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The Greatest Sci-Fi Movies Never Made by David Hughes

Titan Books, September 2001, 255pp, £18.99, ISBN 1-84023-325-7

You may notice that there’s something not quite right about the title of this book. Ah yes, the preferred term is “films”, not “movies”, when will people learn? But joking apart, The Greatest Sci-Fi Movies Never Made does exactly what it says on the cover and tells the sorry tales of potentially great cinema experiences dissolving into Hollywood purgatory. Here the process is handily distilled and collated into manageable chapters on each of the unfortunate victims of studio paranoia. The scenarios are all too similar – problematic scripts becoming unfilmable after a myriad of expensive re-writes, spiralling budgets and interminable legal wrangles – but all are eminently readable even if you have little interest in, say, the trials and tribble-ations (sorry!) of the Star Trek franchise. Despite being a book that cries out to be “dipped into”, and there was serious temptation on our part to go straight to the wonderfully rancorous Superman Lives debacle, this makes a surprisingly good straight read which, if anything, demands more information on the projects. It’s also a damn fine concept in a market place already flooded with “greatest hits” tomes covering similar ground. So we get to read about the versions of Dune that didn’t get made (particularly the Jodorowsky version – now that would have been something), Terry Gilliam’s aborted Watchman film, Cameron’s Spiderman, The Tourist, the nightmares of the Alien sequels (including Gibson’s Alien 3 and the proposed Alien vs Predator amalgam), Oliver Stone’s Burton-baiting Planet of the Apes and Lynch’s unrealised Ronnie Rocket project. There’s even the tragedy of The Fantastic Four, a film which did get made but was then shelved, much to the chagrin of those who worked on the project. All good stuff then, and with a nice selection of production paintings in the middle too but, as is to be expected, there are some omissions. Understandably, given the availability of research material, the book is skewed heavily in favour of Hollywood productions and also sets its sights on more recent non-films. The result of this means that Dick’s screenplay for Ubik isn’t mentioned and surely the most intriguing non-film, Eisenstein’s version of The War of the Worlds is also absent. Given the book’s enthusiasm for Ridley Scott (Point: making Blade Runner and Alien does not excuse 18 years of duff films) it’s surprising not to see Tristan and Isolde present. John Carpenter’s Firestarter? Nope. Regardless, this is still highly recommended and, despite its subject matter, never becomes too depressing. It does leave you wondering how on earth any films at all make it to the multiplexes though!