Tales From Development Hell: The Greatest Movies Never Made? Review

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As a self-proclaimed movie geek, I try to devour as much as I can about a film production that interests or excites me. Who is directing it? Who is starring in it? Sometimes a movie can be in production for years, and the director, writers, stars, etc. can change several times. After a movie is released, it may have gone through several changes, but it was ultimately put out for public consumption. However, not all movies are are finished, or even make it out of principle production and languish in what is known as “development hell.” Author David Hughes has expertly researched, and documented numerous movie productions that have stalled out in his book, ‘Tales From Development Hell: The Greatest Movies Never Made?’

The title of Hughes’ book is a bit misleading, well, the second half of it is anyway. Each chapter of the book is dedicated to tracking how the idea of a movie came to be, and how it ultimately ends up in development hell. However, the subtitle implies that none of the movies he explores are ever made, when in fact several of them did, or will be. One such example of this is the “Tomb Raider” movie. Tomb Raider debuted on the Sony Playstation in November 1996 and studios could not wait to adapt this modern video game icon into a major motion picture. However they ran into issues finding the right script early in the film’s development. Early drafts of the movie were either not well received, or they came off too much like an Indiana Jones knock-off. The story lacked originality, but it ultimately came to fruition because in 2001 “Lara Croft: Tomb Raider” hit theaters. Five years is not a ridiculously long time to wait, but considering studios were pushing to get this movie made so they could cash in on the Lara Croft phenomena that was sweeping the nation, it probably was delayed longer than most would have liked. The original idea that was conceived of for this film adaptation is much different than the final product, but the film escaped development hell and was released.

Another fascinating foray into a movie that was in development hell, but was ultimately made was the very long journey of the fourth Indiana Jones movie. Almost from the moment “Indiana Jones and The Last Crusade” left theaters, fans found themselves clamoring for yet another sequel, one that Steven Spielberg did not really want to give. Spielberg even stated, “There was a reason I invented the shot of Harrison Ford riding a horse into the sunset, because I thought that brought the curtain down on the trilogy.”
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However, that did not mean fans couldn’t dream of a fourth Indy movie. For years rumors of another sequel were simply that. Fan made scripts popped up all over the early days of the internet. Entertainment magazines claimed that some scripts were legitimate only to find out later that it was the work of a devoted fan, or an impostor. Finally more concrete proof came out that a fourth Indy movie could be made when Harrison Ford expressed interest in another one. The trick was getting the big three ( Harrison Ford, George Lucas, and Steven Spielberg) together on an idea they could agree. Spielberg seemed to drag his feet the longest (probably because he really did not want to do it), but he ultimately came around to the idea. However all three had their own projects to do. Ford and Spielberg were always busy with something and George Lucas had been continuously working on the new Star Wars trilogy. Ultimately they made time, and “Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull” was released in 2008 much to the chagrin of several PGM writers.

Sometimes scheduling and finding the right script are the least of your worries. Simply not knowing what direction to take your franchise can kill a project before it even starts. In 1990, Paul Verhoeven made “Total Recall,” a science fiction action movie starring Arnold Schwarzenegger. The idea for the movie was adapted from a Phillip K. Dick story called, ‘We Can Remember It For You Wholesale.’ Though Total Recall performed well at the box office, a sequel to the movie did not seem like a good idea by many of the key players, but that didn’t stop them from trying anyway. No one could ever really agree on what a sequel to Total Recall should be about or if it should even be made. One of the early ideas was to shoehorn another Phillip K. Dick story, ‘Minority Report,’ into the “Total Recall” universe to create the sequel. When that didn’t pan out, the rights to the franchise were sold to Showtime for a failed series, Total Recall 2070. Eventually a big screen adaptation was back on the table, but Schwarzenegger did not want to do it because he said the plot was, “too complicated.” Ultimately, Total Recall 2, did not happen because no one was sure where the sequel should go.

Movies are sometimes not made for a variety reasons. Sometimes it’s as simple as conflicting schedules, while other creative differences delay the production. Hughes’ ‘Tales from Development Hell‘ masterfully details the stories of movies that almost came to be, but were bogged down in development. His extensive research really shines through as he follows a potential film from its inception, to its final stagnant state. Each chapter is an amusing and interesting anecdote about what could have been, or how something changed drastically from its original idea to what we know it as today. This book should be right in the wheelhouse of any movie buff or enthusiast. I found ‘Tales From Development Hell’ very interesting and a pleasure to read. If you’ve ever wanted to know more about the Hollywood process, or you’d like to know why Indiana Jones Took so long to make, you can’t go wrong with ‘Tales From development Hell.’

Rich Coonelly

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