Broken Dreams # 4: The Films That Never Were

October 15, 2020
Here is another fistful of fascinating films-that-never-were from top-shelf stars and directors who tried – often desperately – to get them made…but ultimately to no avail.

ROMAN POLANSKI: THE DOUBLE

Roman Polanski is painfully versed in the ways of personal and professional tragedy, living through the horrors of WW2; the infamous murder of his wife, Sharon Tate, in 1969; and the notorious statutory rape case that has haunted the later part of his often illustrious career. So when the director’s planned version of The Double – Fyodor Dostoevsky‘s novel about a man whose life is taken over by his doppelganger – collapsed in 1996, it probably felt like little more than a minor road bump on a life journey defined by precipitous highs and unfathomable lows. An intended contemporary comedy, Polanski had signed a hot post-Pulp Fiction John Travolta for the lead role, alongside Isabelle Adjani, John Goodman, and Jean Reno. But with everything in place, Travolta walked off the project just nine days before principal photography was due to begin after a furious argument with Polanski. “Travolta claimed that I’d changed the script without him agreeing,” the director says in the book, Roman Polanski: Interviews, by Paul Cronin. “Besides the fact that it was within my rights to do so, the whole thing was a joke. On the other hand, it was probably a good thing in the end because of all the special effects needed. It required a lot of patience, and I don’t think that Travolta would have been up to it.” Following Travolta’s departure, Steve Martin was hastily tapped to take the lead, but Isabelle Adjani was only prepared to work with Travolta, and she bailed too. The project collapsed in a heap shortly afterwards. “I still haven’t forgiven him,” Polanski said of Travolta two years after The Double had fallen over. “So many people had put so much effort into that project.” Incidentally, British director Richard Ayoade (Submarine) brought his own version of Dostoevsky’s book to the screen in 2013, with Jesse Eisenberg in the lead dual roles.

NICOLAS WINDING REFN: THE DYING OF THE LIGHT

“I wanted a house with a swimming pool and an orange tree,” Danish director, Nicolas Winding Refn, told FilmInk in 2012. “I was living in The Hills, and I had the Hollywood sign above me.” After helming the explosive Pusher trilogy in his homeland, and the hard-hitting Bronson in the UK, Refn was keen to make his mark as an émigré director in America, joining the storied likes of Fritz Lang, Billy Wilder, Alfred Hitchcock and many more in this impressive cinematic pantheon. Before finally getting there with the finely calibrated motor vehicular neon-noir of 2012’s Drive, Refn had first tried to mount Jekyll – a new take on the Jekyll and Hyde story starring Keanu Reeves – in Hollywood. When that project fell apart, Refn inched closer to punching his émigré director time clock with The Dying Of The Light, a thriller tracking a CIA agent forced to retire when he starts suffering the effects of early-onset Alzheimer’s, and then races against time on his final mission as his mind starts to crumble. Written on spec by legendary screenwriter, Paul Schrader (Taxi Driver, Raging Bull), Refn called it “a wonderful, wonderful script”, and signed superstar, Harrison Ford, for the lead role. A problem, however, soon emerged, with the actor deciding that he didn’t want his character to die at the end of the film, as scripted. “I was really into making this film,” Refn told The Playlist. “Then [Ford] realises that he doesn’t want to die. It was like, ‘Fucking hell! There’s no movie, Harrison!’” And there wasn’t. Refn’s Drive star, Ryan Gosling, laughed to FilmInk in 2012: “Nicolas really wants to kill Harrison Ford in a movie! And it almost happened…he almost killed Harrison Ford!” Paul Schrader ended up directing his own script in 2014 with Nicolas Cage in the leading role of the CIA agent.

GUILLERMO DEL TORO: AT THE MOUNTAINS OF MADNESS

As a director (Hellboy, Pan’s Labyrinth, Pacific Rim, The Shape Of Water), and producer (The Orphanage, Rise Of The Guardians, Mama), hardworking Mexican filmmaker, Guillermo Del Toro, has proven himself adept at getting original, innovative projects off the ground. One of the director’s greatest cinematic dreams, however, ultimately became a nightmare that he could never realise, despite years of commitment, energy, and perseverance. The visual stylist and gifted storyteller had long yearned to film At The Mountains Of Madness, cult horror writer, H.P Lovecraft’s 1931 novella about an expedition of scientists who discover a long dormant – and wholly horrific – alien society in the Antarctic. With James Cameron set to produce, a budget clocked at $150 million, and Tom Cruise in line to star, Del Toro envisioned the film as a potentially groundbreaking piece of sci-fi horror. But after years of hard labour, At The Mountains Of Madness was hit by two ultimately lethal body blows. First, the film’s financing studio, Universal, baulked at Del Toro’s intention to make the movie “really, really uncomfortable and nasty”, and refused to grant his demands for a restrictive R rating. “The natural flaw of horror is that 99% of the time, it’s a clandestine genre,” Del Toro told The New Yorker. “It lives and breathes in dark little corners that come out and haunt you. Rarely is there a beautiful orchid that blooms.” It was the release of Ridley Scott’s Prometheus, however, that delivered the death blow. Citing that the two films had the “same premise” and “scenes that would be almost identical”, Del Toro stated on his website that Scott’s Alien prequel would sadly “mark a long pause – if not the demise – of At The Mountains Of Madness.”

LARRY CLARK: MONA LISA

With the lurid and salacious likes of Kids, Bully, Another Day In Paradise, Wassup Rockers, Marfa Girl and Ken Park, controversial artist and photographer, Larry Clark, established himself as an outlaw filmmaker of the first order, constantly courting controversy, gleefully scandalising audiences, and brazenly pushing the cinematic envelope, particularly in the dangerous areas of youth, drugs, and sexuality. Though yet to make a mainstream or even remotely “commercial” film, Clark nearly got there in 2009 when Irishman, Patrick Meehan, tapped him to direct a remake of Neil Jordan’s acclaimed 1986 crime drama, Mona Lisa, which the producer had acquired upon purchasing George Harrison’s company, HandMade Films, the original film’s backer. Starring Bob Hoskins as an ex-con who falls in love with a high class hooker (Cicely Tyson), Clark called Jordan’s London-set minor classic “a really great film”, and promptly cast Mickey Rourke (then red-hot off The Wrestler) and Eva Green (Casino Royale) in the lead roles. “I’m really happy to be working with Mickey and Eva,” Clark told Movieline. “It’s a great cast. The first thing that I said though was, ‘Why? It’s a classic film! Why would you want to remake it?’ Remakes hardly ever work. But Patrick convinced me. As an artist, I thought that it would be a great challenge. I may fail, but I wanted to accept the challenge.” Sadly, Larry Clark did indeed fail to make the movie happen. Though the reasons for the intended film’s collapse remain unclear, the director made the demise of this New York-set contemporary crime drama official during promotion for his 2012 teen sex opus, Marfa Girl. “It’s not happening,” Clark bluntly replied when asked by The Playlist about the status of Mona Lisa.

PHILIP KAUFMAN: STAR TREK

Despite his undeniable brilliance as a filmmaker, Philip Kaufman has had little luck when it comes to his movie projects. He has directed truly great films that have failed to connect with audiences on a wide scale (The Right Stuff, The Wanderers); taken big stabs at commercial movies that have been equally disappointing (Twisted, Rising Sun); been famously fired (by Clint Eastwood on The Outlaw Josey Wales); and suffered at the hands of the ratings board (Henry & June). Back in the seventies, Kaufman even worked on a promising, high profile project, only to have it scuttled before it could come to fruition. In 1976, executive producer, Jerry Eisenberg, hired Kaufman (whose major films at that point were the highly regarded The White Dawn and The Great Northfield Minnesota Raid) to write and direct the first big screen outing for the cult sixties TV series, Star Trek. Despite punching away at a script, the film’s backing studio, Paramount, pulled the plug in fear of the feverish buildup surrounding the release of the game changing Star Wars. Sadly, as Kaufman revealed decades later, his take on Star Trek could have been an interesting one indeed. “My version was built around Leonard Nimoy as Spock and [revered Japanese actor] Toshiro Mifune as his Klingon nemesis,” the director has said. “My idea was to make it more of an adult movie, dealing with sexuality and wonders rather than oddness. It was about the nature of Spock’s duality – exploring his humanity and what humanness was. I wanted to have Spock and Mifune’s character tripping out in outer space. The fans would have been upset, but it could’ve really opened up a new type of science fiction.”

ALEX PROYAS: PARADISE LOST

After successfully mounting two major international sci-fi fantasy films in Australia (1998’s Dark City and 2009’s Knowing), local director, Alex Proyas (who also helmed The Crow and I, Robot), came close to getting a third off the ground with his intended adaptation of John Milton’s epic 1667 poem, Paradise Lost. Detailing Satan’s expulsion from Heaven, the film would have literally been an action fantasy extravaganza of Biblical proportions, with a massive budget, a mix of motion capture and live action, a huge ensemble cast (Benjamin Walker, Casey Affleck, and Djimon Hounsou had all signed on), and a 3-D shoot. Amongst an uncertain economic climate, however, Paradise Lost just proved too risky for its financial backer, Legendary Pictures, who first asked Proyas to dial back on the budget, and then scrapped the project altogether when its complex special effects and huge production costs were deemed unavoidably and dangerously expensive. The dream was over for Alex Proyas, and also for actor, Bradley Cooper, who he had cast as Satan. “I loved the idea of Lucifer being a charismatic guy who you agree with, basically,” the actor said on The Charlie Rose Show while promoting The Hangover Part II. “I actually put myself on tape for it because Alex Proyas said, ‘The guy from The Hangover is not Lucifer; I just can’t see it.’ I shot it in my kitchen with my friend, Wes. We did one take, and I said, ‘Wes, did you feel that?’ He said, ‘Yeah, let’s send this!’ I emailed it to Alex Proyas, and then he emailed me back, and said, ‘Satan lives!’” Unfortunately, in the case of Paradise Lost, Lucifer’s existence was disappointingly short lived…

SPIKE LEE: JACKIE ROBINSON BIOPIC

As one of the most important and vital of all African-American filmmakers, you’d think that Spike Lee – who lit up the US indie scene with 1990’s trailblazing Do The Right Thing, and has continued to provoke controversy and heated discussion ever since – would be able to pick and choose when it comes to biopics about famous African-Americans. But while he convinced veteran director, Norman Jewison, to step aside and let him helm 1992’s Malcolm X, Lee has been far less successful with depictions of other notable African-Americans. Will Smith preferred Michael Mann to direct Ali, and Lee’s efforts in making films about boxer, Joe Louis, and singer, James Brown, have proven fruitless. The director’s great unrealised dream project, however, remains his much discussed biopic of Jackie Robinson, the first black Major League Baseball player of the modern era, who broke the baseball colour line when he debuted with The Brooklyn Dodgers in 1947. Lee h struggled for over a decade to get the film made, and even promised Robinson’s widow, Rachel Robinson, that he would get it done. The outspoken director, however, had to admit defeat with the release of 2013’s 42, a Jackie Robinson biopic from director, Brian Helgeland, starring the late Chadwick Boseman and Harrison Ford. Surprisingly, Lee was sanguine about the “competing” project. “I’ve been at peace for a long time,” the director told ESPN. “Rachel Robinson is a very dear friend of mine, and I want her to see this film. She wanted this film made. I’m happy that the film got made. I’m not the type of person saying, ‘If I can’t do it, fuck it.’ That’s not the way I am. It’s a great story, and it should be made.”

JONATHAN DEMME: PARTING THE WATERS

When it comes to controversial, politically sensitive, and potentially divisive subject matter, the late Jonathan Demme rarely took a backward step. He made one of the first major studio pictures to deal with AIDS (1993’s Philadelphia); tackled racism with 1997’s Beloved; helmed documentaries about US politics (2007’s Jimmy Carter Man From Plains) and the troubled nation of Haiti (2003’s The Agronomist); and redefined on-screen horror with 1991’s The Silence Of The Lambs. So when Demme announced that his first project after Philadelphia would be an adaptation of Parting The Waters – Taylor Branch’s biography of famed American Civil Rights activist, Dr. Martin Luther King – it seemed like a perfect fit. Though it could have been Demme’s great movie about American politics, Parting The Waters – which boasted Harry Belafonte as a co-producer, and a completed script by Anna Hamilton – eventually dried up, before any serious casting announcements had been made. “I’m picturing a cross between Nashville and The Battle Of Algiers,” Demme told Rolling Stone in 1994 of his intended project. “[My $30,000 documentary about AIDS, One Foot On A Banana Peel] has taken away my fervour to do big budget versions of social issues, unless they offer the possibility of making some wild megillah of an entertainment, like Parting The Waters. I’m probably not as open to full-tilt entertainments – ‘Never mind the message, let’s just have a ball’ kind of films – as I might have been five years ago. I’d rather read books and be a lazy person than just make a movie for the sake of it anymore.” In an ironic twist, Demme’s Beloved star, Oprah Winfrey, was at one stage planning Parting The Waters (and Taylor Branch’s subsequent two books on King) as a seven-hour television mini-series.

KEVIN SMITH: FLETCH WON

“When I first saw it, it made me want to be Fletch,” writer/director, Kevin Smith, once told webmaster, Laker Jim. Based on Gregory McDonald’s series of popular novels, 1985’s Fletch (and its 1989 sequel, Fletch Lives) starred Chevy Chase as an inventive LA journalist. A noted fan, Kevin Smith had initially expressed interest in directing a third film in the series, with Chevy Chase once again in the title role. But when discussions between the pair fizzled, Smith diverted his attention to McDonald’s 1985 novel, Fletch Won, which details the first big story undertaken by a much younger Fletch. This would allow Smith to cast a new actor in the title role, with Chase possibly appearing to “book-end” the film as the older Fletch. Smith’s first choice to play the young reporter was Jason Lee (My Name Is Earl), but Fletch Won producer – Miramax top dog and now reviled shit-bag, Harvey Weinstein – didn’t believe that the actor could “open” a film. Weinstein wanted Ben Affleck to play Fletch, and he almost rushed the film into production, principally to stop Smith and Affleck – his two golden boys – from defecting to Disney (Miramax’s parent company, with whom Weinstein was embroiled in a nasty spat), who had offered them both big money to work on a romantic comedy. In a bold move, Weinstein even offered to match their salaries. “For about two weeks, we almost rushed Fletch Won into production with bloated, studio-like salaries, all to beat Disney,” Smith explained via Twitter. “But mercifully, before a $50 million version of Fletch Won could happen, Ben passed. He didn’t feel right about flat-leaving Disney. Fletch wound up at Warner years later. My only regret is that a flick never got made before Greg McDonald passed away.”

ROBERT ZEMECKIS: YELLOW SUBMARINE

After directing the acclaimed 2012 live action drama, Flight, after years of working exclusively with motion capture on the likes of A Christmas Carol, Beowulf and The Polar Express, producer/director, Robert Zemeckis, was all set to return to the world of animation with his next project. Though a longtime avoidant of remakes and reboots, the filmmaker’s next film was slated to be a new millennium, 3-D animated version of The Beatles’ trippy 1968 cartoon, Yellow Submarine. A longtime fan of the band (Zemeckis’ 1978 debut film, I Wanna Hold Your Hand, was set amongst the explosion of Beatlemania in the US), the filmmaker had laboured intently to get the movie made, with the hope that it would be completed in time to coincide with the Cool Britannia revival inspired by The London Olympics. But after the Zemeckis-produced 2011 animated family flick, Mars Needs Moms, tanked at the box office, Disney – who were set to bankroll Yellow Submarine – went cold on the director’s next proposed feature. When Zemeckis’ “champion” at Disney – chairman, Dick Cook – was then ousted from the company, Yellow Submarine was officially torpedoed. The director (a power player thanks to classics like Romancing The Stone, Who Framed Roger Rabbit, Forrest Gump, and Back To The Future) has since admitted no real desire to remount the film with another studio. “I’m not going to do Yellow Submarine…and I don’t want to do any remakes,” Zemeckis told The Hollywood Reporter. “You’re behind the eight ball from the get-go. And how many movies have I got left in me, really? I’m getting kind of old. So I don’t think that I should take those years out of my life and do a remake.”

If you liked this story, check out our previous features: Broken Dreams # 1Broken Dreams # 2 and Broken Dreams # 3.

 

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