By Oliver Lyttelton | The Playlist February 16, 2012 at 1:00PM
Right now, studios seem to like cancelling movies more than they like making them. After a year in which the box office took a hit, and general economic problems continued, plugs were pulled on a number of high profile films ranging from "At The Mountains Of Madness" and "The Dark Tower" to "Akira" and "Arthur and Lancelot." Only last week, Alex Proyas' Bradley Cooper-starring adaptation of "Paradise Lost," having already been pushed back in an attempt to bring the budget down, was canceled altogether by Legendary Pictures.
So in memory of "Paradise Lost," we've dug back into the vaults to find ten projects that should help Proyas & co feel a little better -- every filmmaker has had at least one project fall apart on them, for one reason and another. We've tackled this subject in three previous installments (part one, part two, part three), plus two more focusing specifically on David Fincher and Joe Carnahan, but the number of films of real potential that were scrapped only gets greater every time. Check out the ten below.
"A Day At The U.N."
What Killed It? It was a match made in comedy heaven: Billy Wilder, one of the greatest directors ever to tackle the genre, and the Marx Brothers, the trio behind some of the funniest films ever made. After staying near the United Nations while making "The Apartment," Wilder was inspired, and pitched the idea of the Marx Brothers taking on the global organization. Groucho fell for the idea, and Wilder and co-writer I.A.L. Diamond penned a treatment which would involve Groucho, Harpo and Chico as a trio of robbers who, after pulling a heist, are mistaken for the Latvian delegation to the U.N. and cause all kinds of havoc. The film was set to go before cameras in 1961, but Harpo had a heart attack rehearsing for a TV special, making him uninsurable for the project, and Chico died in October 1961, putting any hopes of the film to rest.
How Can It Be Resurrected? Considering this was fifty years ago, and all the parties involved has since passed away, it probably can't. The film was tailored for the Marx Brothers, and probably wouldn't work with anyone else, and we certainly don't want some kind of "Three Stooges"-style monstrosity with TV actors playing Groucho, Chico and Harpo. Best just to think about what could have been, eh?
What Killed It? Along with Alan Moore and Frank Miller, Neil Gaiman was responsible for the creative rebirth of comic books in the 1980s, and his epic "The Sandman" is, along with "Watchmen" and "Maus," one of a handful of genuine masterpieces in the medium, a Greek tragedy of staggering scope and invention. As such, filmmakers were always going to come calling, and after the success of "Pulp Fiction," that film's co-writer Roger Avary was hired to direct, with "Aladdin" (and future "Pirates of the Caribbean") writers Ted Elliot and Terry Rossio writing a script. And they did a solid job, combining the first two graphic novels into a narrative that was faithful, and yet its own thing, and Avary started talking about things like Jan Svankmeyer as influences. But hairdresser-turned-producer Jon Peters ("Wild Wild West") balked, fired everyone and commissioned his own script, from William Farmer, who would later go on to fuck up "Jonah Hex" too. That draft leaked, causing fury on the internet, and even Gaiman weighed in to call it "...not only the worst 'Sandman' script I've ever seen, but quite easily the worst script I've ever read." The project flatlined.
How Can It Be Resurrected: The epic length has always been an issue, but the recent creative renaissance on television seems to have pointed the way. James Mangold ("Walk The Line") tried to set it up at HBO, unsuccessfully, but in 2010, it was announced that Warner Bros Television were putting the project in development, with "Supernatural" creator Eric Kripke seemingly the man in charge. He said last year that the project was on hold, but it might well come back, either on the small or big screen.
"Harold And The Purple Crayon"
What Killed It? Back in 1995, Spike Jonze was a 26-year-old upstart, a guy who'd done music videos and skate videos, but not much besides. But as someone who was clearly visually inventive, Jonze was picked by Sony to helm "Harold and the Purple Crayon," an adaptation of Crockett Johnson's classic 1955 children's book, about a 4-year-old who is able to create a magical world just by drawing it. The film had a well-regarded script from Michael Tolkin ("The Player"), and the presence of Johnson's protege Maurice Sendak as a producer (he became friendly with Jonze, and later let him take on his own masterpiece "Where The Wild Things Are"), while Jonze was planning an inventive blend of live-action and animation. A little too inventive it seems, as Jonze said back in 2008, "It was so ambitious, yeah, in terms of effects and animation, and to make all those pieces tell one story. And I was only 24 then, so I just think I didn’t have that much experience, but I also didn’t have experience with studios. We worked on it for like a year and a half, and bit by bit, it just got away from what I had initially wanted to do." Clearly, Jonze isn't too upset that it never happened, given the compromises he was being forced to make, but after "Where The Wild Things Are," we can only wistfully imagine how it might have turned out.
How Can It Be Resurrected? Seemingly it has been, albeit without Jonze. Reports surfaced in 2010 that Sony Pictures Animation had revived the project, with Sendak still linked as producer, along with Will Smith and James Lassiter. The plan this time was for a fully animated film, with Josh Klausner penning a new script, with a tone said to be similar to "The Neverending Story." It might not be as visionary as Jonze's vision, but we won't write it off yet.