I, like the average film fan, have spent incalculable hours sat in darkened auditoriums marvelling at the wonder and, at times, sheer brilliance which is on the screen before me. To hear that the production was smooth-sailing is great but has little bearing on the enjoyment of a film text. However, to discover that there were major disasters only increases viewer anticipation; as if, as an audience member we can spot diegetically exactly where it started to go wrong.
What author Ben Taylor has condensed in his Apocalypse on the Set, is the darker, sometimes jaded aspects of the motion picture industry. For all of the magic there is mayhem and this compelling read pulls together nine case studies, detailing the true testament of directors, writers, producers, actors and artists alike, who continue to sweat blood and tears in order to wrap their production; here, in the face of, at times extraordinary, adversity. In the case of the Nine Disastrous Film Productions these problems include: political imprisonment through dictatorship (Pulgasari), overblown budgets/production costs (Waterworld), a series of bizarre, catastrophic events (The Adventures of Baron Munchausen), over-inflated egos (Apocalypse Now) and the tragedy and finality of death (Twilight Zone: The Movie). By today’s Hollywood standards, these dramas are a rarity and usually result in production shut-down and thus Taylor’s factual reminiscences are bathed in a tragi-comedy glow of nostalgia.
This highly engaging and entertaining read is meticulously researched and while one or two incidents – specifically Vic Morrow’s and Brandon Lee’s untimely deaths – may be memorable in the recesses of the film-geek’s mind, there is enough diversity in the chapters to keep the reader absorbed and interested. This book is a must-read for any film fan. The only criticism – nine is such a limiting number; perhaps a second volume?