Tag Archives: Ridley Scott

So much for that idea

I knew John Boorman was one of the parade of filmmakers who took a run at adapting The Lord of the Rings but I didn’t know the details of the script Boorman wrote. Apparently one of the high points of the Lothlorien sequence was Frodo getting it on with Galadriel:

United Artists (which acquired the movie rights to The Lord of the Rings from Tolkien before his death) originally was going to have John Boorman write and direct a film adaptation, but Boorman’s script confused the heck out of the studio. (Actually, with its Frodo/Galadriel love making scene, his script confuses the heck out of me as well.) And to make matters worse for United Artists, they had agreed to pay John $3 million for this badly written piece of garbage. As they were deciding whether to move forward or not, Ralph Bakshi (a big fan of Tolkien) approached them and asked the studio heads what they thought about having him direct three animated films that were closer to Tolkien’s original books. United Artists said that was fine, but they needed $3 million to cover the cost of throwing away Boorman’s script. At that point, Bakshi approached MGM (which wasn’t hard, because they shared the same building with United Artists) and MGM was so interested, they bought all the rights from United Artists for the $3 million, wiping UA’s books clean and taking on the project themselves with Bakshi as director. Unfortunately for Bakshi, the man who made that decision for MGM (Dan Melnick) was then fired, and the new guy (Dick Shepherd) didn’t want anything to do with Tolkien. That’s when Bakshi contacted Saul Zaentz, whom he had previously worked with, which led to Zaentz acquiring the movie rights from MGM and asking United Artists if they were still interested in doing the project. United Artists was back on board, and Bakshi ended up making the animated film that cost $4 million to produce and grossed $30 million. (Despite making money, neither Zaentz nor United Artists had any interest in a second or third part.)

Well now. I think we can agree that it’s just as well United Artists pulled the plug, even if it did lead to Ralph Bakshi’s inept and incomplete animated version. The daisy chain continued for another couple of decades and at the end waited Peter Jackson, so happy smiles all around.

Something just as ridiculous almost happened to Dune, another bulky classic that defeated a number of directors before making it to the screen. According to Harlan Ellison, the screenplay written by Alejandro Jodorowsky added an incestuous relationship between Paul Atreides and his mother. (That version, needless to say, was never made, but Jodorowsky had hired Swiss artist H.R. Giger for design work, and through him Giger met Ridley Scott, who used him on Alien, so once again happy smiles all around.) There must be a dumb screenwriter’s textbook somewhere that advises spicing up a difficult literary property with a sex scene between the two least likely characters. It’s been done over and over with Beowulf, and each time the screenwriter was convinced he’d concocted something outrageous and original. The saying “there’s nothing new under the sun” goes double for bad ideas.   

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What the hexagrams said

It took me a long time to come around to appreciating the virtues of Blade Runner, Ridley Scott’s adaptation of the classic Philip K. Dick novel Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? Since the film has gone from being critically plastered to critically overpraised, those real minor virtues tend to be overshadowed by imaginary major ones. I still think it’s a great setting for a movie rather than a great movie in itself, but it has this much going for it —  Scott’s adaptation left out so much of what made PKD’s novel great that a more faithful adaptation could be filmed and hardly anyone would be the wiser.

So I’m not entirely dismayed to hear that Ridley Scott is overseeing production of a mini-series based on another seminal PKD novel, The Man in the High Castle, but I’m not all that happy, either. It’s one of the all-time champs of the alternative history subgenre, set in a world where the Third Reich and Imperial Japan have divided most of the world between them, and America has been balkanized into a collection of puppet states and ineffectual enclaves. (This Wikipedia entry has a pretty spiffy map laying out the power blocs in this alternate universe.) It’s a cerebral book, with multiple plotlines converging in a search for the author of an alternate-history novel that upends PKD’s scenario, scandalizing readers (and enraging the Reich) by showing a world where the Axis powers were defeated.

That search, which includes at least one undercover assassin, could be used to make The Man in the High Castle into a straight-ahead action flick, much as Blade Runner turned its source novel into a hunt-the-androids video game, which would be a shame. On the other hand, I’d love to see who gets cast as Juliana Frink, one of the few truly engaging female characters PKD ever set to paper.

One element likely to get lost in the wash is the presence of the I Ching as a guide to life. At the novel’s close (which is too open-ended to qualify as a true ending) Juliana consults the I Ching and learns that she is living in a false reality — as is everyone else in the story. We won’t need to consult the oracle to see if Scott’s Castle is equally false.

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‘Does anybody know where we keep the self-destruct manual?’

I realize this is not the most earth-shaking cultural news at the moment, but over the weekend I watched the super-duper electric boogaloo DVD edition of the 1979 film Alien, and found that after three decades my opinion of it is unchanged: first half brilliant, thanks to the superbly creepy aliendesign work of Swiss artist H.R. Giger and the low-key acting that keeps everything grounded in believability; second half idiotic, thanks to the decision of scriptwriter Dan O’Bannon and director Ridley Scott to abandon the brainy atmosphere and turn the spaceship into an amusement park haunted-house ride. I also concluded, after watching the recut version with the famous “Kill me!” scene restored, that Scott had been correct to remove it from the original theatrical release. Maybe it could have been used more artfully, earlier in the narrative, but during the climax it simply slows things up.

The trouble with potentially great movies that go bad is that they leave you thinking about pointless things, such as: Why design a spacegoing freighter with a self-destruct mechanism? At any given moment, the world’s oceans are being criss-crossed by carrier ships loaded with immensely valuable cargo, but they aren’t equipped with jumbo warheads that will blow them sky-high after a few minutes of notice. So why equip an ore carrier with a portable Armageddon machine? And why put the control panel a great distance from the escape ship? And why line the escape route with strobe lights, steam jets, blind corners and other funhouse paraphernalia that will only increase the likelihood that the crew members blow up along with the ship?

On the other hand, the director’s cut of the first sequel, Aliens, improves on an already exemplary action film. Not that anybody really needs to know this, but . . . you know . . . I just thought I’d share the joy.

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