From the slate board’s first clap, there’s no doubt about it: Terry Gilliam’s The Man Who Killed Don Quixote was cursed.
The first inkling came on the first day of production. Unknown to the crew, the site they had chosen for their outdoor filming location was next door to a range designated for NATO aircraft target practice. Shooting was plagued with well, shooting, but Gilliam, undeterred, continued to film under the assumption that new audio would be inserted during post-production.
On the second day, a flash flood rendered a number of expensive — an necessary — pieces of equipment unusable. Furthermore, the flood irreparably altered the location’s appearance. With a number of scenes incomplete, this change in scenery posed a very real threat the film’s continuity.
A few days passed without incident until one day Jean Rochefort — the actor playing the movie’s titular character — suffered a herniated disc. The injury was problematic mainly because Don Quixote spends ninety percent of his time on horseback, and trying to ride a horse with a herniated disc is a lot like trying to pitch with a broken arm. Rochefort bowed out. With no lead actor, no set and a trailer full of damaged equipment, Gilliam followed behind him.
The cinematic world is flush with stories of great ideas gone awry. Tales like Gilliam’s pass into legend, serving to remind us that not all beautiful things are intended to be captured. They are, themselves, a screen upon which we may witness the promise of what could have been, spoiled by the reality of what was.
There always remain, however, those damning few. That handful of dreamers who see something else upon that dismal screen. Who, when faced with a reality they deem unacceptable find themselves — not resigning — asking, “What if?” Here, we turn our heads away from the stage of failure to examine that question, and six awesome movies that never happened.
In 1974, a French group approached avante-garde director Alejandro Jodorowsky about adapting Frank Herbert’s classic Dune for the big screen. Jodorowsky, known for the surreal western El Topo and the allegorical drama The Holy Mountain, defiantly claimed, “[he] did not want to respect the novel, [he] wanted to recreate it.”
Far-removed from David Lynch’s eventual adaptation of the film, Jodorowsky envisioned a surrealist world populated by garish spaceships and flamboyant characters. Salvador Dali, demanding $100,000 per hour, was cast as the deranged Emperor. H.R. Giger was tasked with designing the sets. The soundtrack was to be provided by Pink Floyd.
Before filming began, Frank Herbert visited the set to find that nearly a quarter of the $9 million budget had already been spent and that Jodorowsky’s script — the size of a phoneboook — would result in an unjustifiably long film. Shortly thereafter, the project collapsed and Herbert’s world would remain confined to the written page until Dino de Laurentiis purchased the book’s rights in 1984.
5 Gladiator 2
There’s been a recent Internet furor over the release of Nick Cave’s script for Gladiator 2. Public opinion seems to be divided on the proposed sequel, in which Cave was charged with finding a creative way to continue the story of Maximus — Gladiator’s protagonist — who had died at the conclusion of the first film.
Cave’s solution was simple. After dying Maximus, arranges a bargain with the Roman gods, is reborn to battle the oppression of early Christians, becomes immortal, and finds himself participating in humanity’s wars throughout the centuries. Viewers would witness Maximus driving tanks in World War II, skulking the jungles of Vietnam, and engaging in political intrigue in modern-day Virginia. To say that Cave’s vision was a bit of a departure from the standard Hollywood narrative presented in the original Gladiator would be an understatement.
Oh, and Cave’s proposed title for this time-traveling, hypnagogic epic? Gladiator 2: Christ Killer.
4 Foucault’s Pendulum
Before The Da Vinci Code there was Foucault’s Pendulum.
Filled to the brim with references to the Knights Templar, Kabbalah, and the Holy Grail, the novel tells the story of three men who invent a conspiracy called “The Plan.” When legitimate conspiracy theorists stumble upon — and buy into — The Plan, the three men find themselves thrust unwillingly into the unknown and perilous depths of their invention.
Prior to his death, esteemed director Stanley Kubrick expressed his desire to make a film adaptation of Foucault’s Pendulum. Umberto Eco, the book’s author, was reticent. Disappointed with Hollywood’s adaptation of another of his works, The Name of the Rose, Eco declined Kubrick’s proposal.
Years later, after Kubrick’s death, Eco expressed his regret at not allowing the adaptation.
Auteur Terrence Malick, critically acclaimed for his depiction of dazzling, highbrow concepts, is not known for the timeliness of his productions. During a 20-year hiatus, he began work on a film called Qasida — or, simply Q — that told the story of the origin of the universe. As with most things Malick, the filmmaker’s vision swelled, grew increasingly intricate, and spiraled — no doubt beautifully — into abstract complexity.
With the success of his previous endeavor, Days of Heaven, Paramount had given Malick free reign to exercise his creative whims. However, after bearing witness to the sheer scope of these whims, the studio took a few tentative steps backward before utterly turning tail and heading for the hills. While the project floundered, not all was lost. Malick went on to incorporate much of Q’s visceral, cosmological imagery into his 2011 film The Tree of Life.
2 The Prisoner
In the wake of The Dark Knight’s success, Christopher Nolan had his pick of Hollywood projects. It surprised many, then, when it was announced that he was adapting an obscure British television show from 1967 called The Prisoner. The original series, created by Patrick McGoohan, told the story of Number Six, a spy who — after retiring for unknown reasons — is shipped off to live out the rest of his days inside a mysterious village.
Though it is relatively unknown these days, the influence of The Prisoner can be traced throughout many of television’s most beloved shows. From Twin Peaks to Lost and from The Simpsons to Battlestar Galactica, The Prisoner has indelibly altered the face of television. With its subversive, revolutionary themes, the show served as a sort of anthem for 1960s viewers. It was hoped, when Nolan’s film adaptation was announced, that he would transition these themes into the modern era. Unfortunately, in 2010 Nolan backed out — opting to focus his attention on Inception — and the project crumbled.
1 At The Mountains Of Madness
Fans of H.P. Lovecraft shed a collective tear when they learned, in 2011, that Guillermo del Toro’s long-awaited adaptation of At the Mountains of Madness had been scrapped. Del Toro, known for his fantastical, otherworldly aesthetic, had been lobbying the project for years. With James Cameron and Tom Cruise on board, it seemed inevitable that the story would eventually make its way to the silver screen.
But even the inevitable may die.
The studio’s motives remain uncertain but fans have speculated that the film’s proposed R rating coupled with its exorbitantly high budget — $150 million — were both likely culprits. Furthermore, it has been rumored that studio execs believed that Lovecraft’s bizarre tale, featuring six-foot tall penguins, ululating masses of incomprehensible flesh, and a host of extraterrestrial “things,” did not readily lend itself to adaptation.