Films That Could Have Been

Roland Dodds

Roland Dodds is an educator, researcher and father who writes about politics, culture and education. He spent his formative years in radical left wing politics, but now prefers the company of contrarians of all political stripes (assuming they aren't teetotalers). He is a regular inactive at Harry's Place and Ordinary Times.

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86 Responses

  1. dragonfrog says:

    Lost in La Mancha is another great failure-to-make-of film, about the production (as far as it got) of Terry Gilliam’s film adaptation of The Man of La Mancha. A number of scenes in that one made me cringe in sympathy, feeling the anguish of everyone who had worked so hard on a scene, only to see it fall apart…

    Slightly connected, Tristram Shandy: A Cock and Bull Story is great fun, and centres around the fictitious making of a film version of the Laurence Sterne novel.Report

    • Roland Dodds in reply to dragonfrog says:

      I have the Alien box set of all the films, and there is a very long documentary about the making of Alien 3 which is fascinating. It reminds me a lot of what happened with Dune.Report

      • InMD in reply to Roland Dodds says:

        I thought the Alien 3 this-is-not-a-directors-cut included in that set is actually pretty good. Not good loke the first 2 but you at least can get a sense of the vision. The movie disappointed me greatly when I first saw it but over time there are elements of it I’ve grown to appreciate. Fincher really got screwed in that whole process though.Report

        • Roland Dodds in reply to InMD says:

          I watched it again recently; it wasn’t bad. It was a departure from what people expected coming out of the second film, and it never recovered from those preconceptions.

          I do feel the special effects were a significant step down from the previous film. They tried doing less with large alien props, and moved to overlays and early digital graphics, and you can tell.Report

    • greginak in reply to dragonfrog says:

      The biggest difference for me between Gilliams La Mancha and the flicks Roland noted was Gilliam’s would been really interesting and new even if it wasn’t good. I think the other films, except maybe superman were doomed for a lot of reasons from the start.Report

      • dragonfrog in reply to greginak says:

        I also saw something about the making of The Adventures of Baron Munchausen – which apparently came very close to collapsing under its own weight and not being released (Robin Williams, for example, is uncredited in that one, because he thought it was going to be so awful he didn’t want his name on it).

        It was interesting to see how a few of what seem in the movie like just clever ideas, were actually decisions made at the last minute because they couldn’t afford to do the thing they’d originally intended. The design of the city on the moon is one that I specifically recall.Report

        • greginak in reply to dragonfrog says:

          I think almost collapsing under its own weight describes Gilliams typical filming. But he is fantastically creative and unique so i give him points for that. I wonder if he is one of those guys who needs some limits, like money, to bring out his best. If he had a cool 100 mil he might create the most genius thing ever or still end up over budget and with newer and bigger problems.Report

          • LeeEsq in reply to greginak says:

            Gilliam needs limits in the form of an accountant or board overseeing him and making sure he stays within budget and on time. Just giving him a limited budget would not work because he will need direction in making sure it is spent well and not just on one thing.Report

  2. greginak says:

    Very true. The problem with Dune is that is was always to big of a story for one movie. It worked better in the mini-series version on tv a few years ago. Brando…geez there was a guy who milked his well earned reputation for genius into a well earned reputation as a selfish bored diva who treated people like crap.

    It is amazing with all the tools movie makers have now we haven’t seem more new and exciting projects. There is so much potential to create new worlds and universes but most movies are content to hang around the solar system and recycle action movie plots. The movies like Avatar and ST got of this little world but sadly were lacking in the story and script thingee.Report

    • Roland Dodds in reply to greginak says:

      @greginak I agree. It’s ironic that we now have the tools to make anything we want happen on screen realistically, and yet its the elements of the film that have existed since its inception that are the most lacking.

      But hey, if making the same comic movie over and over is a ticket to print money, who am I to argue.Report

    • North in reply to greginak says:

      I’m there with you, the miniseries was excellent! The costuming in it, in particular, was stellar and their use of music was divine.Report

  3. Glyph says:

    Jodorowsky’s Dune was simply ahead of its time; there is no way his grand vision could have been achieved with the tools present in the mid 1970s

    Not sure about this – did the state of the technological art really advance THAT much between a theoretical Jodorowsky Dune in the mid-to-late 70’s, and the actual 1984 Lynch film? Whatever else you want to say about Lynch’s Dune, visual effects weren’t really its problem.

    And as you note, Alien used Giger to fine effect back in 1979. Not to mention, if you’ve seen The Holy Mountain or El Topo, you know that Jodorowsky is a filmmaker who doesn’t necessarily need a huge budget or hi-tech effects, to achieve incredibly-striking imagery.Report

    • Roland Dodds in reply to Glyph says:

      @glyph Just based on the story boards and grand scope Jodorowsky talks about in the documentary, I just can’t see it as a film in the 1970s. Even films like Star Wars, which did a good job creating a universe that felt lived in and real, would have been small next to Jodorowsky’s vision.

      As for the 1984 film, it did have some fine effects for its day, but it didn’t capture the bigness of the earlier sketches and designs.Report

      • Glyph in reply to Roland Dodds says:

        Probably NSFW depending on where you work, but click through to almost any frame of this 1973 film, and tell me Jodorowsky needed ILM to do his thang.

        • dragonfrog in reply to Glyph says:

          He might not have needed it in general as a film maker – but his story boards for Dune surely called for it.Report

          • Glyph in reply to dragonfrog says:

            I don’t know all that much about Dune, but I went looking for his storyboards on Google Image search, and I’m skeptical. Deserts and mountains are deserts and mountains. Large structures or ships can be done with models and matte (like Star Wars did in 1977 and Alien did in 1979).

            I suspect the real reason it didn’t get made is because even in the 1970’s there weren’t enough drugs in Hollywood to convince execs to hand over that kind of cash to a Chilean surrealist mystic. Lucas and Scott weren’t perceived as wild men. Even David Lynch is pretty normal-seeming.Report

            • Kolohe in reply to Glyph says:

              Though wasn’t the point of Argo that nobody wanted to do it for most of the decade, then someone wound up doing it and scored a big hit with Star Wars, then everyone wanted to do it?Report

              • Glyph in reply to Kolohe says:

                I thought the point of Argo was that there’s no honor amongst thieves and somebody always ends up in the woodchipper.

                (I never saw Argo, or pretty much any film after 2009 or so).Report

        • Burt Likko in reply to Glyph says:

          That is some weird, weird stuff. If this guy had made Dune, I’m thinking it would have been even less comprehensible than Lynch’s at-least-if-you-read-the-book-you’d-have-had-a-clue attempt at it.Report

          • Glyph in reply to Burt Likko says:

            I’ve only seen that one and El Topo, but Jodorowsky is pretty much in a class by himself. Well worth watching some night when you have the time, for the sheer “never seen THAT before”.

            I’ve heard good things (or, well…things) about Santa Sangre.Report

  4. Kim says:

    Dr. Who has managed a good few stories from short story to television.
    Some work better than others (the one about the Family of blood is something I still need to read…)

    Like it or leave it, science fiction — with its incessant, often poorly done (by which we mean rampant at the start), worldbuilding — has a very hard time transitioning.

    Welcome to the Space Show is fantastic science fiction. So is Ghost in the shell: Standalone Complex.
    [I like anime, it’s special effects are fabulous]. Crest of the Stars. Cowboy Bebop. Trigun.

    All of them hardhitting, futuristic leaps of the mind.

    Now, the wing commander movie failed because it was an elaborate troll of the director. (this followed two video games, one of which included using a dildo as a flying instrument (one has to consider the previous hires of the female actresses to understand why this was quite so funny — and the look on her face!). There were many lulz on set.)Report

  5. LeeEsq says:

    Wasn’t Starship Troopers just an unrelated film that had a close enough plot to the Heinlein novel that the producers thought it would be a good business decision to buy the rights to the book so they could use and capitalize on it? I also thought that the director wanted to parody what he saw as the militarism of the Heinlein novel rather than play it straight. This is why the protagonist became a white man rather than a Filipino.Report

  6. LeeEsq says:

    Science fiction and fantasy movies also had to climb out of there B-movie origins. Even with improved special effects and the success of Star Wars, it still too two decades to get science fiction movies to really win mainstream success. Before Star Wars, the idea of going to a science fiction or fantasy if you weren’t a teenage boy or a kid was weird with a few exceptions like 2001: A Space Odyssey, which was probably the first truly well-crafted artistic science fiction movie with a good script, director, and cast. Even as science fiction movies became big bucks earners, it took them a long time to really shed their B-movie origins unless they were specifically aimed at the family audience. E.T., Indiana Jones have A movie level treatment while other science fiction movies of the time are stuck as B-level movies.Report

    • Kolohe in reply to LeeEsq says:

      “2001: A Space Odyssey, which was probably the first truly well-crafted artistic science fiction movie with a good script, director, and cast”

      Metropolis says ‘nein’ though it says it silently.Report

  7. Glyph says:

    Film (and television) is such a massive, multi-collaborator thing that it’s really more surprising to me that any of them ever go right, than that any given one fails miserably.Report

  8. Kolohe says:

    I have come around to the conclusion that Starship Troopers, the movie (and, of course, only the first movie) is a valid interpretation of the idea of the book, even if completely at odds with Heinlein’s authorial intent. One definitely has to look at in the same light as Robocop, and not say, Nu-BSG, which is possibly the most straight up Heinleinian work, even though he’s not the source.Report

    • Kolohe in reply to Kolohe says:

      Also, I thought the Sci-Fi networks miniseries production of Dune (but again, not the sequel) was competently done and worth watching, but of course not earth shaking. Though I haven’t seen it since they aired it, so I have no idea if it holds up.Report

    • CK MacLeod in reply to Kolohe says:

      Right – tho not completely at odds with Heinlein’s authorial intent – just interested in other ramifications and connections – and in being a good time at the movies.Report

  9. LeeEsq says:

    Sometimes even science fiction fans had a difficult time taking science fiction seriously. When I was a geeky teenage boy, I managed to find a back issue of Dragon that had a review of the anime Bubblegum Crisis in my local library, which subscribed to Dragon for some reason. It was utterly dismissive of Bubblegum Crisis for some reason that I can’t remember rather than being in a state of geeky glee. As far as I can tell, the reviewer thought that serious science fiction and fantasy should be live action rather than animated.Report

    • Kim in reply to LeeEsq says:

      That’s just dumb. Anime has awesome special effects.
      The last Star Trek movie’s stunts just looked like “here, a video game!” (which would be fine, mind, if you were actually playing the game, but instead you’re watching it, and you don’t even get Lord Cat grumbling about how hard it is!)Report

  10. Christopher Carr says:

    “… the social commentary inherent in the novel were glossed over in favor of B quality monster movie scripting”

    Wait, wait, WAIT!! What!?!?!? I think you need to watch it again. Also, watch it in the context of Paul Verhoeven’s other films, including Robocop, which is not a movie about a robot police officer.Report

    • Roland Dodds in reply to Christopher Carr says:

      @christopher-carr I may need to watch it again. My teenage mind may have preferred the film I built in my head.

      I also should read the book again, especially considering the criticisms against it for being fascist or militarist.Report

      • A vastly re-watchable film that eminently deserves its “cult” and more – and is not entirely unfaithful to the spirit of the novel, except for the sake of satire (like Robocop in that).Report

      • Kazzy in reply to Roland Dodds says:

        I never read the book and saw the movie in high school and a few times since. Without any context for it, I thought it was pretty clearly critical of government, militarism, nationalism, and the like. It wasn’t hard to see the bugs as the victims and the humans (or particular groups of humans) as the bad guys.Report

  11. zic says:

    Don’t forget my favorite PKD book, Ubik.Report