their own “input” so as to justify their own salaries. As Hitch-hiker’s Guide to the Galaxy author Douglas Adams put it: “Trying to make a movie in Hollywood is like trying to grill a steak by having a succession of people coming into the room and breathing on it.”
Reading entertainment writer and professional screenwriter David Hughes’ latest book, Tales from Development – The Greatest Movies Never Made? one is actually amazed that the occasional movie actually does get made at the end of the day! The movie is supposedly a mainstream follow-up to his earlier The Greatest Sci-Fi Movies Never Made book, but there is a lot of interest to genre fans here.
Hughes’ well-researched tome looks at, amongst others, director John Boorman’s attempts at making a live-action movie adaptation of Lord of the Rings in the ‘Seventies (he would ultimately use some of the locations scouted for his Excalibur movie several years later); maverick comic writer Frank Miller and Fountain director Darren Aronofsky’s ideas for a Black & White Batman: Year One film; the various attempts at writing a script for a movie version of Neil Gaiman’s Sandman graphic novels; James Cameron’s stalled remake of the 1960s “classic” Fantastic Voyage; and how film-makers once thought of turning Philip K. Dick’s Minority Report short story into a sequel for Arnold Schwarzenegger’s Total Recall box office hit.
Hughes also looks at a project that did get finished, namely the poorly received 2008 Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull and why it took almost 20 years to get made. In the final chapter he looks at his own screenwriting career and why none of the many screenplays he wrote throughout the long years never got made and, no, it wasn’t a question of producers not liking his work, but a case of indecisive producers, simple bad luck and circumstances (someone else would beat them to a making an action movie featuring cars for instance).
Clocking in at about 250 pages the only “bad” thing that can be said of Hughes’ book is that it is over much too soon. For once all the cover blurbs are correct. Yes, it is a “perfect read” and Hughes has indeed “done his homework” as Variety states. Yes, the book is excellent and brilliant as The Guardian and Film Review claims. And Kamera has it right when they proclaim that it is a “fun, well-researched read that once again proves William Goldman’s view of Hollywood: Nobody knows anything!”
Unlike Tim Burton’s Planet of the Apes remake (also covered) you can actually believe the hype. Tales from Development Hell is highly recommended to site visitors.