In 1797 Samuel Taylor Coleridge had a feverish, opium induced dream in which he conceived a 300 line poem about the palace of the Mongol Emperor Kublai Khan. When he woke, Coleridge set about to writing down what surely would have been one of his greatest poems.
Sadly, a visitor from the nearby village of Porlock interrupted Coleridge in his task of feverishly writing down the lines before he forgot them. Today all we have of that grand epic is the the 54 line fragment Coleridge titled Kubla Khan.
In 1966 Brian Wilson of The Beach Boys conceived of an album that would have been the band’s greatest triumph. Smile was to be for the Beach Boys what Sargent Pepper was for The Beatles. It was to be a “teenaged symphony to God”. Sadly, creative differences, legal battles with the record label and Wilson’s drug use and crumbling mental state derailed the recording of the album. Wilson’s unrealized dream amounted to only fragments of music.
There is something fascinating about an unrealized dream like that. What would the final form have been? Would it have been as glorious and magnificent as the dreamer envisioned? Would it have been beautiful and magical? Would it have changed the world?
In 1975 Chilean born filmmaker Alejandro Jodorowsky had a magnificent vision of a film version of Frank Herbert’s Dune. His concept, similarly drug induced, most likely, given the times, was of a 10 hour science fiction epic that would combine some of the greatest talent from all over the world from the disciplines of art, music, prose and philosophy. Jodorowsky conceived of the film as a prophet that would herald the opening of a new consciousness around the world. Unfortunately, market forces being what they are, the film was never realized. The original dream, however, and its journey from conception to attempted creation, is a compelling one and is the subject of the American/French documentary Jodorowsky’s Dune, directed by Frank Pavich. (I wrote about the film in an earlier blog post).
Jodorowski’s concept for his Dune is breathtaking in scope and it is compelling to watch him relate the passion he had for the original dream. The obstacles along the way that ultimately derail the project are like villains in a high drama. However, as we are often told, despite the harsh realities of the world around us, dreams are things that are alive and can never die.
Jodorowsky’s Dune has also opened the gates for a number of other documentaries that tell the story of amazing genre films that were conceived and never produced. This kind of thing happens all of the time in Hollywood. Some films even begin production before being canceled by the studio. Terry Gilliam’s infamous adaptation of Don Quixote is an unrealized dream as was Orson Welles’ unrealized dream of a film version of Miguel Cervantes’ famous novel.
In 1998 Tim Burton had plans to direct a feature film version of Superman. Encouraged by the success of his two Batman films, Burton conceived of a film that would chronicle the death and rebirth of Superman in an adaptation of the popular “Death of Superman” storyline from the comics. Kevin Smith, the filmmaker behind Mallrats and Jay and Silent Bob, wrote the screenplay (which can be found online with a little bit of internet sleuthing) and it was to star Nicolas Cage as the title character, Kevin Spacey as Lex Luthor and Christopher Walken as Brainiac.
How the film was conceived, written, re-written and planned for is the subject of a documentary called The Death of Superman Lives: What Happened? Directed by John Schnepp, the film lets the story about what would have been “…the most original and strangest Superman movie ever.” Using production art, test footage and interviews with the filmmakers and cast, Schnepp shows us the story of the dream of a film that would have become a bona fide cult classic, and the various internal and external forces that conspired to leave the dream unrealized.
And now, with the phenomenal success of George Miller’s recent blockbuster Mad Max: Fury Road, new attention is being paid to the aborted film version of Justice League, a project that was written, cast and ready to begin production before being unceremoniously canceled due to complications rising from a number of factors. George Miller’s Justice League is the latest unrealized dream that has fascinated film and comic books fans. Predictably there is a kickstarter campaign afoot to try to raise money to make a documentary about the unfinished film.
Dreams never die, and for every dream that is realized there are countless unrealized dreams all around us. The story of why one dream becomes a reality while another doesn’t is a subject most of us will never grow tired of. The promise of an unrealized dream is sometimes too compelling to resist.