Lair of the Geek

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Tales From Development Hell

By David Hughes
Review by Iain
Publisher: Titan Books

It’s probably safe to say that most people who go to the cinema won’t know the amount of work that’s gone into the development of the film they’re currently watching between handfuls of popcorn. Personally I always assumed that a script was written, tweaked and finalised before the filming began and the CGI experts started designing the latest 9 headed monster to drop from a burning helicopter. Tales from Development Hell changes all of that though, and after spending several hours engrossed in some shocking tales from some of the biggest films ever made it’s quite clear that the phrase “Development Hell” is entirely appropriate.

The book is split into chapters, each discussing an individual film that went through this nightmarish scenario. The issues are fairly consistent, either suffering from endless pointless script rewrites or the actors and directors being a pain in the backside. There are some surprising reads here; the story of how Batman Begins nearly turned into one of a string of sub-standard ideas, and the Planet of the Apes rewrite which had so many different writers that a team of apes probably could’ve produced better at times. You’ll find some stories that makes you wince at just how much money gets thrown into projects that never see the light of day, such as Smoke and Mirrors which was all set to be a great film about the life of Houdini until 101 things got in the way and it fell at the final hurdle, wasting millions of dollars and months of people’s time for nothing.

There are a lot of films taken into account  in Tales from Development Hell, and most people will find a fair few chapters that interest them. Indiana Jones, Lord of the Rings, Tomb Raider, there’s a lot of big names here that will offer some fascinating insights into the development issues that plague film development. Each and every chapter shows a fantastic amount of knowledge and research, and the depth of information is never short of impressive. And yet, with this depth comes the biggest issue I found with the book.

As previously mentioned, each chapter outlines a tale of development hell from a certain film. And while this is a great way of breaking each film up into its own entity, there are no sub-sections within each chapter. This doesn’t sound like a big problem, but 20-30 pages is a lot to read in one go when there’s nothing more than a line break to differentiate one paragraph from the next, and trying to read some very in-depth and often name-heavy information for over 20 pages with nowhere easy to stop and come back to another time can be quite hard work. It’s a shame because it’s genuinely fascinating, but on several occasions I stopped mid-chapter then had to re-read the previous page next time round to remind myself who was who.

But that’s an issue that will bug some more than others, and if you’re the kind of reader who sites for 2 hours and doesn’t move then it’s unlikely to bother you at all. Generally if you’re a fan of the cinema or want to get a behind the scenes look at just how idiotic the development of some titles end up being, then it’s definitely worth a look.

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