The Lost, Forgotten & Undersung Projects Of Joss Whedon

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by Drew Taylor
April 11, 2012 11:04 AM
8 Comments
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3. His Script Doctoring

It’s always a treat for cinephiles to find out one of their favorite filmmakers or screenwriters have done some sort of uncredited work on a screenplay, and Whedon has no shortage of those sort of stories. After his spec scripts sold for a pretty penny in the early ‘90s, Whedon was an incredibly in-demand writer who worked on a number of projects that would make many prospective screenwriters envious. While the script for the 1992 “Buffy The Vampire Slayer” was famously changed into a more teen-friendly piece without Whedon’s consent, that seemed to be the norm for the up-and-comer as he worked on major features like “Speed,” “Waterworld,” “Twister,” and Bryan Singer’s “X-Men.” Whedon delved pretty deeply into all of those projects, and in a 2001 interview with The AV Club, he stated that he had written most of the dialogue in “Speed,” and that “Twister” didn’t have too much of his work in it, while on “Waterworld” he “was there for seven weeks, and [he] accomplished nothing.” While his draft for the 2000 comic adaptation “X-Men” -- a franchise so close to his heart that he eventually helped Marvel Comics revive “The Astonishing X-Men” brand with his own series -- was entirely thrown out without him knowing until he was invited to a read-through by Fox, he does acknowledge that he wrote the infamous Toad line that Halle Berry’s Storm utters, but that it was taken drastically out of context. Regardless, Whedon seems to be able to laugh about his script doctoring misfortunes, and even has the only poster for “Speed” with his screenwriting credit left on it hanging in his office, telling The AV Club that, “I think of ‘Speed’ as one of the few movies I've made that I actually like.” Not quite a script-doctoring job, given that he was rewriting from scratch, was when he was hired by Joel Silver and Warner Bros in 2005 to bring "Wonder Woman" to the screen, but he and the studio never saw eye-to-eye, and they parted ways.

4. His Disaster
Fox, impressed with the job that Whedon had done getting “Speed” into shape, gave him the unenviable task of reviving the powerhouse “Alien” franchise after David Fincher’s morose third entry. Always one to put a super-powered young girl at the center of whatever project he’s working on, Whedon concocted a thirty-page outline that focused on Newt, a character from James Cameron’s “Aliens” who Sigourney Weaver’s Ripley protected with a motherly intensity. (Ripley, like every other character, had been killed off at the end of “Alien 3.”) Whedon turned in his treatment, which was met enthusiastically by Fox brass, until they insisted he change pretty much everything about the script, demanding he find a way to bring back Ripley. The Newt incarnation remains Whedon’s favorite version of the half-dozen drafts he ended up submitting, noting in "Joss Whedon: Conversations" that it was a “better-structured story than the one I ultimately wrote.” Ultimately Whedon’s draft would focus on the crew of the Betty, a smuggler ship not unlike the Millennium Falcon (or, later, Whedon’s own Serenity), tasked to deliver some very precious cargo to the hulking Auriga space ship. Set in the distant future, Whedon replaced the earlier films’ menacing multinational corporation with a more sinister version of the army, and Ripley, back from the dead and none-too-pleased, was now something of a hybrid – having been brought back from genetic material contaminated with alien DNA, giving her some of the monsters’ abilities. Supposedly Whedon’s first draft of the Ripley version went over like gangbusters, and featured a harrowing climax set on Earth. But the rapturous reception of Whedon’s screenplay was the only smooth part of the film’s long, tortured production. Keeping with the series’ tradition of going with an untested visionary to helm the film, the studio contacted Danny Boyle, Bryan Singer and Peter Jackson before ultimately deciding on Jean-Pierre Jeunet, the darkly comic co-director of French oddities “Delicatessen” and “The City of Lost Children.” Jeunet imported much of his creative team from France, and spoke with a translator, unable to communicate directly to the cast and crew, conveying staging and camera movements via detailed storyboards. Eschewing the third film’s oppressive bleakness, Jeunet’s film was more comic and comic book, featuring strange sexual overtones and a prolonged underwater sequence that felt like something out of “The Poseidon Adventure.” Whedon was not pleased. Not only was he asked to change the ending five times (until a climax on Earth was jettisoned completely) but Whedon was not involved in the film’s production at all. Whedon was particularly miffed by a sequence where Ripley has a semi-sexual encounter with an albino mutant alien that she helped birth (the creature was designed by Chris Cunningham). “I don’t remember writing, ‘A withered, granny-lookin’ Pumpkinhead-kind-of-thing makes out with Ripley.’ Pretty sure that stage direction wasn’t in any of my drafts,” Whedon quipped. While diplomatic during the press for the movie, in recent years he’s been more forthcoming, telling Bullz-Eye circa “Serenity” that “it wasn’t a question of doing everything differently, it was mostly a matter of doing everything wrong. They said the lines...mostly...but they said them all wrong. And they cast it wrong. And they designed it wrong. And they scored it wrong. They did everything wrong that they could possibly do. There’s actually a fascinating lesson in filmmaking, because everything that they did reflects back to the script or looks like something from the script, and people assume that, if I hated it, then they’d changed the script...but it wasn’t so much that they’d changed the script; it’s that they just executed it in such a ghastly fashion as to render it almost unwatchable.” A director’s cut of the film was released on home video a few years back but those looking for more of Whedon’s original draft will be sorely disappointed. Instead there are a few more gonzo Jeunet flourishes in a film already lousy with them.

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8 Comments

  • Bobbie | February 2, 2013 9:32 AMReply

    The concept for "Afterlife" sounds oddly similar to Glenn Gordon Caron's 1999 TV series, "Now and Again": a man dies, his brain is appropriated by a top secret government agency and transplanted into a genetically-engineered body, and he keeps trying to escape and reconnect with his wife and daughter. If the article has the dates correct, Whedon's was first. The stalled production in 2000 probably had less to do with Tennant's track record and more to do with the fact that the TV series had just been cancelled after a single season and comparisons would have been inevitable.

  • jb | April 13, 2012 1:36 PMReply

    i think you mean NAACP image award

  • Anna Granfors | April 11, 2012 9:25 PMReply

    No mention of "Ripper", the Buffy offshoot that Anthony Head was going to star in? Joss even announced it as greenlit by the BBC at San Diego ComicCon during a panel discussion, but I never saw a story as to why it simply disappeared. I'd had great hopes for that, since when Giles got his Ripper on in the occasional Buffy episode, he became a completely different character–it would have been fascinating and wonderful, I'm sure. And also, I felt that the BBC would have let Joss loose from the idiocy that he faced from US studios, FOX in specific.

  • Jason | April 11, 2012 2:45 PMReply

    -“Twister” didn’t have too much of his work in it

    I'd call that an unfair interpretation of what Whedon was saying during that interview. It's also interesting to note that he was joking about the lack of interest in his spec scripts with his agent and offhandedly said something along the lines of "I should just write Die Hard on a bridge" to which his agent replied PERFECT, WRITE THAT! It's hilarious he named it Suspension.

  • Rednax42 | April 11, 2012 1:53 PMReply

    No mention of his potential TV show set in the modern day of Niven and Pournelle's "Magic Goes Away" universe. They had initial discussions but Joss dropped the idea. Timing suggests he made "Firefly" instead.

  • Max | April 11, 2012 1:08 PMReply

    Whedon and his never-ending complains regarding Alien Resurrection and very annoying. Funny fact is that during promotion of the that movie he was more than passionate taking about it and explaining how great his script his. Suddenly when reviewers were mainly criticizing screenplay and story (while praising Jeunet and Weaver work) he stated that all was wrong but not his script. Interesting point of view.

  • Jason | April 11, 2012 2:47 PM

    You know it's highly common for people who aren't the director/editor to never see a cut of the film before the movie is releases. It's also common to be contractually obligated to promote a film before it's release.

  • The One True b!X | April 11, 2012 12:58 PMReply

    As an unrepentant Goners champion, I'm compelled to let anyone who wants to know more (such more that there is) that if they Google for "What Is Mia Made Of" they'll find the blog I've maintained about the project for several years now.

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