It’s almost an axiom that any movie, based on a book, will be inferior to the written version. After reading The Greatest Sc-Fi Movies Never Made, not only do we get glimpse into why this is so, we also realize it’s a minor miracle that any adaptation ever gets made. SF fans can also feel vindicated in their feeling that Hollywood, especially the suits, just doesn’t ‘get’ SF. It doesn’t, even if there are those who do understand.
However, this book isn’t about the development hell that movies go through, though that plays a central role in many of them. No, instead the focus is on the SF movies that have never been made, and the reasons behind these failures. Well, actually, Hughes plays a bit loose with the ‘never made’ part, choosing to focus on the ‘not shot’ drafts of movies that eventually saw the light of day. These make up almost 2/3 of the book.
That’s not really a big issue, though, as some of the stories behind the drafts are very entertaining, as is the book itself. For instance, if you’ve ever seen the Kevin Smith DVD, An Evening With Kevin Smith, then you already know of his attempt to write a screenplay for what would eventually become Superman Returns. During the writing process, producer Jon Peters told Smith that Superman had to fight a giant spider in the movie, something that’s totally ridiculous, even for a Superman movie. However, that giant spider made it into another film, The Wild, Wild West.
Highes gives us many examples of movie productions that meander from screenplay to screenplay, before either eventually dying or making a less than stellar debut on the big screen. The latter category covers movies such as Star Trek: The Motion Picture, which had at least one really cool screenplay that should have been shot instead, Superman Lives to be directed by Tim Burton (think of the possibilities), and even Watchmen (with the news of the lawsuit between MGM and Fox, Hughes has even more fodder for this chapter). If you’ve ever wondered why bad movies like Supernova and the Marlon Brando/Val Kilmer version of The Island of Dr. Moreau were ever made, you’ll be shocked that they even finished production given the circumstances behind them.
Hughes also covers scripts for adaptations that are out there now, but probably will never see the light of day. We, as SF fans, could mourn the loss of a big screen version of Childhood’s End, or two ‘out there’ SF movies from David Lynch, but we shouldn’t. What Hughes does is explains why Hollywood isn’t really interested in ‘new’ and ‘different’. The movie industry is big business and, as such, is very conservative. Why try to create the next big thing when you can let someone else take the risk and follow on their coattails? That’s why we get crap SF movies such as Supernova, apparently dumbed down so as to be palatable to a wide range of people. We may not like it, but at least we can understand the ‘why’ behind it.
Perhaps the best thing about the book, aside from covering a ton of SF properties is the format. Each chapter ranges from a few pages to just over 10. Hughes goes into just enough detail to give us an idea of what happened, without becoming bogged down. This makes it easy to pick up the book, select a chapter and read it, especially if you only have a short period of time. And Hughes’ writing style is clear and easy to read with just the right amount of humor (usually at the expense of Hollywood). So the next time you see Star Trek: The Motion Picture, you can curse the skewed way Hollywood works which caused us to miss out on a better picture, Star Trek: Planet of the Titans.
The Greatest Sci-Fi Movies Never Made is an entertaining read, not just for SF fans, but for fans of movies in general.