Book Review: Tales From Development Hell: The Greatest Movies Never Made?

Tales From Development Hell: The Greatest Movies Never Made?
By David Hughes
Titan Books; 368 pages; $15.95 

Movies are a part of life for all of us, even if we don’t watch them. An endless array of film-themed advertisements, t-shirts, and toys invade our everyday existence — especially those associated with Disney. It’s annoying for a non-moviegoer, nirvana for a film lover.

David Hughes brings us the story behind some of the biggest films of the last 30 years in the updated and expanded edition of “Tales From Development Hell.” Movies such as the “Indiana Jones” franchise and the remakes of “Planet of the Apes” and “Batman” suffered through what he calls “development hell,” that period before filming begins when a great story is transformed into schlock and must be sent back for a complete rewrite. The way Hughes describes it, it’s a time that would make a sober person ask what drugs were in vogue at the time.

The focus is mainly on the development of scripts for the films; Hughes is a journalist and aspiring screenwriter and has experience with the frustrations that go with script development. It’s an inside look at Hollywood, which has a “fondness for developing a great script into a mediocre one by throwing too many writers and too few ideas at it.” Hughes’s loosely defined development hell is a slow torture of the writer, first by the producer or studio executive, then by actors and directors, over a period that could extend for years. Hughes presents Hollywood as a culture that is rife with petty sniping and inflated egos — and that’s well before the actors get involved.

The book relies heavily on previously published interviews and articles from industry magazines such as “Empire” and “Cinescape,” so much so that at times it seems little more than a collection of articles. There is also a tendency to overdo the plot summary of movies (like “Total Recall” and “The Sandman”) that turns the book into a reader’s hell. These are minor foibles though, especially if you’re a cinephile. One of the highlights is the impact of current events on films. The main character in “Total Recall” was originally named “Quail,” but was changed to “Quaid” because of then-Vice President Dan Quayle. And an Arnold Schwarzenegger film titled “Crusade,” about the 11th century Christian crusades, was shelved after the events of 9/11. Studio executives also have trouble recognizing hits; nearly every studio in Hollywood rejected the original “Indiana Jones” movie. They’ve no doubt been kicking themselves since the first one opened.

Hughes has also published a book called “The Greatest Sci-Fi Movies Never Made,” and states that he will not regurgitate material covered there. He’s obviously a sci-fi fan; most of the movies covered here may well be rejects from his other publication. He has tried his hand at script development and he concludes with the story of his (mostly failed) attempts in the business. He’s found the next best thing though: if you don’t succeed at something, you can always write about it. — Mark James

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