Monday, November 23, 2009

What Might have Been #2

Welcome back to another installment of What Might Have Been. This is where I take a look at movies and TV shows that nearly came about, but either fell apart before they became a reality, or in the process of filming. The first article got so much favorable response I decided to try it again.

Alien 3 by William Gibson

Alien 3 is one of those weird junkyard movies (pun not intended). A lot of what we saw on screen was a script cobbled together from bits and pieces of other drafts. This is not entirely unusual in Hollywood; right off the top of my head, a good example I can think of is the first X-Men film.

But the really interesting thing about Alien 3 was, beyond the cobbling, there were at least two other scripts developed that never really appeared in the finished product. One was by screen writer Eric Red, best known as a writer who worked on the original The Hitcher and Near Dark.

The other was by William Gibson.

While not a huge household name, William Gibson is probably recognized as one of the most influential science fiction writers of the last 50 years. Gibson along with a few others created the genre of cyberpunk which not only influenced other writers but music and art. He also happens to be the man who coined the term “cyberspace”.

Somewhere in the late 80's, the powers-that-be got wind of Gibson, due in part to the fact that most of his written work had been optioned for films (there's a whole column in itself about why we've only ever seen one of those) and gave Gibson the chance to write the screenplay for Alien 3.

The only catch was, it had to be written in such a way that if Sigourney Weaver was not going to be involved (at that point she was done with the franchise...well at that moment anyways), they could work around it.

Gibson's script focuses on Bishop and Hicks each who are “rescued” by separate human factions. The evil company Weiland-Yutani is messing around with the genetics of the xenomorphs, so they no longer do the incubation thing; they carry a disease that will turn some people into human/alien warriors. The nice thing about this is it brings back a bit of the mystery element from the first film because you're guessing which characters are “infected”. Most of the script takes place on a space station/mall/lab and it is really action oriented.

How action oriented?

Aliens feature two rather large stand-off action scenes between humans and aliens.

Gibson's Alien 3 features eight.

So what happened?

To put it bluntly, the producers just didn't care for it, which kind of surprises me. Director Reny “I blew stuff up for no reason before Micheal Bay did” Harlin was attached to it, so it kind of seems like it would have been his type of flick. And what did Harlin end up doing when he eventually left the project?

Die Hard 2.

The kind of odd thing about this is there was a trailer before there was ever an Alien 3. While we are now used to trailers for films that are in production, it's very rare that we get a trailer for a film that doesn't even have a script yet, and hasn't shot a single piece of film. As you can tell by the following trailer, it doesn't much sound much like the eventual Alien 3 we got.

And since we took a look at the big blue boy scout the last time, I only figured it was right to have a look at a Dark Knight we never saw.

Batman: Year One by Darren Aronofsky and Frank Miller

For the last few years, a good portion of the comic book community has felt that Frank Miller has gone in a weird creative direction.

And that's putting it mildly and in a very friendly tone compared to many others. I've heard the phrase “Pissing on Eisner's grave” used in conjunction with Miller's film version of The Spirit. As well, All Star Batman and Robin has been given mixed reviews at best.

But many agree Frank Miller's takes on Batman in his comics The Dark Knight Returns and Batman: Year One are probably two of the best takes on the character, in the top ten if not the top five.

So doesn't it sound like a great idea to pair up Frank Miller with Darren Aronofsky? One of the greatest comic book minds mixing it up with one of the most creative film makers of our generation. And the movie would have been based on Batman: Year One which is arguably one of the best Batman comic stories, ever.

Sounds good doesn't it?

That's what Warner Brothers thought in the late 1990's and thus commissioned the script that can be easily found on the internet.

So what went wrong? Why did we never see this?

Well, there are a few reasons. I can tell you from reading the script that it is very well written. Par for the course of Aronofsky's other work, it's also very dark and a little bit on the human side. All in all this would have made a pretty decent film.

Except they called it Batman.

You see, the main problem with this script is if the sound was off, for three quarters of the film, you would think you walked into the wrong film. Nor does this resemble Batman: Year One.

Alfred is nowhere to be found nor is Wayne Manor. Instead, disoriented after his parents brutal murder, Bruce wanders the streets and is eventually taken in at a garage by Big Al and Little Al. Bruce is a pretty screwed up little kid and slowly but surely begins his war on crime. Gone are the awesome gadgets, now we have stuff Bruce makes from the Anarchist's Cook Book. The only part that remotely resembles the graphic novel is Gordon's storyline and his fight against corruption.

Now I'll be honest, I have no idea which draft I've read. I know there are a few other drafts out there that are somewhat different than the one on which I have extensive knowledge. One contains a mobster take on The Penguin, and Gordon having a beer and cheating on his wife. Oh, and a jive-talking Alfred. I'm pretty sure the one I've read is a later draft.

To put it mildly, Warner was not incredibly excited by the pitch. I honestly feel if they had pitched it as anything other then Batman, this movie may have gotten made. It could have been made on a low budget and would have been kind of like the Matrix. The Matrix was a comic book movie without the comic book and did very well.

But as Batman? I can already see the executives reading through it.

“Um...where's Alfred...wait do you mean this black mechanic is Alfred?”

“His ring makes the symbol of a bat when he punches them? Isn't that The Phantom? Someone ask legal if this would get us sued.”

“Wait...he's poor 90% of the movie?”

And to be honest, I can't disagree with them. It is one thing to do a different take on a character but it's another thing altogether to throw away almost everything.

So Warner passed and eventually we got Batman Begins, so we ended up winning in the end.

Finally, we have a movie that may make an appearance – or at least parts of it might.

Roger Rabbit: Toon Platoon

One of my favorite film going experiences was in 1988 when I got to see Who Framed Roger Rabbit at the Woodbine Center with close family friends who were looking after me for the weekend.

It was an amazing film that holds up to this day and it's one of the few chances you get to see almost every conceivable cartoon character finally mix it up with one another. We got Donald and Daffy in the same scene! Brilliant!

But one of the lesser known points is that there have been several attempts at getting another Roger Rabbit film going. For instance, children of the 90's may remember a Disney cartoon series called Bonkers. The cartoon was about a washed-up cartoon actor who ends up becoming a cop and teamed with a human partner.. Originally Bonkers was going to be Roger Rabbit, but due to copyright issues involving Amblin Entertainment (who shepherded the Roger Rabbit film) and Disney, Disney created a brand new character instead.

But for my money, the most interesting idea was a prequel Roger Rabbit called “Toon Platoon”.

Serving as a prequel, we see Roger in 1941 searching for his mom and dad, meeting Jessica (his future wife) foiling a Nazi plot and fighting in a bit of World War 2. Eventually Roger finds his folks and we discover Roger's dad is Bugs Bunny.

I love this idea if it was done right. It could easily become an over-the-top tribute to those rather interesting and now incredibly racist toons from WWII. But done right, it could be brilliant and funny.

But alas, Spielberg had a problem that conspired to shelve this film. By the time the script was done and animation tests began, Steven Spielberg (who produced the first film) had shot Schindler's List. Apparently after that experience, he didn't think he could do a funny Nazi movie. And to be honest, given the material, depending on how it went it's hard not to disagree.

But I assume this is why there was no Nazis in the hunt for the Crystal Skull, so then again...

Shortly after the script was retooled into Who Discovered Roger Rabbit which kept the sub-plot of looking for his folks but focused more on Roger's rise to stardom. Animation tests were done combining live action, CG animation and traditional 2D animation.

Then someone took a look at how much a movie would cost using all of those things – or even just CG and live action – and the film was once again shelved.

And do you know where the money went that was earmarked for Roger?

Pearl Harbour.

God Damn It!

In an interesting twist, rumors of Roger's ride back into the limelight are beginning to surface. The writers who brought us the first film are back on board, as is director Robert Zemeckis. Zemeckis has also stated he may be working motion capture into the film, but not for the toons. The toons would be animated traditionally (I imagine Disney is now happy that John Lasseter brought their animation department out of mothballs).

Now what the story may entail, or if it would bring back any of the concepts from previous script incarnations, has yet to been seen. Hell, we may be talking about this attempt at a re-start in five years – but here's hoping.

If you like these posts and have a movie you'd like me to find out “whatever happened to?”, feel free to drop me a line and I'll do my best. As for the next piece in this series, there are so many projects to chose from. For instance, I could do a whole column focused on Orson Wells and his failed projects, or the various versions of He-Man that never made it to screen.

I promise it'll be a good mix of film history and nerdiness.

No comments: