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The Unapologetic Geek


Top 5 Movies Trapped in Development Hell

There is an awful place where eagerly anticipated films go to die. This is a place where desperation rules, where the increasingly insane decisions of filmmakers, producers, actors, and distributors all conspire to tear a good idea apart. Sometimes, a film will emerge from this development hell, and the results aren't always pretty. Some things, it seems, are better left buried. However, hope need not be lost, for every once in a blue moon, a troubled production will spawn a Casablanca, Jaws, or Apocalypse Now, all films that seemed doomed from the get-go. These five films are the ones I want rescued from their seemingly eternal limbo, though I want them to get the treatment they deserve rather than the treatment they are likely to receive. And yes, since I am a science-fiction geek, sci-fi is heavily represented here.

Honorable mentions: Bioshock, Cowboy Bebop (live action), Ghost in the Shell (live action), Jurassic Park 4, The Man Who Killed Don Quixote, Metropolis, The Tourist (the sci-fi movie, not the Johnny Depp flop)


As an unapologetic geek, I have no problems daydreaming about various video games that could be made into films. However, I seriously doubt such a thing as a great video game movie is anywhere in our near future, as there definitely isn't one anywhere in our past. (There are a handful of good ones and a few fun ones, but no great ones.) There are several video games being adapted as we speak, from the likes of Assassin's Creed, Dead Space, and Uncharted, along with quite a few lingering in development hell, such as Bioshock, Metroid, and Splinter Cell. However, the one that garnered the most hype and anticipation a few years ago--maybe the most hype surrounding a video game adaptation since Super Mario Bros.--was Halo.

As the franchise was peaking in popularity around the release of Halo 3, a film seemed inevitable. Peter Jackson, of The Lord of the Rings fame, was attached to produce and/or direct, several proof of concept live action short films were made, the best being directed by Neill Blomkamp (who was also tapped to direct a full-length film at one point), a script was delivered with unusually high fanfare, preproduction was started, and it seemed like Hollywood was about to flood from all the money fanboys were willing to part with just to see a two hour version of Halo on theater screens. But then it all fell apart. 20th Century Fox threatened to pull out if costs weren't cut down, so bowing to the pressure, Universal delivered the ultimatum to Jackson: cut the budget significantly or walk away. They walked away. Still, the project has refused to stay dead in the intervening years, with Jackson insisting that it will still happen someday and even Steven Spielberg expressing interest. Alas, the franchise seems to be on the decline, with Halo 4 not gaining nearly as much attention as Halo 3 did, so unless something changes soon, the film is only going to get less and less likely.

So what makes Halo worthy of being on this list? For one thing, did you follow that YouTube link up there to the Blomkamp short film? Here it is again. I don't doubt that a Halo film could be disastrously bad, but I also believe that, if it is done just right, it could be great. I think Blomkamp had it right by approaching it as a war film that just happens to have aliens and super marines in it. You see, as much as fans like to talk about the deep mythology and awesome storyline of the Halo universe, the plot is fairly derivative: it's Aliens meets the Dominion from Star Trek: Deep Space Nine, with a protagonist who is utterly static. Therefore, in order to show something new, you can't approach it from that standpoint, and if you approach it as a war movie, there is the potential to do something great, to make an amazing blockbuster film with artistic merit that is only incidentally based on a video game. I want to see that.


Of all the films on the list, this is the one most likely to actually happen. Technically, it's not in development hell, as a Neuromancer film is allegedly in pre-production and should be filming this year with Vincezo Natali (Cube, Splice) directing. However, as that news is over a year old and there hasn't been any news since--combined with the fact that they've been trying to make a Neuromancer film since the early nineties--I am extremely skeptical of its status. This is unfortunate, because I would love to see how Neuromancer would be adapted today.

For those heathens out there who don't know, Neuromancer is a seminal cyberpunk novel by William Gibson. Gibson's work has been adapted before, but I hardly consider Johnny Mnemonic a landmark in the history of celluloid. What's more important is that Gibson has been a critical influence on everything from The Matrix to Ghost in the Shell to Deus Ex. If you read Neuromancer for the first time today, you might find his fascination with the Internet and cyber-hacking quiant and boring, but you have to remember that he wrote it in 1984. Not since Jules Verne has a sci-fi writer gotten the future so right, and the terrifying consequences of Gibson's other predictions are worth your wide-eyed consideration.

It stands to reason that a Neuromancer film would have to be updated (unless you want to go the stylish, quasi-historical route like Watchmen), but not as much as you might think. The plot is still plenty provocative and original, and a proper film involving it would help get more people exposed to the genius that is William Gibson. I'm not convinced Natali is the right man for the job, even though I've enjoyed his previous work, but if he can do it, here's hoping he does.

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-e. magill 7/24/2012


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