Films that never were
With a documentary about Alejando Jodorowsky’s never-completed film adaptation of Dune about to hit cinemas, Stuff.tv’s Stephen Graves takes a look back at some of the most famous films that never made it to the screen.
The Day the Clown Cried (1972)
It’s fair to say this isn’t a lost classic – it was intentionally buried by star and director Jerry Lewis after its completion. The reason? It’s a tragicomedy about a washed-up clown who’s imprisoned in a concentration camp in Nazi Germany; after the camp commandant recruits him to entertain Jewish children in Auschwitz, he realises that they’re being sent to their deaths – and sacrifices himself to calm their nerves as they enter the gas chamber.
Hopelessly misconceived doesn’t even begin to describe it; and by all accounts it’s exactly as tonally wrong as it sounds. Lewis himself called the movie, “bad, bad, bad” and vowed that it would never be seen. One of the few people to have watched the film, The Simpsons’ voice actor Harry Shearer, told Spy magazine that, “This movie is so drastically wrong, its pathos and comedy are so badly misplaced, that you could not, in your fantasy of what it might be like, improve on what it really is. ‘Oh my God!’ – that’s all you can say.”
As a result, the film’s become something of an obsession among cult cinephiles. They finally got a glimpse of the movie when some test footage of Lewis in clown make-up surfaced on YouTube this year – for the foreseeable future, the rest of the film is likely to remain a mystery. Probably just as well, really.
Flushed with the success of its Halo video games franchise, Microsoft planned to take Master Chief onto the silver screen – and it wasn’t taking any chances, with a script by 28 Days Later writer Alex Garland and Peter Jackson producing. First-time director Neill Blomkamp was lined up for the director’s chair on the strength of an impressive showreel featuring short films Alive in Joburg and Tetra Vaal. The project fell through – but it worked out well for Blomkamp, who expanded Alive in Joburg into the feature film District 9.
Jackson’s Weta Workshop had already created costumes and props for the proposed film, which Blomkamp put to good use in a series of promotional shorts – and Halo fans needn’t despair, as Steven Spielberg is set to produce a Halo series for Xbox Live.
Back in the 1990s, Warner Brothers was desperate to create a Superman series to sit alongside its successful Batman films – and spent several years developing a movie in which Superman would die in battle, before returning to life to save the Earth from an alien threat.
A revolving door of Hollywood talents worked on the film (variously titled Superman V, Superman Lives and Superman Reborn) – including Clerks director Kevin Smith and Batman director Tim Burton. By 1998, Burton had cast Nicolas Cage as the Man of Steel, and pre-production was well underway, with sets and costumes for the film completed – but Warner Bros got cold feet and put Superman Lives on ice.
It’s probably just as well. At the time, Warner Bros was treating its superhero franchises as merchandising opportunities first, and films second. According to Batman & Robin director Joel Schumacher, the studio demanded that its superhero films must be “toyetic, which means that what you create makes toys that sell.” And, true to form, the Superman Lives producers reportedly brought children into the studio to judge designs for the film on their potential as toys – at one point demanding that the Man of Steel battle a giant spider in the film.
Warner Bros was also eying the box-office success of the Batman franchise – and the higher-ups seemed convinced that Superman had to mimic the tone of the Batman films. To that end, Batman director Tim Burton was picked to helm the film – which would have featured a black-clad, angst-ridden Superman who was more Dark Knight than Big Blue Boy Scout. Sounds like we dodged a (speeding) bullet.
Stanley Kubrick’s Napoleon
Following his 1967 sci-fi epic 2001: A Space Odyssey, Stanley Kubrick turned his attentions to an equally challenging project – a 180-minute biopic of Napoleon Bonaparte. With his typical grandiose ambition, Kubrick planned to make “the best movie ever made.” Battle scenes would be shot with thousands of extras, wearing specially-designed paper costumes, with the Romanian army agreeing to provide some 30,000 men for the film.
Audrey Hepburn was approached for the role of Napoleon’s lover Josephine de Beauharnais, while Kubrick built up a reference library of 500 books and 15,000 indexed picture cards in his research on the film. As costs mounted, Napoleon was abandoned – though Kubrick never entirely gave up hope of completing the film; in 1982 he told interviewer Michel Ciment that “Al Pacino comes quickly to mind” for the lead role. And the preparation wasn’t completely wasted; Kubrick’s historical research came in useful for 1975′s Barry Lyndon, which also made use of the filming techniques he’d developed for Napoleon (notably shooting interior scenes with available lighting rather than using studio lights).
Taschen has published an extensive, lavish look at Kubrick’s unfinished epic – and we may yet get to see Napoleon on the screen: Steven Spielberg has announced that he’s planning a mini-series based on Kubrick’s screenplay.
Alejandro Jodorowsky’s Dune
Back in the 1970s, director Alejandro Jodorowsky optioned the rights to Frank Herbert’s sci-fi novel Dune – and had he been able to make his planned adaptation, it would’ve blown minds the world over. The Chilean-French auteur had made his name with avant-garde films like “acid western” El Topo and surrealist epic The Holy Mountain – and with Dune, he wanted to create a film that would “fabricate the effects” of LSD. Far out, man.
With that in mind, Jodorowsky approached the likes of Pink Floyd and Peter Gabriel to provide the film’s soundtrack, Jean “Moebius” Girard and HR Giger for design work, Dan O’Bannon for the effects work, and everyone from Orson Welles to Salvador Dali for the cast.
Sadly, the director’s vaunting ambitions didn’t match the film’s budget, and the project fell by the wayside; Dune would later make it to the screen courtesy of the equally esoteric David Lynch. Jodorowsky’s planned version of the film hasn’t been forgotten, though – with new documentary Jodorowsky’s Dune hitting cinemas this year, playing in the BFI London Film Festival.
Stephen Graves is the online deputy editor of Stuff magazine