By Todd Ciolek
A dead dream is a tragic sight, and in the often-frivolous world of entertainment, a dead dream is best embodied by those unfortunate projects that never see the light of day. In a just and fair world, every finished movie, videogame, TV show, song or piece of potential art would be aired out and then praised, ignored, or soundly detested as the public saw fit.
And there are a lot of dead dreams out there, moldering in warehouses, vaults, and half-corrupted hard drives. Most of them probably wouldn’t have a chance at greatness, but a few are so intriguing that we can’t help but take up their causes. And that’s what we’ll do here, whether the cause is for an Orson Welles movie or a Nintendo game about a pro-wrestling ape.
10) Crank the Weasel
Grand Theft Auto III made the gaming industry sit up and notice “sandbox” games, where it’s almost more fun to screw around with the environment than to push the game forward. Yet it was a cartoonish little 2003 action game called Crank the Weasel that embraced the idea the most—and paid the price for it.
A 3-D tribute to 1920s cartoons, Crank followed its weasel hero on a quest to cash in a ticket to the alluring Pleasure Island. To accomplish this, he wandered his hometown streets, stealing from his fellow cartoon characters, fencing his ill-gotten loot, and upholding the horrible sexist standards of the roaring ’20s by smacking women’s rears. Available power-ups included an Incredible Hulk transformation and a can of rabies that turned Weasel into a frothing loon that bit and infected other characters. The game even had a detailed design document for a strip club where the opening comedy act would die repeatedly while players did their best to button-mash Weasel into a manic, hooting lust machine worthy of Tex Avery.
It was this emphasis on free-roaming gameplay and side attractions that did in Crank the Weasel, as there simply wasn’t much of a traditional game to support it all. That was perhaps the point of the whole thing, but it didn’t stop Midway from canceling plans to release in on the Xbox, PlayStation 2 and GameCube.
Where It Is: In the hands of the people who worked on it, and the people who collect demos of dead games.
Why It’s Unreleased: Not enough space marines.
9) Lupin VIII
Lupin III is an anime icon in his native Japan, to the point where Tokyo Movie Shinsha gives him a new TV special every year. Yet he’s never quite taken off in America, where companies waited a bit too long to introduce his old ’70s TV series and classic films. Not that he doesn’t have fans (everyone likes Hayao Miyazaki’s Castle of Cagliostro Lupin flick, for example), but Lupin will never be as big a star in Western cartoon culture as he is in Japan.
Things might have been different if Lupin VIII had made it to TV back in the ’80s.
Produced by TMS and the French-American DiC Studios for an international audience, the TV show went centuries into the future, when Lupin III’s distant yet identical-looking descendant worked as a private detective in space colonies also with a supporting cast also identical to the old Lupin guard.
The project ran into trouble, both in the planning stages and in legal venues, as Lupin III’s creator, Monkey Punch, actually ripped off the character from French author Maurice Leblanc’s Arsene Lupin novels and has since tread on shaky ground. At least one episode was produced, but without any voice acting. Perhaps it wouldn’t have compared to Lupin’s better capers, though it’s hard to hate anything with Inspector Zenigata and gunman extraordinaire Jigen wearing their hats on top of their astronaut helmets.
Where it is: In the vaults at DIC or TMS. We hope. It also pops up online from time to time, though YouTube’s only current Lupin VIII material comes from someone’s homemade dub.
Why It’s Unreleased: Legal issues and general disinterest.
8) Broken: The Movie
Broken might be Trent Reznor’s best album. It’s a burst of angry, memorable noise that stands above the synthesized warbles of Pretty Hate Machine and the teen-atheist moaning of The Downward Spiral, and it marks that point in every Nine Inch Nails fan’s life when the industrial outrage seemed genuinely cool and disturbing.
That’s where the Broken movie comes in. It collects four music videos based on album tracks and bookends them with spliced-up scenes of torture and murder. Adding to the snuff-film notoriety of it all, the movie’s only available in bootlegged form, even though the individual music videos have seen multiple releases, including the banned-by-MTV delights of “Happiness in Slavery.”
Where It Is: With Trent Reznor and a few people who received the movie as a special gift. Each version given away was missing a different section of video, thus enabling Reznor to keep track of those who betrayed him.
Why It’s Unreleased: There’s not much point now. The film was originally stifled so it wouldn’t take attention away from the album, but it’s been bootlegged and bittorrented ad nauseam over the years, and the latest leaked version supposedly came from Reznor himself. How thoughtful of him.
7) The Pixies’ “Watch What You’re Doing”
The Pixies weren’t just influential alt-rock revolutionaries of the ‘80s. They were also a blessing to any early-1990s teenager who wanted something between They Might Be Giants and Nirvana, something that would still have indie cred and endure after they’d left high school and college. Part of the band’s appeal lay in the deliberately bizarre choice of subject matter, as their songs obliquely covered UFO, Biblical heroes, the antics of the homeless, middle-school sex fantasies, and reincarnation. Several are even about incest, though not the song that sounds like it’s clearly about incest. That one’s about masturbation.
Pixies fronters Kim “Mrs. John Murphy” Deal and Charles “Black Francis/Frank Black” Thompson were equally weird in their choice of covers, leaping from Neil Young to the beat from the NARC arcade game. Perhaps their most unexpected cover is one only heard by the people who put together the band’s early “purple tape,” which included a Pixies’ version of Christian singer Larry Norman’s “Watch What You’re Doing.” It’s a standard cautionary tune about the dangers of single motherhood and the evil that lurks in every atheist’s heart.
Thanks to YouTube users who can’t spell “you’re” properly, we can hear the version from Norman’s final U.S. concert in 2005, when Frank Black actually joined him on stage. It’s a nice tribute, but it’s not quite the same as it would’ve been when run through the half-screamed melodies and guitar whines of early Pixies.
Where it is: Sitting on record producer Gary’s Smith’s shelf.
Why It’s Unreleased: Smith supposedly found it in 2004, just when the Pixies’ greatest-hits album came out. So we’ll have to wait another few years for another cash-in to include “Watch What You’re Doing.”
6) Bounty Arms
The mid-1990s were a tough time for hand-drawn, two-dimensional videogames, which became neglected older children in the face of newly arrived 3-D industry darlings like Ridge Racer and Virtua Fighter. So no one really noticed in 1994 when a Japanese company called Data West announced a PlayStation game called Bounty Arms.
Bounty Arms resembles an old-fashioned overhead shooting game in the style of Commando or Ikari Warriors, albeit with tiny-nosed anime women in place of bare-chested Rambo knockoffs. There was more to Bounty Arms: instead of shooting enemies, heroines Rei Misazaki and Chris HerLastNameIsUntranslatableGibberish use telescoping robotic “Relic Arms” as whips, flamethrowers, and grappling hooks. While the game’s setting appeared to be a typical blend of robot-filled jungles and factories, the Relic Arm play mechanic made it unlike any other game on the market. Perhaps that’s why Data West canceled the whole thing in 1995.
Where it is: Possibly in a storeroom at Data West, though it’s likely that the company, which doesn’t even make games anymore, just deleted everything.
Why It’s Unreleased: Hunting down rare, unreleased videogames is hard in America. Hunting them down in Japan’s secretive world of collectors is nearly impossible.