The Greatest Sci-Fi Movies Never Made review

Paul W. Smith visits the alternate sci-fi universe of Hollywood Development Hell...

Author: David HughesPublisher: Titan BooksRRP: £9.99

Hollywood is littered with the debris of fantasy films which reached for the stars but never made it beyond the stratosphere, spectacularly crash-landing at planet box-office. Of course there have been many movies that have shot beyond the solar system of success. However, there’s an an ever-increasing number of films which have been accumulating in the wasteland that is development hell. David Hughes sifted through the land of fallen projects to select 21 of the most significant examples and gathering them together in the one book, The Greatest Sci-Fi Movies Never Made.

Now of course you can argue ’til the next alien invasion if he has chosen wisely, but it’s the sheer scale of the blood, sweat and tears, let alone expense, which has been utilised on movies which never made it to the launch pad that amazes. Admittedly, he offers a blow-by-blow account of high profile films which did reach celluloid heaven after years of being shunted from red to greenlight to red again. There’s the genesis of all the Star Trek movies along with the tangled web of Spiderman‘s big screen career and the rebirth of the Superman franchise.

A host of directors, writers and stars have fallen along the way, leaving tantalising echoes of films which nearly were. But could we have really accepted Nicolas Cage as the Man of Steel? Could we have boldly gone on the big screen without Spock or Kirk’s early years at Starfleet Academy, which has been defined as ‘Top Gun in space’? To think we were tantalisingly close to having James Cameron’s vision of Spidey! In some alternative universe, it’s possible these projects packed cinemas alongside Chris Columbus’ tale of the Fantastic Four. Of course, the final versions might be preferable anyway.

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In most of the examples explored in the this book, their troubled production paths have been well documented. Hughes has diligently but admirably gathered together all the different strands into one complete cautionary tapestry. However, more intriguing are the films which have been crying out for celluloid adventures and in most case, they seem to be adaptations of cult sci-fi novels. In a couple of instances, they have finally emerged into the light of day – I Am Legend hit the jackpot with Will Smith. even though Richard Matheson wrote a scipt of his own novel as far back as 1957. And the Watchmen is currently shooting, but with neither Terry Gilliam or Paul Greengrass at the helm.

Two classics remain trapped in the blackhole of development for decades – Alfred Bester’s The Stars My Destination and Arthur C Clarke’s Journey’s End, which would have added one more Kubrick film to revere even though he made a different odyssey with Clarke instead. Perhaps one of the biggest surprises is the inability to bring Tarzan’s space-age cousin to the big sceen. Edgar Rice Burroughs’ vine-swinging apeman has constantly been reinvented but John Carter of Mars, who has never moved beyond the red light of production let alone getting as far as the red planet. Not even Robert Rodriquez or Jon Favreau could get the cameras rolling.

Hughes has done a thorough job wading through assorted magazine articles, endless websites and other recorded interviews. The book has been assembled with great affection from the body parts of previously printed articles on all the films concerned. He has shaped a scholarly epitaph to a movie heritage we almost had. Equally, the book highlights the turbulent nature of Hollywood that can make and unmake worlds at the single stroke of an executive pen.

Somewhere, in some divergent timestream, we can hope that audiences have been enraptured by El Topo director Jodorowksy’s masterful version of Dune or have enoyed cult screenings of David Lynch’s surreal duo Ronnie Rocket and One Saliva Bubble. In our reality though, they just remain amongst the greatest sci-fi films never made.


4 out of 5