Tuesday, April 17, 2018

Top Ten Dinosaur Movies Never Made

As you’ve noticed, dinosaurs have been featured in a lot of terrible movies. From Lost Continent to Jurassic World, from King Dinosaur to Ice Age 3, not to mention any Asylum movie on the Sci Fi Channel, it’s easy to put a dinosaur on screen, but it’s hard to make the experience worthwhile. Sometimes the effects are terrible. Sometimes the dinosaurs are cliched. Sometimes the film is just plain badly written and shot.  So it’s a shame to find out about great movies that were never made. 

In Hollywood, it takes a lot of luck for a project to see work, especially one with an ambitious 
 premise or one demanding expensive special effects. Even filmmakers like Kubrick or Spielberg have had projects die before seeing light.   Fortunately, big ambitious projects are remembered, especially if they’re by people who have made other hit films but somehow were thwarted other times.  In this case, Mark Berry’s excellent Dinosaur Filmography came very much in handy.

These projects all sound like a lot of fun-it’s not often dinosaur movies get made, simply because of the limitations in budget, writing ability, and marketability inherent in the genre. Frankly, if we had these made, they would have turned out far superior than most dinosaur films that actually saw light. These were dream projects, vast in scope and ambition. Some of them were salvaged and recreated into excellent films. Some of them turned out into disasters. But it’s fascinating to learn about them, and dream about what could have been. Who knows? We may see them someday even after their originators have long been dead. Anything can happen in Hollywood, and they love to remake and revisit. Maybe someday these will be made. 

Without further ado, I give you my top 10 Dinosaur Movies Never Made.
10.  Dinosaurs Vs Aliens.
Barry Sonnenfeld, filmmaker behind Men in Black, wanted to make another high-concept, big-budget alien-based sci-fi film. He wanted to put a serious allegory in a colorful and fun premise-in this case, the allegory of colonialism and imperialism between two warlike societies. As you would expect, this is a conflict of alien colonists, ruthless but complex characters hoping to stave off their own extinction, against the dinosaurs, a sentient society of earthlings fighting for their own survival.  Both sides are sympathetic, but the voiceless dinosaurs, led by the theropod predators, are more heroic.

As a trial run, he teamed up with famed comic writer Grant Morrison and artist Mukesh Singh to turn it into a graphic novel. Released in 2012 to critical praise,it seemed the film would be next to be made. However, it hasn’t come yet.  For some reason, while Colombia did excellently that year, and Sonnenfeld’s Men in Black 3 was a box office hit, the movie was put on hold. Morrison and Sonnenfeld produced a script, apparently the basis for the graphic novel, but so far, no sign of it has been seen for 6 years. It was attached to Full Clip Productions, but that company has only released one film. The details are unknown, but this film may stay in limbo for a while. The iron was hot, but something went wrong. Here’s hoping it’ll come through. Unfortunately, Sonnenfeld is busy working on the sequel to Enchanted; hopefully it will go well enough for him to turn to less commercial and more personal projects.

9. Journey to the Center of the Earth
Later this year I plan on reviewing the book and film “Journey to the Center of the Earth” by Jules Verne. The 59 film had a rocky road to production-two dueling companies announced it in 1956, both trying to cash in on the success of 1954 Disney film 20,000 Leagues Beneath the Sea.. RKO announced Stanley Rubin would be producing it, while Columbia said it would be making two films, Journey to the Center of the Earth and Mysterious Island produced by Bryan Foy. Eugene Lourie, fresh from making Beast from 20,000 Fathoms, was said to be making it, but for which company is unclear.  While it’s possible either film could have used the giant lizards of the 1959 film, it’s also possible that they could have used Ray Harryhausen for the effects, as of course he worked with Lourie and eventually on the 1961 Columbia film Mysterious Island. 

It seems that budget may have been a factor-maybe Columbia didn’t feel it could have bankrolled both films, and of course RKO was dying under Howard Hughes’ management. The 20th Century Fox film was probably produced because lizards were cheaper and faster to film than stop-motion, and because the budget was instead vested on popular crooner Pat Boone and 20,000 Leagues star James Mason, far more marketable than believable effects.  This film was remade, in the loosest sense of the word, for theaters only once since in 2008.  We can only imagine what this film would look like with classic stop-motion effects. 

8. Pellucidar.
I’ve already reviewed Amicus’ At the Earth’s Core, a decent film that suffered terrible flaws in effects. However, this was entirely affordable.  After the success of their The Land That Time Forgot, having finally gotten the rights from the Edgar Rice Burroughs estate, Amicus films showed interest in making a book on Burrough’s Pellucidar books. Hearing of this, stop motion animator Jim Dansforth sent the film company a script, complete with plenty of effects sequences climaxing with an original showdown where Innes and Perry save Dian from the Mahars and Thipdars by pursuit in a hot air balloon to the Pendant World, a distant levitating object equivalent to Earth’s moon to the underground world.  Modelmakers Bill Hedge and Jon Berg offered to join Dansforth for the effects.

Unfortunately, Amicus executives Milton Subostky and Max Rosenberg wanted to save money and time, confident that the puppets and suits that had featured in the Land That Time Forgot could also help this film.  Dansforth’s effects were ditched, along with his script-Subotsky, having written two Dr. Who films and the horror films The Skull, The Vault of Horror, Dr. Terror’s House of Horrors, I, Monster, and the sci fi film They Came From Beyond Space, wrote the script himself. While the script is serviceable, the cost-cutting is obvious, and the film comes off as superior to Land that Time Forgot only through a stronger supporting cast and a stronger core story. Jim Dansforth’s effects would have been a major improvement that could have turned it from a fun pastime to a genuine classic.  After the bomb of John Carter of Mars and the limited success of the Legend of Tarzan, it seems that Burroughs will have to wait for another turn.

7. Natural History Project
In the 1980s, dinosaurs returned to the media in force as new discoveries by paleontologists like Robert Bakker and Jack Horner brought a new image of them. Muppet master Jim Henson, fascinated by dinosaurs, and his daughter Lisa, began to think about doing his own take. Bill Stout, artist of the New Dinosaurs and one of the first to adopt the new discoveries, joined the project as Lisa and Jim loved his dinosaur book. Stout wrote the screenplay, a story of a Corythosaurus coming of age in Cretaceous North America, as well as did the production design.

It’s also unknown how far Warner Brothers came into production before it stopped. For this case, the reason was known for cancellation-In 1986, news broke that Don Bluth was making an animated feature for Amblin with Henson’s old friends George Lucas and Steven Spielberg.  Ironically, it used the same art style as Stout, being loosely based on his book The Little Blue Brontosaurus. Production already delayed, Henson and Warner Bros decided to cut and run.  The Hensons never gave up on their dream of a dinosaur picture, though, and Jim Henson instead considered anthropomorphic dinosaurs giving social commentary. After his death in 1990, Jim Henson’s family fulfilled his dream, making a Simpsons-esque situation comedy with animatronic dinosaurs.  Can you make dinosaurs with Muppets? It’s up to Disney.

6. King Kong
There were many King Kong films never made, by Toho, RKO, and various other companies. Straight remakes of Kong were considered back in the early 60s. Hammer Film Productions, having won big with remakes of Frankenstien and Dracula starring Peter Cushing and Christopher Lee, hoped to make more remakes of early horror films. One idea was to remake King Kong. Michael Carerras, impressed by Ray Harryhausen’s work for Ameran Studios, hired him on to make Kong.  But then came more problems-Cooper, furious that RKO sold the rights to Kong to John Beck for Toho’s use, filed suit against RKO. RKO retained the rights, but with its breakup in the 1950s the rights were debatable. Hammer simply couldn’t get the rights. Carerras went for plan B-the 1940 United Artists film One Million BC. 

In 1974, Universal tried to make a King Kong film. However, RKO had sold the rights to Dino De Laurentiis, a rising Italian producer working for Paramount. As the companies clashed, they each chose their own production teams-Universal chose Joseph Sargent, director of the award winning The Marcus-Nelson Murders, while Paramount went with John Guillermin, director of The Towering Inferno. For scripts, Universal chose Bo Goldman, writer of the award-winning One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest to write a serious treatment set in the 1930s, while Paramount chose Lorenzo Semple Jr., who wrote the award-winning Three Days of the Condor to write a more bawdy romantic-comedy commentary on 70s culture (Semple had done scripts for the 1966 Batman series). For effects, Paramount went with Carlo Rambaldi, who had done work for Andy Warhol’s Italian Horror remakes of Dracula and Frankenstien, and would use Rick Baker’s ape suit for Kong and a rubber prop as the only other monsters, while Universal hired Jim Dansforth (as Ray Harryhausen was reunited with Charles Schneer) to make a stop-motion Kong with various dinosaurs and other prehistoric animals.

With Paramount’s cheaper, quicker techniques, they made the film first. Universal instead settled for a cut of the profit. While they eventually won the rights to Kong, they dropped the Sargent and Dansforth project. They would try again to make Kong in 1995, but once again they were beaten to the punch by Tristar’s Godzilla (more on that disaster later) and Disney’s Mighty Joe Young. It took the devotion of Peter Jackson to the Kong Character to finally bring back the character in 2005.  Considering how much love went into that version of Kong, I don’t expect another remake for a long time.

5. Dinosaurs
A fan of Dansforth and Harryhausen always furthers his stop-motion career with dinosaurs. In 1984, Phil Tippet,  fresh from work on Star Wars, released a short called Prehistoric Beast. Paul Verhoven, having won big with his film Robocop, found out that his effects animator Tippett loved dinosaurs, and together they hoped to make a dinosaur film with producer Jon Davison. David Allen, an animator in his own right who studied under Harryhausen and Dansforth, was eager to direct. 
The plot was to be a silent epic about a Styracosaurus named Woot. He and his friends, including Suri the mammal, would be in a lifelong struggle with the Tyrannosaurus Grozni. In the final sequence, Woot would slay his enemy predator, but his own life would be ended by the asteroid at the end of the Cretaceous. 

Of course, they didn’t have the budget for this ambitious film. They pitched it to Disney, who refused to cough up the budget.  Disney, however, bought the rights. They would hope to make an animated film featuring an Iguanodon and Carnotaurus to cash in on the success of the Land Before Time. Phil Tippet called his friend William Stout to get in there since his own dinosaur project was sunk as well.  Stout was involved with character design, but was sidelined and kept in the dark about the script.   Disney put it on the backburner, though, preferring to instead focus on the fantasy musical genre based on their own huge hit of the Little Mermaid. It took until 1999 when computer animators could finally match their two-dimensional predecessors for Disney to finally make the film. I’ve already discussed what went horribly wrong. Can Disney make another dinosaur movie? The bomb of The good Dinosaur and the success of Jurassic World gives mixed signals. It’s a big question mark.

4.  War Eagles
This one dates back to Willis O’Brien himself.  After the megahit of King Kong, Willis O’Brien pitched a new idea to Merian C Cooper- a story of American pilots encountering a lost world of dinosaurs, Arctic Vikings, and giant eagles as their steeds. Cooper planned out the story, drawing on his own experience as an American pilot in the First world War and the Soviet-Polish war.  O’Brien’s modelmaker Marcel Delgado started to make the models, and O’Brien started animation tests with his Kong team.  Novelist Cyril Hume, who had written the screenplay of Tarzan the ape Man, wrote a script. 

Unfortunately, War interrupted the Eagles. Cooper was distracted by other projects under RKO mandate, moved to MGM with O’Brien, then Japan attacked China. Cooper joined the US army Air Corps again, planning for American squadrons in China. O’Brien and Cooper would reunite to make Mighty Joe Young, but War Eagles still remained a distant dream. Even after their passing, O’Brien’s protégé Ray Harryhausen hung on to O’Brien’s notes and papers and material.  With help from O’Brien’s estate and Harryhausen, film historians have been able to reconstruct the lost project as both a novel and a documentary.    With it’s high concept and period setting, this film would be a challenge to see realized, but we can still see the art  and read the works, and the eagles will fly in our mind.

3.  Godzilla 96
In 1992, Toho studios began to plan their retirement of Godzilla. They began talking to Tristar Pictures about a cross-promotional efforts;a situation where it would be Tristar’s turn to make Godzilla movies while Toho acted as distributor.  With Jurassic Park winning big, Tristar eagerly agreed. In 1993, they assigned Terry Rossio and Ted Elliot (who had made it big with their script to the Disney megahit Aladdin) to write the script, after reviewing treatments by Clive Baker and the Thomas brothers.  It took another year before they decided on a director, in this case Jan DeBont who had helmed the successful Speed. Turns out DeBont is a huge Godzilla fan and went full board for the it. He sent in Donald MacPherson to edit the script and David Fincher to shoot many of the sequences, and Stan Winston’s studio and James Cameron’s Digital Domain would provide the effects. Production designer Joseph C Nemec hired on Ricardo Delgado and Mark McCreery to design Godzilla, creating a familiar design that still heavily incorporated modern ideas on dinosaurs. DeBont already had Helen Hunt and Bill Paxton chosen as his stars. 

In this story, an alien probe crashes onto Earth, awakening Godzilla.  A team of social outcasts slowly assemble as the aliens and Godzilla cross America. Godzilla is tranquilized and found out to be a creation of ancient alien biogeneering for exactly this kind of scenario, while the alien invaders assemble a new kaiju, part snake, part bat, part cougar called the Gryphon. Godzilla reeawakens and then defeats the enemy kaiju, the humans allowing him to retreat to the sea unmolested.
Unfortunately, this project was considered too expensive and put on hold just before filming began. Then another blow: in 1996, Roland Emmerich made the insanely successful Independence Day. Emmerich holds the character of Godzilla and Godzilla films in contempt, and tends to be a horrible writer, but his new film eclipsed Speed in terms of box office. Tristar pulled the plug on DeBont and hired on Emmerich. What followed was a financial success but critical failure, only pulling in any kind of profit due to brilliant marketing. Toho promoted it, but the Japanese fans were disgusted. Toho instead decided to revive Godzilla the old-fashioned way themselves, making 6 more films before retirement. It took Yoshimitsu Banno’s (who had directed a Godzilla film himself) initative after Toho retiring the character again for an American company to get the rights, Legendary and Warner Brothers in this case. The Gareth Edwards film also took a long haul to make, but its fidelity to Godzilla’s design and character redeemed the franchise, which is still going to this day.

2. El Toro Estrella/Emilio and Guloso/Valley of the Mist
Now we return to Willis O’Brien for the last two films.  This one was an idea of his back in 1949. After making Mighty Joe Young, O’Brien and Harryhausen planned another stop motion epic, this time with influence of their old favorite genres-lost worlds, cowboys, and dinosaurs.   O’Brien loved the concept of cowboys and dinosaurs, and penned an outline called Emilio and Guloso
The story this time was about a little boy in Mexico named Emilio, living on a ranch and loving one of the bulls, calling him Guloso. As the bull grows up, he is selected for the corrida, to Emilio’s horror. Emilio vows to get a substitute. Emilio and his Indian friends capture an Allosaurus and bring him back to civilization. This backfires as the dinosaur breaks free. Guloso saves the day by breaking free to save his child friend and both bull and dinosaur slay each other. 

The story was revisited including a Lost World sequence where  Emilio and his Indian friends encounter many dinosaurs in a Lost World and a happy ending where Guloso lives, under El Toro Estrella in the 50s, but never gained momentum. It was renamed again during this period, to The Valley of the Mist-this title was also assigned to a variation of the story, cutting out the child and bull and instead being based soley on a captive dinosaur in rural Mexico (this spinoff story was also called Gwangi by O’brien).  O’Brien sold the idea to RKO, who split it between the King brothers and the Nassour brothers, who reportedly kept O’Brien. The King brothers (remember them from Gorgo?) made The Brave One, a very successful film written by the legendary Dalton Trumbo, while the Nassour brothers made the far less successful but dinosaur-starring film The Beast of Hollow Mountain. In 1975, Nassour brothers would then go on to do a limited release version called Emilio and his Magical Bull that took far more from the Brave One, with the dinosaurs restricted to a short crude dream sequence.  Harryhausen, dismayed by the lackluster execution of O’Brien’s dinosaur, remade it as Valley of Gwangi, with a more King Kong plot and eschewing the child and the bull. 

1.  Creation
This final entry is of a project spanning two Willis O’Brien films, transitioning his craft, and bringing him to the apex. The Lost World created King Kong, but how one got to the other involves a never-made film that only exists as a script and sketches by O’Brien.  O’Brien’s work on the Lost World was famous, introducing the dramatic storytelling ability of stop-motion animation and the appeal of dinosaurs to the silent screen. Encouraged, he hoped to make a more ambitious picture, this time in sound, with more refined techniques. While he loved the idea of the Lost World, he changed the idea so the plot involved a shipwreck onto an island, that would later be destroyed at the end. Instead of a four man expedition by professionals, it would be a teacher and his employer’s family starring in a more child-friendly but still very violent story. 

Marcel Delgado made the animals, some of which filled out the King Kong roster-only the ape and the deleted giant lizards and spiders were newly made. The Tyrannosaurus that Kong slays was the star of the earlier story as well as the Stegosaurus Denham kills, and story concepts like men on a log bridge falling into a chasm, a Pteranodon carrying off a blonde damsel-in-distress, and a prehistoric jungle  were used in Kong.

O’Brien made a few minutes of footage (two sequences are known to have been shot and survived) and promoted it to RKO. Harry Hoyt wrote the script, while RKO assigned Joel McCrea and Ralf Harolde to the project and sent it to Merian C. Cooper. Cooper thought the plot was trite and mostly “just a bunch of animals running around”, but he loved the special effects. He told O’Brien he was thinking of making a movie about a giant gorilla. O’Brien eagerly promoted his ability to do such a thing, sending sketches and offering to make his giant gorilla movie. Cooper was willing to keep the dinosaurs to add to the action instead of using Komodo dragons as his first idea, and let O’Brien influence him on the aforementioned sequences. Together, they would make Cooper’s giant gorilla movie and O’Brien’s dinosaur movie, albeit one very different from the original concept.
For more details on this project, please purchase the 1933 King Kong Blu-ray and special edition DVD, which has a special feature on this project, including the one animated sequence and a storyboarded plot with narration.  https://www.amazon.com/King-Kong-Collectors-Fay-Wray/dp/B000AY3KN0/

I hope you enjoy this article. Again, I would like to plug Mark Berry’s excellent Dinosaur Filmography as a valuable resource to this piece. https://www.amazon.com/Dinosaur-Filmography-Mark-F-Berry/dp/0786424532

For Brian Switek’s list, check out his article https://www.smithsonianmag.com/science-nature/the-best-dinosaur-films-never-made-77990002/

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