The road to making movies is a ridiculously absurd one. Half art form, half business investment, all headache. When a director and a producer and heaven-forbid a writer all manage to get their vision created? Man, there is the potential for true magic. But when said forces are bent on pulling everything apart and abandoning the idea like an underfed extra on some backlot alley? Well… there still might be a story to tell.
These are the stories that Josh Hull complies in Underexposed: The 50 Greatest Movies Never Made. Within, Hull plays the dual role of archaeologist and investigator and tells the tales of stopped projects by such A-listers as Guillermo del Toro, David Fincher, John Carpenter, Joel Schumacher, Tim Burton, and Martin Scorsese.
Along for the ride is the artist collective PosterSpy who provide cinema-worthy artwork that imagines the movie-that-never-was. Their style brings authenticity to what is, in most instances, vaporware.
Title: Underexposed: The 50 Greatest Movies Never Made (2021) Author: Josh Hull Publisher: Abrams Book jacket: The untold stories behind the 50 greatest movies never made, illustrated by 50 new and original posters Joe Says: Josh Hull presents a fun, gorgeously-made book. Perfect for genre geeks and movie fans. Underexposed! is a fast read but at times a little too light.
Hull introduces each piece, provides background on the filmmaker or, in many instances, the IP brand (be it Aliens or Nightmare on Elm Street or Justice League or…). He then breaks down, or surmises, what went wrong. All the while he does so with a biting touch of humor and a few well-placed nods and winks for his film geek audience. (In one instance, Hull nicely substitutes “Oscar Isaac” with “Poe Dameron” with absolutely no explanation required.)
Some of his subject matter is well-versed lore. Guillermo del Toro’s adaptation of Lovecraft’s At the Mountains of Madness; Neill Blomkamp’s Alien 5 featuring the return of Ripley; George Miller’s already-cast Justice League; Kevin Smith’s Fletch revival. Others were incredible little treats that sound delightful yet remain bittersweet knowing they were not to be. Among these gems that will never get the chance to shine are John Carpenter’s Shadow Company featuring Kurt Russell fighting off zombie Vietnam vets; David Fincher’s Elliott Ness project starring Matt Damon; Ridley Scott’s take on I Am Legend with Arnold Schwarzenegger; John Hughes’ would-be-Gen X classic-in-the-making pairing up Ferris Bueller with Claire Standish in Oil and Vinegar; songwriter Nick Cave’s travel-through-time sequel to Gladiator; and, uh, Batman vs. Godzilla.
Hull provides info on each and every effort but the end result most times leaves the reader wanting more. Not only for the finished project but also for additional info on said failures. Underexposed! is a fast read but that does not mean it should be a light one. There is the understanding that deep details perhaps do not exist but quite a few of the entries read as if cut short. These absences become more annoying than regretful.
Making movies is a business, a fact that Hull is most aware of. He posts a subtle through line with many of these cast-off projects stating that reason for relegation was the result of other box office failures. For instance, the box office tally for Prometheus, although positive, was not near the stellar expectations. Coupled along with Blomkamp’s Chappie totally bombing, Alien 5 was written off. Assuredly, genre fans would much rather have seen Sigourney Weaver reprising her role all while wearing xenomorph armor as opposed to Hugh Jackman sparring with yet another robot.
That is the truth of Hollywood. For all the awards and celebrations of style and culture, movies are made to make money. Those ROIs are already spent on infinity pools and Louboutins. And for those times when Peter Jackson takes us to Middle Earth? When Quentin Tarantino adapts an Elmore Leonard story? When Guillermo del Toro makes two Hellboy movies and goes on to create his own version of the Gill-Man?
All of that is the true magic.