Tales From Development Hell: The Greatest Movies Never Made?
By David Hughes
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There are a lot of great movies you’ve never seen. Not because you missed them in theaters or because Netflix doesn’t carry them, but because they were never made. The long road to success is littered with the remains of movies that never were. Many of these films got caught between rewrites, casting and various production woes, the so-called “Development Hell”. David Hughes’s new book, Tales From Development Hell, takes a look at some projects that suffered in cinematic limbo. Many of the productions never re-emerged.
Hughes is the author of the popular The Greatest Sci-Fi Movies Never Made. Development Hell covers similar ground, consisting of cut-and-dry, case-by-case examinations. The projects written about include the Oliver Stone-produced PLANET OF THE APES reboot, John Boorman’s attempt at LORD OF THE RINGS, Aronofsky’s BATMAN: YEAR ONE and more. Hughes also looks at movies that eventually got made but underwent major changes like the proposed sequel to TOTAL RECALL that eventually became MINORITY REPORT and the many incarnations of INDIANA JONES IV.
Hughes has trimmed all the fat from his book. It’s to the point, quick and doesn’t waste time or space. This is the type of book you can pick up, read a little and then come back to a day or two later. Since every chapter is independent of each other, you can read them at your own pace without fear of being confused or losing track of key players. However, it’s best to read each story completely in one sitting, seeing as how there are so many names thrown around. Hughes introduces countless producers, writers, directors and various studio executives and it’s easy to forget who’s who.
Tales From Development Hell is a fun, engaging read but I wonder how large its audience will be. Make no mistake, movie nerds like us will eat this book up and recommend it to our fellow cinephiles. But the average Joe or Jane might not find the inside Hollywood stories as fascinating. The reader benefits from a knowledge of how movies are made and the roles of producers, directors, etc. And aside from the well-written introduction, Hughes’s writing rarely shows off his voice. While I didn’t mind the dry tone and rapid-fire pace, some might be put off.
But I love movies and, since you’re reading Very Aware, you probably do too. This book is chock-full of fun film trivia and interesting stories. Learning about a script from conception to production to its eventual demise is both interesting and disheartening. Perhaps one of the silliest and most revealing stories revolves around the aforementioned PLANET OF THE APES reboot, which was scheduled to be made in the 90′s. Screenwriter Terry Hayes had turned in a celebrated first draft to the folks at Fox. However, one executive, Dylan Sellers, recommended inserting a scene with a bunch of apes playing a game similar to modern-day baseball. The rest of the producers and executives feigned interest at Sellers’s odd idea, knowing full well it would never make it to the final draft. However, Sellers cherished his idea and when Hayes turned in another draft without the baseball scene, Sellers fired him. This outrageous decision caused the production to also lose its director, Phillip Noyce. Just another obstacle that sent the project back to Development Hell. The film was tinkered with much more and eventually became Tim Burton’s PLANET OF THE APES. We all know how that turned out.
It’s hard to call Tales From Development Hell a “fun” read when you consider the number of people who had their creative endeavors toyed with by the whims of executives and penny-counters. But despite the main players’ hardships, the book is charming and indeed entertaining. The fact that Hughes gets quotes from people directly involved only makes it better and more engaging, it’s an oral history of production mis-steps and stupid choices. This is the story of Hollywood hardships from the people who lived them. I love movies with all my heart but I also enjoyed reading about the struggle it takes to make them. Go ahead, call me heartless.