From the Archives: 5 Documentaries About Troubled Film Productions

From the Archives: 5 Documentaries About Troubled Film Productions

In the interest of getting “hard” copies of my work under one roof, I plan to spend the next few weeks posting the entire archive of my film journalism here on ScullyVision. With due respect to the many publications I’ve written for, the internet remains quite temporary, and I’d hate to see any of my work disappear for digital reasons. As such, this gargantuan project must begin! I don’t want to do it. I hate doing it. But it needs to be done. Please note that my opinions, like everyone’s, have changed a LOT since I started, so many of these reviews will only represent a snapshot in time. Objectivity has absolutely no place in film criticism, at least not how I do it. 

Without further ado, I present to you: FROM THE ARCHIVES.
Originally posted on Cinema76.

Despite the mainstream acceptance of the auteur theory, filmmaking remains a collaborative process. It takes many talented people to construct a film, and even then, it doesn’t always pan out as intended. Switch out even one piece of the machine, and the results may be altered drastically. Be it due to budget, producer interference, ego, or outright disingenuousness, the true story behind a film, as evidenced by the following documentaries, can sometimes rival the film itself. Lost Soul: The Doomed Journey of Richard Stanley’s Island of Dr. Moreau (2014 – dir. David Gregory)

Everybody knows about the utterly insane mid-90’s Kilmer/Brando disasterpiece, The Island of Dr. Moreau. What many don’t know is that the original director (Richard Stanley) parted from the set of his passion project after mere days, partially because of budget issues, but mostly because he was unable to corral the tremendous egos of Val Kilmer and Marlon Brando. Both a fascinating look into the production of the film as it is a mini-biography of a filmmaker who never quite made it, Lost Soul is an eye-opening look at the business of Hollywood.

The Death of “Superman Lives”: What Happened? (2015 – dir. Jon Schnepp)

Thanks to the inherent incredible-ness of the Internet, we’ve all been made privy to photos of Nic Cage dressed as Superman, taken from the pre-production phase of the Kevin Smith-penned, Tim Burton-directed Superman Lives, in which a long-haired Superman was primed to do battle with Braniac, Doomsday, and a studio-mandated giant spider. It wasn’t long after pre-production began that budget was cut and the film was eventually scrapped. Death goes against our conventional idea that a Nic Cage Superman would be a bonkers mistake, and strongly suggests that the film would have actually been quite good, and had it been made, would have changed the face of superhero movies in a big way.

Doomed! The Untold Story of Roger Corman’s the Fantastic Four (2015 – dir. Marty Langford – in post-production)

When Sony rebooted Spider-Man in an effort to retain the rights to the character before they expire, we were all introduced to one of the downsides of owning an intellectual property: the ‘use it or lose it’ rule. During the mid-90s, as a result of this bureaucratic notion, B-movie filmmaker extraordinaire, Roger Corman, was brought in to produce a “good enough” adaptation of Marvel’s First Family, on a cheap enough budget to be chalked up as a loss. The film was never intended for release, but not everyone was aware that this was merely an exercise in rights retention, and most involved with the production gave it their all. Doomed! is an exposé of the deceit at hand, and the story of one of the most interesting artifacts in comic book adaptation history.

Hearts of Darkness: A Filmmaker’s Apocalypse (1991 – dir. Fax Bahr, George Hickenlooper, Eleanor Coppola)

Francis Ford Coppola and Martin Sheen both famously almost died during the production of Apocalypse Now. The shoot almost bankrupted the studio of its money and Coppola of his sanity. Brando showed up to set overweight and unwilling to behave. Portions of the set were destroyed, and much of the natural landscape was burned. Local populations revolted against the production, and as more and more money was consumed by the never-ending production, the film began to cannibalize itself … and somehow a masterpiece emerged. Hearts of Darkness is a window into the turmoil which begat one of the most iconic and terrifying war films in history, and is an essential companion piece.

Jodorowsky’s Dune (2013 – dir. Frank Pavich)

Dune has proven impossible to adapt to the big screen. It’s just too unwieldy of a story to do justice within the limitations of the medium, and although many have tried, none have succeeded. Alejandro Jodorowsky took a stab at it before the project eventually went to David Lynch (who subsequently disowned the final cut of his film). Jodorowsky’s Dune, unlike Lost Soul or The Death of Superman Lives, does not suggest that Jodorowsky would have pulled it off, instead choosing to celebrate the creative angle through which he intended to tackle the project. The film ends up exploring the idea that Jodorowsky’s Dune itself is the best vehicle for his designs. Sure, we didn’t get to see Jodorowsky’s Dune, but did get to see Jodorowsky’s Dune.

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