Ripley’s Believe It or Not – The film that could have been.

Earlier this week I was lucky enough to have a chat with screenwriter John Collee, who penned the scripts for Happy Feet, Master and Commander and the upcoming Charles Darwin biopic Creation. This is not a picture of him below.

It is a picture of Mr. Robert Ripley, oddball fact-finder, amateur anthropologist and creator of the Believe It or Not franchise.

During my chat with Collee, we discussed several high profile features that he had been involved with, but were no longer slated for release. The most significant of the doomed films for which Collee had written the screenplay was Ripley’s Believe It or Not – a fictionalised biopic of the man pictured above.

Jim Carrey was long set to star as Ripley, while Chris Columbus and Tim Burton were both at one point attached to direct. Browsing the internet for the film’s synopsis turns up numerous conflicting reports (the result of several screenwriters overhauling numerous scripts), so it was nice to finally get some information about one of the film’s potential incarnations.

Here is an excerpt from my conversation with Collee, in which he gives us a brief glimpse into the film that could have been. And yes, that is him below.

SM: You have quite a few projects in IMDB. I do check out IMDB before an interview!

JC: You have to disregard most of them!

SM: There is one that’s quite interesting, and that’s Ripley’s Believe it Or Not, which has been around for quite a few years. I was just wondering if you knew the progress on that.

JC: I wrote that for Chris Columbus, and I do know. I’m pretty sure Paramount have ditched that, just because it depended on Chris doing it and Jim Carrey was going to play Ripley. The brief was “Write it as expensive as you like, it’s a period movie, you can go to South Africa and the Himalayas”. That’s a gift, as a writer. So I wrote this completely over the top, very expensive movie and of course they couldn’t afford it. The global financial crisis has made Hollywood even more risk averse than they were.

SM: You would have written that before the kind of Zack-Snyder-3D-backgrounds became so prominent. And in this 3D age you would have thought that would be in consideration.

JC: You would have thought they could film anything. But, that was a fairly large scale sort of thing. You’ve got big stars and with Ripley’s Believe it or Not, part of the brief was he traveled with a group of friends, one of whom was a contortionist, one of whom was a giant, one of whom was a dwarf, so it was a complex movie. It would have been fun. It was great fun to write. And that’s the other thing actually, the life of a writer, you write 4 or 5 times the number of scripts that ever get shown so you have to kind of enjoy the process, and as you suggest, enjoy delivering a script that amused and entertained you. You kind-of have to get used to the fact that many – MOST – of these things will never be seen.

SM: Right, and this is no reflection on you, but how does it feel at the end of that process to say ‘OK, that’s over’. Do you have any power to publish the screenplay yourself?

JC: No. Although you know I’ve thought recently to have a website just for all the films that never got away. There are some great…I wrote this great Battle of Bismarck story for Steven Spielberg, which again, vastly expensive, but a script that I was really pleased with in the end. I’d love if just a few people could read it (laughing).

I will post the rest of my interview with Collee – in which he talks about the process of adapting Charles Darwin’s life for the screen, writing the new Aussie epic The Drowner, and being booted off a project by Zack Snyder – closer to Creation’s release (July 15, 2010).

Discuss: Would you have liked to see Ripley’s Believe It or Not on the big screen?

One Response to “Ripley’s Believe It or Not – The film that could have been.”

  1. Why would they have to fictionalize Ripley's story? That man led a fascinating and interesting life that would make a funny bio-pic. I think that's a real pity they wanted to fictionalize his life.

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