Ballard’s Cinema: Notes for a Retrospective – The Drowned World (J. Lee Thompson 1974; director’s cut 2017)

 

JG-Ballard-photographed-i-006Thwarted in his attempt to produce and star in an adaptation of The Wind from Nowhere (1961), Stanley Baker optioned Ballard’s follow-up novel, The Drowned World (1962), before the ‘Seer of Shepperton’ had even completed a draft.

However, dogged by financial difficulties arising from his South African film projects, Baker was forced to abandon his plans to adapt it.

Some years later, a chance meeting led to Patrick McGoohan – who had co-starred with Baker in Cy Endfield’s gravel-pit noir Hell Drivers (1958) – persuading Lew Grade to finance the film, with Endfield directing. But when The Prisoner (1967-68) flopped, the TV mogul, who had yet to break into film production, dropped McGoohan from the project.

Grade offered Robert Shaw the lead, and replaced Endfield with J. Lee Thompson, who had until recently been attached to direct Gale Force (Guest 1967), as producer Michael Carreras had retitled The Wind from Nowhere.

While Grade got cold feet about branching out into film, Thompson’s enthusiasm for the project never waned. He tried to persuade Gregory Peck to become involved, but when he turned down the lead, Peck suggested it would be more suited to Charlton Heston – who only agreed to briefly reprise the role of Taylor in Beneath the Planet of the Apes (Post 1970) if producer Arthur P. Jacobs took on the now-lapsed option.

18s3rujcms82tjpgAPJAC Productions hired Thompson to direct, then replaced him with John Guillermin, who insisted on relocating the story to New York. A week into shooting, Guillermin and Heston got into a now notorious on-set argument. Filming crashed to a halt. Jacobs backed his star over his director. Guillermin was fired, and Heston personally entreated Thompson to return to save the film.

Which, some suggest, was Heston’s intention in provoking Guillermin all along.

Not that things then proceeded smoothly.

The shoot became increasingly tempestuous as Thompson and Heston fought over their different visions for the film. Thompson accepted the change of setting – really he had no choice, since the expensive New York sets had already been constructed –  but insisted on revising the end of the script so as to retain Ballard’s conclusion.

Heston, conscious of his titanic persona, and feeling that Thompson owed him, argued for a more heroic ending, The scenes he scripted acknowledge that, while he cannot save the world, his willingness to sacrifice his own life might bring respite and hope to the remaining survivors of the global climate upheaval.

To everyone’s surprise, Jacobs, irked by Heston, this time backed his director – until mediocre preview screenings changed his mind. Thompson begrudgingly shot Heston’s ending, but the film still performed poorly.

After Thompson’s death in 2002, reels containing footage from his original ending were discovered, enabling its reconstruction in accordance with his notes and those of his editor, Marjorie Fowler.

We are thrilled to present not just the original release version but also the UK premier of the newly-restored director’s cut.

Other films in the retrospective
Apocalypse Now (Francis Ford Coppola 1979)
Carry On Getting It Up (Gerald Thomas 1977)
El Dorado (BBC 1992-93; 156 episodes)
Gale Force (Val Guest 1967)
Jodorowsky’s Burning World (Frank Pavich 2013)
Track 12 (Joseph Losey 1967)

 

 

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