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The Unapologetic Geek


Top 5 Movies Trapped in Development Hell - Page 2


Jack Bauer is the first 21st Century American superhero, a man who came onto the scene immediately after 9/11 and spent the next eight and a half years kicking the asses of international terrorists of all stripes. Though 24, the show, wasn't always in top form, it offered a strong Rorschach-like political parable that reflected all the nuance of America's approach to the subject of terrorism in the modern world. We desperately want to believe that people like Jack Bauer exist, even if we don't want to imagine a world so cynical and evil that a Jack Bauer is required to keep us all safe. In that respect, 24 is one of the most important and groundbreaking television shows ever produced, and the fact that it was endlessly intense, surprising, and entertaining was just a delightful bonus.

Once the show reached its finale, a feature film involving one of Jack Bauer's really bad days was scheduled to go into immediate production. Enthusiastic conversations took place between all the parties involved, and a script was written. Unfortunately, said script was rejected by Fox, so another one was written based on an idea from filmmaker Tony Scott. With this new script worked out and all the various details seemingly ironed out, production was supposed to start in the spring of 2012. Alas, in March, a mere month before filming was scheduled to start, Twentieth Century Fox pulled the plug, citing budgetary concerns and Kiefer Sutherland's tight schedule. As of this writing, a 24 film is all but dead, despite all the good ideas I came up with.

The reason why this property needs to hit the silver screen is because it is so important, and because there are endless reasons why a feature film length and budget could be of great benefit in eliminating the show's sometimes cringe-inducing clichés. Unfortunately, with every day that passes, Jack Bauer slips further and further from our collective consciousness, and if we let him disappear entirely, then we are doomed to face the world without his heroism and murky idealism to inspire us. We must not let that happen. Jack has given far too much to be treated that way. It is fitting, then, that the clock is ticking at its most urgent pace on this particular project.

An interesting post-script to this entry is that a 24 television show--a remake, essentially--is being made in India, with Anil Kapoor (known to 24 fans as Omar Hassan) producing and taking over the role of Jack Bauer.

At the Mountains of Madness
At the Mountains of Madness

The fictional works of H.P. Lovecraft are so hypnotic, so strange, and so mind-bendingly wonderful that they constitute their own subgenre of horror that has never been successfully imitated in the hundred years since he wrote them. The films of Guillermo del Toro are so fantastic, so beautiful, and so deliciously twisted that his is one of the few truly original voices working in the medium today. If you gave me a lifetime to try to imagine a perfect match between fiction writer and film director, I'd be hard-pressed to find one better than the macabre marriage of H.P. Lovecraft and Guillermo del Toro. This is why del Toro's desire to make a movie out of Lovecraft's "At the Mountains of Madness" has given me something to obsess over and dream about for years.

To say Lovecraft has had a significant impact on film would be a drastic understatement. Just check out his IMDb profile. But beyond even that, have you ever heard of Cthulhu? I'm betting you have, but if you haven't, just Google him now. I'll wait. "At the Mountains of Madness" is a good introduction to Lovecraft's Cthulhu mythos, even though Cthulhu himself doesn't actually appear in it. The story follows an Antarctic expedition that uncovers (and accidentally awakens) an ancient evil that is responsible for creating all life on Earth, while exposing certain forbidden truths that are so dark and disturbing that they drive people insane. In other words, if you took the best aspects of The Thing and Prometheus and sprinkled them into a roiling stew of Lovecraftean lunacy, you'd have "At the Mountains of Madness." Can you imagine what that would look like, if it were directed by the guy who made Pan's Labyrinth? I can't, because it is simply too awesome to envision.

It looks, though, like it might be too awesome to exist as well. Del Toro had a finished screenplay in hand (written by Matthew Robbins, screenwriter of THX 1138, Close Encounters of the Third Kind, and Mimic) in 2006, but Warner Bros. refused to finance the project because they were nervous about its lack of a love story and happy ending. In 2010, things were looking good, with James Cameron offering to produce, Tom Cruise attached to star, and production to begin in May of 2011. The only hitch turned out to be a fatal one: Universal wanted the film to have a PG-13 rating instead of the hard R that del Toro insists (correctly) is necessary. (As a side note, I have never understood the studio logic that, since PG-13 movies make more than R movies, all movies should be PG-13. This is like arguing that, since vanilla is the best selling ice cream, all ice cream should be vanilla.) Thus, it fell apart, and earlier this year, del Toro opined that the story's similarity to the premise of Prometheus may be the final nail in the project's coffin.

Rendezvous with Rama
Rendezvous with Rama

I haven't eagerly followed the development of any film more closely or for a longer period of time than I've followed the epic saga of bringing Arthur C. Clarke's Rendezvous with Rama to a theater near you. If you're wondering why, perhaps you might find a hint in my list of Top 20 Science-Fiction Novels or in my list of Top 40 Greatest Science-Fiction Films. Rendezvous with Rama captures something rare but essential in great science-fiction: awe. The entire story is an intimate journey through a massive, hollow alien craft of unknown origins and intent, and Clarke injects all of the hard science he is so good at conveying. With modern film technology only getting more and more spectacular, a movie version of it, done properly, would be something completely unprecedented and stunning, almost automatically deserving a spot beside 2001: A Space Odyssey in the list of most critically acclaimed science-fiction films of all time.

The story of why this movie languishes in development hell begins with actor Morgan Freeman. If you don't respect and/or like him, just get off my website. Freeman first expressed his desire to make a Rendezvous with Rama movie around the turn of the century, and the film was supposed to go into production in 2003 with Freeman's own Revelations Entertainment. Emerging director (now an Academy-award winning director) David Fincher, who worked with Freeman on Se7en, was listed as the film's director. Funding was secured, all the lights were green, and I was about ready to get on my knees in praise for Morgan Freeman, the greatest actor who ever made my dreams come true. Then nothing happened.

Years passed without a hint of a whisper about the movie. Freeman and Fincher continued working on other great things, and just when I was ready to lose all hope, both men mentioned the project in passing in separate interviews in 2007, making it sound as though Rendezvous with Rama was still in the works. A year later, though, things looked grim. Freeman's health started failing (he's fine now), nobody could agree on a script, and the bottom fell out of the funding. Fincher declared the project almost certainly dead.

Then, in 2010, Freeman said it was still going to happen and that the movie was going to shot in 3D. A year later, Fincher announced he was still planning on directing, though he had a lot of other things on his plate. In February of this year, Freeman again reiterated, to none other than Neil deGrasse Tyson, that the movie would absolutely with 100% certainty be made, and he expressed his hope that he could play the lead, Commander Norton. He admitted, however, that they still don't have a satisfactory script, and that, until they find one, the project will remain in development hell. Seriously, Morgan, how hard is it to pick up a phone? Just call me already.

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-e. magill 7/24/2012


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