Columns / Discourse / October 13, 2010

Check the Reel: Cinema almosts

Hollywood almost turned “The Twilight Saga” into an action series.

No, really! Producer Mark Morgan gave the scoop: “…one of their drafts had a Korean FBI agent who was hunting and tracking vampires across the coast. There was SWAT in the trees and…it was like, ‘red leader one, red leader one,’ and the vampires were picking them out of the woods.”

Such a film, alas, was not meant to be, and we received instead the saga’s current, Korean-less incarnation. Even so, it’s fun to imagine what might have been under different circumstances.

Movie history is built on ideas and pitches that never came to fruition, changed throughout production or are caught in a state known as “development hell.” The movie may get made, but only after twenty years of executives forcing script rewrites and switching directors. One film currently in development hell is “The Hobbit.” Peter Jackson handed the project to “Pan’s Labyrinth” director Guillermo del Toro, but MGM’s financial difficulties forced del Toro to quit too. Will “The Hobbit” ever get made? Maybe, maybe not. It’s hard to tell.

On a similar note, after the success of the first three “Spider-Man” movies, Sam Raimi planned a fourth installment. Tobey Maguire and Kirsten Dunst were set to reprise their roles and John Malkovich would have played the new villain. Raimi quit, however, over disagreements with Sony Pictures. The studio responded by replacing him with Marc Webb, director of “(500) Days of Summer.” Actor Andrew Garfield, Eduardo from “The Social Network,” will play Peter Parker in Maguire’s place, and the film will reboot the franchise, putting Spider-Man back in high school.

Both these examples leave me pessimistic. “The Hobbit’s” vital signs look bleak, and “Spider-Man” is now in the hands of a rom-com director who can’t even direct rom-coms. But don’t think that all cinema could-have-beens are better than the end result. Before Raimi took over “Spider-Man,” James Cameron wrote a script treatment with Arnold Schwarzenegger as a campier Doc Ock, and if Joel Schumacher had gotten his way and made a sequel to “Batman & Robin,” we wouldn’t have Nolan’s “The Dark Knight” or Heath Ledger’s Joker.

Still, it seems like a lot of unmade movies are better than the completed projects. Part of this is a strange nostalgia for events that never happened. We look back on the possibilities filmmakers passed up and wonder how they would have played out. There are also times where the ideas truly seem fascinating. Sean Connery almost starred in the “Star Wars” prequels and “The Matrix.” Quentin Tarantino expressed interest in directing “Casino Royale.” “Grease” and “Harry Potter” were almost animated movies, and “Monty Python’s” Terry Gilliam could have directed the latter. Sure, most of those movies turned out all right, but maybe they could have been perfect!

We ultimately get what the studios give, though, for better or worse. Sometimes we can’t tell if the idea or execution is better. Take “The Emperor’s New Groove,” one of Disney’s funniest movies. What if it was a straight-up musical, mixing comedy with drama? What if the man responsible for “The Lion King” had directed it? What if it was called “Kingdom of the Sun” and Sting from The Police wrote the soundtrack? It’s an interesting concept, to be sure, but would it make a good movie? I can’t say.

Movies will continue to be made and almost made. That’s an aggravating fact in some cases and a blessing in others, but it’s certainly good food for thought. Maybe aspiring filmmakers can use cinema’s could-have-beens and almosts as inspiration. When Hollywood decides to make several more “Harry Potter” movies—and believe me, Hollywood wants to keep that series going forever—why not suggest an animated “Harry Potter,” directed by Terry Gilliam? You never know: it might actually become reality.

Ivan Keta
Ivan Keta is a weekly film columnist for The Knox Student. In 2013, he won first place in Critical Film Review from the Illinois College Press Association, competing in the open division against dozens of other Illinois college newspapers.

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