David Hughes' new book is one of those 'why hasn't somebody done this before?' ideas. It's an enthralling read and an essential volume for fans of SF cinema.
The premise is simple: instead of writing yet another book about SF movies we know and love because we've seen them a dozen times, Hughes writes about a whole load that we've never seen because, though they may have spent many years in development or even pre-production, they were never actually made and released. ...
Hughes has put a lot of effort into researching these non-movies. Though a few have been analysed retrospectively in SFX or Cinefantastique (Hughes is a contributor to both mags), for the most part this book is the result of ploughing through archive publications for optimistic/naive interviews and trade reports, plus a slew of new interviews with writers, director, producers and designers. The result is a terrifying insight into the workings of Hollywood and an invaluable work of reference for film scholars.
The chapters which really deliver the goods are the Moreau one, which has sacked director Stanley sneaking back onto the set as an extra to witness the chaos at first hand, and the section on The Tourist (a serious script with a similar premise to Men in Black) in which one interviewee dismisses another's version of events with "That's a load of bollocks!" This is the sort of juicy gossip we want!
It has taken David Hughes six years to get The Greatest Sci-Fi Movies Never Made published, so his empathy with frustrated scriptwriters is understandable, and Titan are to be commended for showing enough faith to debut it in hardback. The work is topped and tailed with pieces by Swiss artist HR Giger and internet hack Harry Knowles, which would probably have worked better the other way round. However, what is really missing from the book is a good, solid introduction by Hughes himself, placing these individual horror stories in the greater context of Hollywood's overall insanity.
This book gives no hint at quite how common such long-term, ultimately pointless development is, nor does it make it clear that Hollywood could not function any other way. The old adage has it that one per cent of ideas optioned are developed into scripts, one per cent of those scripts enter pre-production, and one per cent of those movies actually get made and released. Hughes has picked a couple of dozen interesting examples - and has done them justice in his assiduous research - but the reader is left with the impression that such events are noteworthy exceptions, rather than the rule.
Which leads onto the point that there are plenty of other "greatest sci-fi movies never made" and the hope that David Hughes and Titan can be persuaded to furnish us with a second volume. The stories behind the Nigel Kneale/John Carpenter remake of Creature from the Black Lagoon; the Doctor Who movie; the 3D American Godzilla; David Allen's stop-motion epic The Primevals; Terry Gilliam's jinxed The Man Who Killed Don Quixote; the David Frost-produced Toho/Hammer co-production Nessie; and Harley Cokeliss' unlucky Heaven's Gate victim Thongor in the Valley of Demons are all out there waiting to be told - hopefully by someone as diligent, resourceful and accurate as David Hughes.