Ridley Scott (Alien, Blade Runner) and Franc Roddam (Quadraphenia) were two directors who came close to helming the project. Whilst Blade Runner crawled along it’s pre-production route Scott considered shelving the Rick Deckard story and jumping on board Grace Ripley’s.
by Bryn Tilly
“I think the Chinatown sequence in Blade Runner was very much influenced by The Tourist. I believe he said that to me at one time,” proposes Noto. But Scott passed, and producer Missell placed the project in “turnaround”.
Meanwhile Noto secretly handed her script to an agent at Francis Ford Coppola’s American Zoetrope independent studio, and it came to the attention of Franc Roddam.
No Standard Structure
Roddam understood Noto’s screenplay far better than any previous producer or director and appreciated Noto likening her script to a Nicolas Roeg or Donald Cammell film (both directors collaborated on the ground-breaking, non-linear 1971 film Performance). Noto openly admitted her script didn’t follow the Robert McKee story structure, with its quirky dialogue musings and episodic nature. “It was the people and their angst and their malaise, and the fruitless search. In a sense, the journey becomes more interesting than the ending, because in the end she doesn’t want to leave.”
The journey becomes more interesting than the ending.
American Zoetrope, however, began falling apart following Coppola’s disastrous attempt at a modern musical (One From the Heart). Roddam had got as far as the casting stage (Noto’s first choice for Grace Ripley was German actress Hanna Schygulla, but after meeting her she was less interested, and felt Theresa Russell, Kim Basinger or Michelle Pfeiffer were better options) before the screenplay reverted back to Universal with a draft that combined Noto’s original version and director Gibson working with screenwriter Patricia Knop.
The Visual World
H.R. Giger came onboard as creature designer, but Noto didn’t see Giger’s designs until 1988 and was disappointed when she realised he had been working from a vastly different draft to her original.
What appeared to be the final nail in The Tourist’s coffin was when Noto handed in a new draft dated July 1997 the very same weekend Men in Black was released, a movie which plundered The Tourist’s central concept; a New York infested by aliens disguised as humans, albeit playing much more for broad laughs than Noto’s wry and tenebrous sense of humour. Even Noto’s wonderful reverse concept that UFOs weren’t aliens landing on Earth, but actually aliens desperately attempting to leave our planet, had been stolen.
The final nail in The Tourist’s coffin was
when Noto handed in a new draft.
The significant factor in all of this is Clair Noto’s dogged determination to protect her own vision. She had a rare clause in her contract-for-hire (“turnaround”), which meant that as author she received a year-long option on the work, should the production fall through, and of course the project kept falling through, so the option would revert back to her.
So Where Are They Now?
Clair Noto is still attached to the project, and despite all the movies that have deliberately, inadvertently, or coincidentally used some of The Tourist’s ideas and concepts, The Tourist continues to wriggle and squirm through Hollywood, still trapped in development hell, yet still determined to be seen on the big silver screen.
It remains under Universal’s iron claw, and most recently has had heavyweight producer Joel Silver offering a large sum of money for the rights. Universal is reluctant to release the property for fear of looking foolish should the movie prove a hit for another studio.
The Tourist continues to wriggle and
squirm through Hollywood.
And therein lies the Rub, or at least one of The Tourist’s many Rubs.
The Tourist is a complex story about fear of strangers and fear of the unknown. It offers a curious adult perspective on the weird sexual proclivities of human and non-human, but it’s also a black comedy about human manners and sexism. It is grotesque and sensual, witty and disturbing. It is an amalgam of contradiction and uniform. These are the elements that make the screenplay so interesting.
And while it is definitely of its time (late70s/early 80s), the whole New Wave fashion and sub-culture sensibility provides The Tourist with a striking visual aesthetic. Yet this also date-stamps it. I don’t have a problem with its narrative structure, but then I’m just as much a fan of the works of directors Fellini, Antonioni, Roeg, and Cammell, as Clair Noto is.
It is grotesque and sensual,
witty and disturbing. It is an amalgam
of contradiction and uniform.
The Tourist is less concerned with the machinations of Grace finding a way to leave Earth and the plot points that lead her to Taiga than it is about the egocentric character arc of Grace Ripley and her growing realisation that she has become infused with human frailty, yet still possesses the desire to live amongst an alien species (in this case human) and even “bond” with them; an ocular-cosmic procedure in which a human experiences by physiological proxy Grace’s inner knowledge/sexuality… at least as far as I can determine.
I can understand the problem Universal had grappling with Clair Noto’s extraterrestrial and human behavioural quirks, her preoccupation with sexual fragility and aberrant desire, and the frayed, downbeat ending.
The original screenplay doesn’t lend itself to any kind of successful mainstream pitch. All of The Tourist’s characters are elusive and edgy, including, most importantly, Grace herself, and like all the other aliens she is prone to mortal anxiety.
There’s Carl Frogner, a trans-gender alien who has discovered Grace’s alien identity and is making her own pursuits difficult. There’s Harry Sloane, alien head of the Manhattan Grief Clinic/The Corridor, who is also after John Taiga, but for more malevolent reasons. There’s Marty, Grace’s vivacious secretary, and Spider O’Toole, her fashion victim girlfriend whom becomes fixated on Grace’s alien prowess. There’s James Crosby, the suit who keenly wants to bed Grace, adding to her troubles, and there’s Vic Miller, the charismatic stagehand whom forms an unlikely intimate bond with Grace.
All of The Tourist’s characters
are elusive and edgy.
There are many great scenes in The Tourist but one of the more memorable is when Spider O’Toole, shot and mortally wounded, asks Grace to show her something no human has ever seen. Grace eyes become like prisms as she holds Spider’s head. “You must use your inward eye,” instructs Grace, “Close your eyes. You must turn your eyes around, so that you can see inside your body. The greatest pleasure is to see. All the secrets are there. You must use the pleasure and take the energy it gives you. Use the wild eye that sees itself and not the outer world.” According to the screenplay the Santa and elf toys in the warehouse location are the only ones who witness this strange ritual.
The Hope Will Never Die
I don’t care that most of the best stuff from The Tourist has ended up in other science fiction movies, I still hold out hope Grace Ripley’s story will be told. So if, hypothetically speaking, I was producing and/or directing The Tourist I wouldn’t want to change anything of Clair Noto’s original script. I’d keep it set in the NYC of 1981 to retain the New Wave look and prevent any dialogue or exposition from being communicated via mobile phones or the Net.
I would certainly keep H.R. Giger on alien design, but I’d also bring in special effects make-up whiz Rob Bottin (The Thing) and French science-fantasy illustrator Jean-Giraud Moebius (Metal Hurlant magazine) to provide designs.
I’d get Trent Reznor (Nine Inch Nails) to compose the score and sound design, and I would be inclined to cast lesser known actors, even unknowns, in order to keep a fresh distance between the audience and the characters. If I had to use a big name I’d possibly cast Angelina Jolie as Grace Ripley.
David Cronenberg or Guillermo Del Toro would be my choice as director.
And I certainly wouldn’t be aiming for anything less than an R rating.
Interviewed within the last few years Clair Noto adds, “The [screenplay] update is more successful in some ways. There’s a new twist that I’ve done in the latest draft which I don’t want to expose. The new version contains an idea that has still not been done.”
Bryn Tilly is a cinephile, freelance writer, and pro DJ who spends his daytime hosting Horrorphile and Cult Projections. He also provides a monthly movie list for lifestyle website FreshMag. At night, as Brynstar, he spins deep funk for jazzed souls at some of Sydney’s bar hotspots.