Tales from Development Hell fleshes out the non-existent

Tales from Development Hell: The Greatest Movies Never Made? tells the stories of some of the most involved film development processes in the industry.

While it may not have all the geek cred of the last David Hughes book – The Greatest Sci-Fi Movies Never Made – does, it remains an engaging set of stories, and it’s still mostly about genre titles, as these are the films which seem to be most often victimized by the development process.  

Hughes manages to turn each of these tales into a clear narrative, so that each one reads more like a short story than a history essay, each with compelling characters who have their own voices, showing the author well knows these personalities, and has a knack for showing each their foibles without seeming biased for or against any of the players. 

It’s not all from Hughes’ familiarity with the industry. He has obviously done a lot of research here and pulls in quotes and analysis from many sources, seamlessly blending interviews from various entertainment magazines and insider interviews with his own knowledge to create stories which, while their sources are not always entirely transparent – I occasionally found it difficult to keep up with exactly where every quote was coming from – feel, ultimately, very objective.

In addition, there is great scope to the stories. Each chapter doesn’t just cover its own film, but  several other films which connect with it, especially any plans for sequels or prequels.

The story of Total Recall, for example, reads like a full history of the adaptation of Philip K. Dick in Hollywood, from the first discovery of him as a pulp sci-fi writer through the upcoming readaptation of We Can remember it for You Wholesale (the new Total Recall film), The chapter spans nearly forty years, and in it some of the names appear multiple times, as those involved struggle against the moviemaking process to get their vision on the silver screen, some of them have spent their entire career focused, at least party, on geting this one project to work.

That’s not to say the details aren’t there, I was interested to learn about things like the close and important role Arnold Schwarzenegger – who actually crops up in multiple chapters – played in getting the first Total Recall made, and then the clear role he played in stopping any direct sequel from working, by turning down script after script from a studio who refused to do the movie without him. 

The really interesting parts for me, however, were the detailed descriptions of the films that might have been. Each time a film, or a version of a film, which was fated never to be made comes up in the book, we get a detailed description of what the film would have been about, each description reading sort of like a Hollywood treatment. A few pages into the chapter titled Perchance to Dream, for example, we get a synopsis – four paragraphs long – of what Neil Gaiman’s Sandman screenplay was about, illuminating both how interesting it would have been for such a film to have been created, but also some of the reasons why it wasn’t fated to have been.

Overall, Tales from Development Hell is a fun exploration of a part of the entertainment industry from which fans rarely get many details, and would be a great addition to the bookshelf of any film buff or student of the art. This updated and expanded version of the book is available over on Amazon. Follow me on Twitter for a chance to win a copy of the book in the next few days.