THE MOVIE THAT NEVER WAS
Satyajit Ray was a science fiction aficionado long before he became a movie director. He read extensively across the genre, wrote SF and wrote about SF, and thought deeply about the ways in which it could be translated onto screen and stage. He created one of the most iconic characters of Indian SF in Professor Shonku and spent several years trying to get a big-budget SF film project off the ground.
In the late 1960s, the script and storyboard of that putative film, complete
with multiple concept sketches, did the rounds in Hollywood. It had a working title, The Alien. Columbia almost backed it and put some money into it. Ray himself visited Paris and Los Angeles trying to drum up support for the project. Peter Sellers wanted to work in it; Marlon Brando and Steve McQueen expressed an interest. Writer Arthur C. Clarke, whose 2001: A Space Odyssey became an iconic film in the hands of director Stanley Kubrick in 1968, agreed to jointly write a novel based on the script. The driving force behind the project was Mike Wilson, Clarke’s former partner and Sri Lanka- based film impresario. Wilson was one of the reasons the project went bellyup.
Some 10-15 years later, when Steven Spielberg’s Close Encounters of the Third Kind and then ET hit the screen, Ray was surprised to discover multiple similarities in plot and visual conceptions. He briefly considered suing Spielberg for plagiarism and discussed that with Clarke before abandoning the idea.
This tragic saga forms the core of this beautifully produced book. Compiled by The Society for the Preservation of Satyajit Ray Archives, it includes Ray’s script and storyboard, his essays on SF and three of his SF short stories. It also contains facsimiles of Ray’s correspondence with Sellers, Clarke, author-screenwriter Ray Bradbury, studio executives, et al, on the subject.
As a bonus, it has a short story by his father, Sukumar Ray, featuring the awesome Becharatherium and other exotic creatures.
The essays might seem dated to a modern SF buff, since most of the material is culled from the period between 1965-1990. So, Ray pays homage to the writers of the Golden Age when the ABC of SF equalled Asimov, Bradbury and Clarke, rather than the modern pantheon of Atwood, Banks and Card. Ray’s musings on SF in the movies starts with Fritz Lang’s Metropolis and stops, understandably enough, with a throwaway reference to the original Bladerunner (1982). However, the book presents some fascinating slices of film history and offers a glimpse into the wellsprings of Ray’s multipronged talent.
TRAVAILS WITH THE ALIEN Satyajit Ray, HARPERCOLLINS 224 pages; `699