Cursed vs. Doomed
When you desecrate a sacred tomb while filming, you’re just asking for a curse. If an antisemite is making a movie about Jesus, the set’s going to be cursed and people are going to get struck by lighting. If a movie just can’t get off the ground or if everything goes strangely, hilariously wrong, that’s just good ol’ doom out for a joyride. The Exorcist is a cursed film, Terry Gilliam’s Don Quixote is straight-up doomed.
Another difference between cursed films and doomed films seems to be “Can we make a semi-humorous documentary about these film mishaps?” If yes, it’s probably doomed. If no, there’s probably a creepy website that hasn’t been updated since 2002 all about how and why that particular movie is cursed, created by a grown man wearing fingerless gloves.
The Fantastic Four
Honestly, at this point, any future adaption of this comic needs to change it’s lead villain to someone other than a man with DOOM in his name. None of the Fantastic Four movies have has the smoothest production, but we’re talking about the conspiracy-laden 1994 cult classic.
Marvel comics rights affecting just how the movies are made is something all of us comics fans are familiar with, but this story is a little more sketchy than Marvel Studios granting Sony exclusive rights to the word “mutant.” Seeing as Warner Bros. and Columbia were breathing down the neck of film rights holder Bernd Eichinger, he asked Marvel for a little extra time to get money squared away before December 31, 1992 when his rights would expire. Marvel didn’t budge. To retain the copyright, Eichinger decided to just make whatever he could make with whatever money he had, which wasn’t much.
Still, a full-lenth film was produced and a world premiere was announced, along with a publicized trailer. The cast even held a panel at SDCC and did the press tour.
Despite the fact that all the proceeds from the world premiere were supposed to go to the Ronald McDonald House and the Children’s Miracle Network, the premiere never happened. In fact, the movie was never released.
Turns out, it was never going to be released. It was all decided before production that shooting would only begin as a way to retain the rights and that the finished product was never intended to be seen by anyone. Stan Lee agreed to production on the basis that it would never be released, least it ruin the Marvel brand. The cast and crew, other than Eichinger, were kept completely in the dark in order to keep up the charade.
Supposedly all the prints were bought and destroyed (with all that Marvel money), but it exists online and has a 26% on rotten tomatoes. So, it really was a film that was doomed to be horrible. I fully believe in the Fantastic Four curse that has not only haunted modern adaptions, but comic book runs, brought on by the self-imposed doom of it’s first adaption.
The whole story is rehashed in the 2015 doc Doomed! by Marty Langford.
The Island of Doctor Moreau
Even the wikipedia page for this film is a wild ride from start to finish. There’s just no way to recount just everything that went wrong in this type of list format. Luckily, the documentary is streaming on Netflix and Amazon Prime and I’m absolutely sure it’s worth a watch.
My favorite string of events start with a tropical storm and a Val Kilmer ego-trip. Kilmer was going through a messy divorce and was more or less off his rocker, causing him to bully and fight with pretty much everyone and everything (“If I was making ‘The Val Kilmer Story’, I wouldn’t hire that prick!” –John Frankenheimer).
The whole toxic and stressed atmosphere of the set caused one of the leads to back out on the second day of filming. Yes, the second day of filming and the producers are already getting a call from an actor in tears and on the verge of a breakdown.
So, it’s not too terribly surprising that the very next day director Richard Stanely gets fired. It is, however, surprising that he gets fired by fax. Stanley, in a storm of ripping up important documents and just angrily breaking things, is pulled off set (presumably kicking and screaming) and escorted to the airport where he completely vanishes. That’s right, when the studio goes to pick him up from his flight back to Hollywood he’s not there. He never boarded the plane.
The studio warned him that if he spoke about being fired or didn’t leave quickly enough, he wouldn’t be getting paid for anything, so they feared Stanely was up to something. The studio, as it turned out, were assholes anyway: the female lead attempted to get away from the whole thing by taking a rented limo and driving 2500 km away, but they straight up told her that if she left they would ruin her career. So Stanely hatching a brilliant plot to bring them down would have been kind of poetic. That did not happen.
What did happen, besides Brando turning into a human police scanner due to needing someone to radio his lines to him, was Stanely having a complete emotional breakdown, living on a farm, conspiring with his old film crew, dressing up in as a Dog-Man and sneaking on to set to set something on fire. He did not succeed into setting anything ablaze, probably due to the tighter security his disappearance caused. Instead he can be seen as an extra in the film. He used the fact that he was an extra to get himself into the cast party where he confronted Kilmer, who actually apologized to him.
In the end the shooting took over 6 months. One of the leads has vowed to never watch the film.
This is the only film that I was unaware of when I started writing this list, as I hadn’t even heard of the documentary, but the story is too wild to exclude. We’re not talking about the Lynch film or the miniseries or the upcoming Denis Villeneuve adaption, no we’re talking about all the other attempts at adapting the scifi novel. In particular we’re talking about Alejandro Jodorowsky’s idealist, expensive dream of a film that never came to be. At least, not in non-documentary format.
You can’t say this man didn’t shoot for the moon. The cast Salvador Dalí (who wanted $100,000 per hour), Orson Welles, Gloria Swanson, David Carradine, Geraldine Chaplin, and Mick Jagger.
Pink Flyod, who was the fourth choice, would be contributing the original score. All of the pre-prod included the best of the best science fiction illustrators. They were also looking into designing robots…in the 70’s.
Jodorwosky’s script would have created a 14 hour film.
Dali ended up leaving the film due to political disagreements. After using up $2 million of the $9 million budget before set designing even begun, the finical backing dried up. It was probably for the best, there was no way Jodorowky’s vision was going to pan out and anything else would have just been a disappointment in comparison. I guess that’s what you get for having impossibly high standards but enough money to convince yourself it can be done.
The Man Who Killed Don Quixote
Before bumming you out with the story of a film so doomed it started filming more than 4 times since 1998 only to fall apart within the first week, let me start with the fact that this is a success story. In a few years I’m sure we’ll see a movie about this inspirational underdog story starring Matt Damon as Terry Gilliam, Hollywood’s SFF bad boy.I'm sure we'll see a movie about this inspirational underdog story starring Matt Damon as bad boy Terry Gilliam Click To Tweet
That’s right, Terry’s Don Quixote fan fiction has finally completed filming after 40 years of pre-production.
Oh yes, the first attempt at filming, as documented in the film Lost in La Mancha, only came about after 20 years of Gilliam trying to find funding in Hollywood only to turn to European funding. It would have been the most expensive film made 100% with European backing, which for Hollywood-esque film wasn’t nearly enough. However, it turns out that the lack of funds wasn’t it’s downfall, not really.
First, after spending 7 months learning English so he could play the title character, the best 70-year old horse-riding classically trained actor in the biz doesn’t get on the plane that’ll take him to set. Instead, he goes to the doctor. As seen in the documentary, Gilliam and the crew mock him behind his back about “becoming Don Quixote” and allowing himself to be sidelined by a illness that’s “all in his head.”
When Jean Rochefort finally gets there, the pain on his face as he sits on his horse for the first scene is visible. The next day, after worrying about how they’re going to shoot an entire film about this man on a horse who can not bear to sit on a horse due to a herniated disk, it starts raining.
They’re sure it’ll clear up, so they don’t move their equipment. Then, it floods, taking the equipment with it. Everything is covered in mud, people are getting pelted with hail, it’s bad. They can’t film the next day because of the mud and the clouds.
The lead actor has to go see a specialist in a different country. He can’t come back for weeks. And that’s just the first time they attempt to film.
Almost every time this film starts to stand up on it’s own legs, an illness knocks it on it’s butt and a lead has to back out. It’s almost as if Orsen Wells doomed all Don Quixote film adaptions by not completing his own Quixote passion project before he died.
The film that completed shooting in June almost didn’t happen, either, it was pushed back and delayed every time Gilliam announced a starting date. They even ended up being accused of damaging public property while filming – not just any public property but the Convent of Christ.
But finally, finally, it all came together when Gilliam just didn’t announce they were going to start filming until they already were. We’ll see in 2018 if post-production goes as smoothly.
Thank you for reading! What’s your favorite wild pre-production/set mishap story? Leave a comment or tweet me!
Speaking of tweeting, click here to tweet about this post!