Great ideas horribly wasted in film and literature

This is a thread for all those times when you catch the plot from a book or movie and say “Oh Snap! That sounds pretty baddass” only to walk away after immersing yourself in the story, totally let down at the wasted potential.

I start this thread with one specific book in mind: Scarecrow by Matthew Reilly.

I’ve read Reilly’s books before, including the prequels to Scarecrow, and while totally outlandish and silly, they were always a good time and delivered when it came to fun action scenes. Scarecrow had an wonderful premise for a action/adventure novel:

For some reason baddass US Marine Schofeild, codename Scarecrow, winds up on a bounty list with 14 other soldiers from around the world, all of which carry reputations as being the most elite soldiers alive. The price for each head is $13.5 million, bringing every assassin, headhunter, and gun nut out of the woodwork for an international manhunt.

I mean, what a start for an action story. I mean, it gets you wondering why someone would want all of the best soldiers on earth killed, who would want them killed, and why they have so much money. It also promises lots and lots of mayhem. Unfortunately, Reilly’s ideas pretty much ended right there for what he was going to write and he pretty much threw out the laws of gravity, physics, and human capability to top his last books. The book didn’t ask for you to suspend your belief and just have a good time, it told you to take your belief outside, shoot it in the face, piss on it, and then turn your brain completely off.

To make matters worse, the reasoning behind the bounty list was just horribly, horribly stupid. It involved killing the elite 15 soldiers because they were the only people on earth with reflexes quick enough to disarm some missle launching activation thing.

What a waste.

Also, I’m a very strong believer in that the whole Aliens Vs. Predator thing was wasted. Here are some film makers that had a story that was already well recieved by comic book readers and game players handed to them on a silver platter and what do they do with it? Cram it down the garbage disposal and bake up some cockenammy story about Aliens and Predators playing around with each some on some totally isolated part of the planet. And then they do it again by making a handful of Predators and Aliens fight in a suburban town filled with whinny teenagers! What the hell? I want my Marines vs. Aliens vs. Predator world war movie!

Bah!

Bah I say!

‘Dies the Fire’ and that whole series.

I love the premise. How would society adapt if suddenly there were no more electricity or vehicles. Just over 100 years ago these things didn’t exist, but now our world is so totally dependant on them, that there would be a huge breakdown with mass starvation without them.

But the books are so badly written, that I find myself skipping paragraphs and just skimming pages and chapters.

Please, someone re-write these WELL.

Alien Nation: A UFO containing a sizeable population of alien beings lands in the deserts outside L.A. With no way of repairing their ship enough to be ‘spaceworthy’ again, the alien ‘visitors’ settle in L.A., and attempt to assimilate into human society.

Actually, this was a brilliant premise for a movie. Unfortunately, the movie deals with that aspect for roughly five minutes before it turns into a sub-par, predictible cop/buddy flick.

Never saw a single episode of the series, so I don’t know how well it was handled there - but the movie blew it big time.

Suspect Zero was a great idea for a movie, before it was changed with all of the psychic stuff. It may have led to “Dexter” though.

Pretty much the same, but the kid I was loved it.

My nomination: Battlefield Earth. Aliens rule Earth. Humanity reduced to stone-age hunter-gatherers, its history forgotten to the point where the survivors have no idea that the remains of cities are the work of humans. The story follows a human who learns history and fights back.

In the hands of basically anyone who wasn’t a paranoid money-grubbing cult-figure asshole con artist, it could have been great.

I mentioned this recently in the “I wish they had gobne a different route” thread.
This was a powerful concept, and I wanted to see how this cultureless race which was engineered, would come up with its own culture, borrowing from earth cultures and adapting it to theor own needs.

But then the TV series kept finding all these elements of Newcomer culture that they had on the ship. What? That completely goes against the premise!

Gattaca probably could have been a pretty good film if they ever bothered to think out their own concept. As it was, it made no sense and had no internal consistency, but it’s clearly an idea that has some excellent potential.

As good as it was, a lot of Star Trek: The Next Generation episodes amounted to a soap opera in space.

As I mentioned in a recent thread, **World War Z ** was a great idea for a book. Alas, Brooks did a poor job of executing that idea. In the hands of a more competent writer, an oral history of the world after a plague of zombies could have been something wonderful.
One better way to handle the idea would have been to have the individual chapters penned by different authors. The various authors who contributed to The Book of the Dead back in the 90’s would have been my A-list. They would have turned out a World War Z much more worth reading.

Oh, how I agree. The Borg in particular were horribly mishandled because the writers apparently forgot what they were from one episode to the next. Originally, they were a true hivemind with no individuality and no concept of the individual. Then they got progressively nerfed until the final insult: The Borg Queen. At that point, I lost interest in most things Trek.

(I also have to defend soap operas. Romeo and Juliet was a soaper. Much Ado About Nothing was a soaper. Twelfth Night was a soaper. Practically every Dickens novel was a soaper of the most rococo sort. The story only becomes a slogging morass when plots are never allowed to end.)

Snow Crash contains within it the seeds of a whole universe. I’m not kidding when I say a team of authors could spend their careers plumbing its implied depths, and most of them wouldn’t even be writing SF. Sadly, Stephenson doesn’t quite get that a simple plot buzzing through a dense maze of ideas isn’t the same as a nuanced plot taking advantage of a very rich implied backstory. When that plot splats against a wall at the end of the novel, well, people get very wary about picking up any of his other novels.

Fuck, yes. When I was reminded of this, years after I saw it, I could barely remember why it was called “Alien” Nation.

My nomination is for a David Eddings book. Yeah, yeah, I got what i deserved. But it was The Redemption of Althalus. The book jacket was a cool idea - a thief and all-around bad boy ends up serving a Goddess.

Inside it was the same old misogyny and the same horrible, horrible women as all of his other books.

I’m sure I’ll be back with more.

The Suspicions of Mr. Whicher by Kate Summerscale. It’s non-fiction, about the murder of a child in the late 1800’s. The “great idea” was examining upper class manor life, family secrets, employer-servant relationships, the role of the media, murder trials as entertainment, etc. Summerscale’s insistence on sticking to the facts resulted in a dry, lifeless, uninvolving book. Speculate a little, why don’t you? You’ve studied the period and the culture – give us an opinion. Flesh it out.

One idea I thought horribly wasted was Richard Matheson’s old Twilight Zone episode “Will the Real Martian Please Stand Up?” from the second season:


A bunch of people trapped in a snowed-in diner receive a visit from a couple of policemen who say that a spaceship crashed nearby, and one of the people in the diner is really an alien. It’s a wonderful situation with its own built-in appeal that makes the audience pay attention to your every line of dialogue. You could use it to explore relationships and how people behave under stress and why the alien would come to Earth, and why it would disguise itself as a human. You could go in all sorts of directions.

But they didn’t. They had the bus crash and

[spoiler] the surviving guy reveal to the diner owner that he’s the alien, which he proves by taking his coffee with a third hand. The diner owner reveals that HE is also an alien, though, as he reveals by pushing back his cap to show a third eye.

[/spoiler]
This is a good use for such a potent setup?

Several years ago I took the premise and turned it into a radio play. With a MUCH better series of events and payoff. And i say that even though I know Matheson is infinitely better than me, and could probably toss off a better script in his sleep.
I’m assuming that Matheson and Serling and company were under a lot of pressure to produce scripts fast, and matheson’s first try was too long or something. But I was severely disappointed.

“Vanilla Sky” - a guy is almost killed and horribly disfigured and crippled in a car accident, so he lives an alternate life in drug induced controlled dreaming. He buys it from a corporation that sells alternative lives and they take care of your body for you. You have no idea that you’re dreaming this new life. When glitches start start happening he figures out that his life isn’t real. The idea was good, and I liked the movie, but a lot of people hated it. The movie starred Tom Cruise, Penelope Cruz and Cameron Diaz. It was a remake of a foreign movie, I wonder if the original was better? ('scuze my bad writing please.)

Just checked – apparently Serling himself wrote that episode. I could’ve sworn it was Matheson:

Phillip K Dick is SF royalty, but I’ve always found his novels very hard work. Big on great ideas, short on great writing. His novels often take a brilliant premise, but flesh it out with extremely ‘workmanlike’ prose. His short stories are much better in this regard IMHO. He’d of been great working as a twosome.

Only Dick novel I really liked was Valis, which paradoxically is not a typical SF ideas-fest, but an extremely personal novel influenced by his struggle with mental illness.

In cinema, The OP mentioned ALiens v Predator - you could basically take your pick of classic comic strips that have been abused in the cinema. As a big 2000AD fan back in the day, Judge Dredd was a huge disappointment. Not sure if there’s enough depth there to really make a quality film, but by Christ it could have been orders of magnitude better than the turd Stallone / Danny Cannon served up.

I thought The Matrix started out with a great idea before it devolved into a typical action/special effects showcase (not to mention the obligatory tacked-on love story). I couldn’t bring myself to watch the sequels after I’d spent the second half of the movie laughing out loud at the cliches and bad dialogue.

Try one of these.

Event Horizon. Fantastic premise: long-lost spaceship reappears derelict and abandoned. Hard-bitten salvage team slowly discover that it has actually been on a dimensional jaunt to Hell itself, and is possessed by demons…

Sadly, what we got was a mad slasher flick set on a spaceship.

I agree that Scarecrow wasted a good idea, but I disagree on which one. I liked Scarecrow (and I’m a big fan of Matthew Reilly) but I think he really wasted the idea of the worldwide bounty hunt. I would have loved to see more development in who the bounty hunters were, instead most of them ended up Generic Dead Bounty Hunter #1-#3000.

Also I’m not sure if this counts, but they totally wasted the idea of Jason Statham and Jet Li in an action movie together. War sucked.