David Hughes | Tales From Development Hell (Titan Books)

The entire book is filled with interesting stories and frustrating endings for films that could have been terrific.




The Internet has become both a blessing and a curse for obsessive movie fans. Thanks to the constant 24/7 updates and inundation of information from endless websites, readers can find out every detail of a film’s development, casting, production, and release almost instantaneously after its release from the studio or filmmaker. That’s the good news. The bad news is that, because we are privy to every detail from casting to which director is attached to a project, inevitably we are going to be disappointed, since the long trek from script to screen is rarely a straightforward path.

In Tales From Development Hell: The Greatest Movies Never Made?, author David Hughes gives the reader the behind-the-scenes stories of a dozen films that were either aborted after years of languishing in what he has coined as “development hell” or were eventually released by in a form almost unrecognizable from the initial concept. Hughes, a veteran of development hell himself, divulges the details of the myriad plagues that can beset even the hottest projects floating aroundHollywood. With a journalist’s eye for juicy particulars and a true gift for storytelling, Hughes has crafted an extremely entertaining and informative book for any true cinema fan.

Films can fall into development hell for a number of reasons, and can sit there indefinitely depending on the studio or individual that owns the film’s rights. Hughes presents a fair picture of the countless issues a film can face from the time to script is purchased to filming actually begins, but more often than not, a producer seems to be at the root of the problem. In the second chapter, “Monkey Business,” Hughes traces the journey of the remake of Planet of the Apes which lasts almost 30 years. After the success of the first film in 1968 (and the increasingly poor sequels), 20th Century Fox was desperate for a remake as soon as the dust settled after the final installment. Hughes outlines the numerous stories that were proposed and stars who were attached, including Arnold Schwarzenegger at one point, but the studio was never satisfied enough to pull the trigger to begin filming. Hughes mentions several very interesting potential projects from some very talented writers, but due to the poor judgment from the producers, the end result was Tim Burton’s embarrassing 2001 “re-imagining.”

Hughes seemingly has unlimited access to every boardroom deal that has happened in the last half century. He manages to get the most specific details regarding how a script was purchased and the person or people who were responsible for the film’s failure to come to fruition. Some of the most entertaining aspects of the book are the anecdotes relating to directors and the material to which they will or will not commit. For example, even though Paul Verhoeven took an enormous risk with the 1990 Schwarzenegger vehicle Total Recall, its success wasn’t enough to immediately convince him to do a sequel. His issue was not so much with doing a sequel at all, but that the integrity of the first film would automatically be compromised if its ambiguous ending were explained too much. It is not oftenHollywood action blockbusters are mentioned in the same sentence as esoteric ponderings on the nature of man, but Verhoeven viewed his film as a self-sufficient work and didn’t want it touched. Michael Bay could learn more than a few things from Verhoeven.

The entire book is filled with interesting stories and frustrating endings for films that could have been terrific. In “The Fall and Rise of the Dark Knight,” Hughes describes Warner Bros.’ momentary flirtation with allowing Darren Aronofsky (Requiem for a Dream, The Wrestler) to take over the Batman mythology in the early 2000s. Aronofsky, a lifetime Bat-fan, worked closely with graphic novelist Frank Miller (Sin City) to base the new film on the 1980s comic Batman: Year One, which Miller had created. Though the job eventually went to Christopher Nolan (who has since expanded the story into three films), Aronofsky’s vision was much darker with an almost nonexistent budget. Needless to say, Warner Bros. was not comfortable with it.

Hughes’ book has something for essentially every movie lover: failed James Cameron projects, the long delay of the fourth Indiana Jones movie, competing Howard Hughes biopics. Thanks to Hughes’ natural gift for writing and impressively comprehensive research, Tales From Development Hell should be required reading for anyone who calls themselves a movie buff. | Matthew Newlin

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