He penned the scripts for two blockbusters, "ALIEN" and "Blue Thunder." But he isn't very happy - here's why.
Starlog #71 (June 1983)
"MY SON, THE HITMAN"
By LEE GOLDBERG
If screenwriter Dan O'Bannon could get his hands on the Blue Thunder helicopter he created, he would probably use its lethal artillery to level every movie studio in sunny Southern California. And then he might hunt down Blue Thunder director John Badham and ALIEN writers Walter Hill and David Giler for a little extra target practice.
O'Bannon, to put it bluntly, is angry.
"It's a bad business, Hollywood. I'm just about fed up," he says. "If I can't get something to direct soon, I'm gonna get out of this business and be a novelist or something."
What O'Bannon wants is control, the power to make sure what he types is what finally gets on the screen. His scripts for ALlEN (with Ronald Shusett) and Blue Thunder (with Don Jakoby) were somewhat rewritten - and not to his liking.
And in the case of Blue Thunder, opening May 13, he wasn't exactly thrilled with the direction.
In Dan O'Bannon's opinion, "John Badham has very little film sense. He directs a $20 million movie like a TV episode. When you actually see him on the set, you realize howreally lost he is."
O'Bannon says he was on hand during a day's filming when Roy Scheider, who plays the heroic Murphy, police pilot of a deadly new chopper developed by the Federal government, forgot one of his lines.
"Badham said, 'It doesn't matter, it's only dialogue. Just say something and put the word shit in it,' " O'Bannon recalls. "Badham has the theory that the audience really doesn't understand dialogue." Then again, Badham may not necessarily be fond of O'Bannon either, if what the director told STARLOG (in issue #70) means anything. "I don't think even Badham believes what he said to STARLOG," the screenwriter says.
Badham had explained to STARLOG that Dean Reisner was brought in to flesh out the characters in the O'Bannon-Jakoby Blue Thunder.
"After we slavishly and obediently made alI the changes he asked for in the script, he quickly brought in Reisner, who came in and moved around the commas," O'Bannon charges.
But, O'Bannon expec!ed his script to be rewritten. It's a basic part of the moviemaking merry-go-round.
"Hollywood is just a machine, they have a process. There's this standing assumption among producers and studios that no script is any good. Every script that they buy or have written must be rewritten by several other authors before they will film it," O'Bannon says. "The trouble is most producers have no judgment. Therefore, if a given draft of a script is excellent and filmable, they ca 't tell or won't make the mental effort to determine it. They automatically have it rewritten. Since most scripts in Hollywood are truly wretched, this process has a homogenizing effect and improves it. But if the script is really, really good, the process will lower its quality."
Guess what the process, in O'Bannon's opinion, did to Blue Thunder.
"The political impact - and there was quite a bit - was toned down. In the original script, alI of the various outrages which were committed were done by the police, the LAPD. Before they would commit that to film, those brave persons (Badham and Columbia Pictures) changed the police into heroes and made the outrages the fault of the Federal government," O'Bannon says, obviously upset. "The idea of portraying the LA PD as blameless champions of individual liberty at odds with the Federal government is strange."
There were also differing concepts of what the ominous Blue Thunder should look like. "They envisioned it as a big, ponderous thing with crap hanging aIl over it while we saw it as a fast, black wasp-compact and deadly."
Blue Thunder was a child of O'Bannon's anger. He was living in Hollywood, back in 1979, and couldn't sleep at night because police choppers constantly flew overhead, hitting his house with their searcl¨ights.
"They were just driving me crazy. I was sitting around with Don Jakoby in my place one night and one ofthem went over us. I just got very irked and said we should make a movie about that," the screenwriter recalls. "Don agreed and got very excited. And that's how it all began."
What can you say about police choppers? If you decide to use the agile machine to symbolize government intrusion into our private lives, you can say quite a bit.
"Helicopters, per se, I like. I don't particularly like them going back and forth over the sky watching us and everything. The police have those things up there because they can prevent crime. They are very handy," O'Bannon says. "The trouble is that the police don't particularly care if they drive the rest of the population crazy or violate the rights of everyone else in order to catch a criminal. They don't care about preventing crime, they care about catching criminals. And towards that end, they will do anything to the rest of the citizenry , they don't care at aIl. That's what this picture was about."
The Blue Thunder is completely computerized, armor-plated, and armed with all manner of deadly weaponry. "There's nothing fanciful about the chopper. It just seems fanciful if you're not acquainted with it. There's nothing remarkable in that film, not when they have satellites which can photograph your belt buckle."
While there may not be anything unusual about the super chopper, some plot devices and a climactic high-speed car chase do tax a viewer's sensibilities. Dozens of police cars pursue Candy Clark, Roy Scheider's girl in the film, as she a leads them on a frantic chase through downtown Los Angeles. Badham eventually a trimmed down the sequence when Seattle preview audiences and others found portions of it somewhat hard-to-believe.
"The idea of having a car chase has certain assets but what the hell makes Murphy's dumb girlfriend (the character played by Clark) such a crack stunt driver?", O'Bannon asks. "Badham saw the picture as a cartoon, and what he was looking for in the end with Candy Clark running around like crazy was The Dukes of Hazzard."