How’s this as an idea for a giant monster flick?
Modern adventurers discover a lost tribe of Vikings in a secluded valley. These vikings have survived amidst some pretty fearsome wildlife, including dinosaurs and giant prehistoric eagles. As they reacquaint themselves with the modern (1930s) world, they learn of an imminent invasion of New York by Nazis in zeppelins and altruistically take to the skies on their tamed War Eagles to engage in a huge airbourne battle over the streets of Manhattan.
One of the most famous non-films in the Great Lost Film Archive buried beneath Skull Island was the brainchild of Merian C. Cooper, the creator of the first great giant monster film. With the help of the grandfather of stop-motion SFX, Willis O’Brien, Cooper was responsible for kickstarting the whole giant monster movie genre by letting an angry, lovelorn giant ape rampage through Skull Island jungles and then New York in the 1933 film King Kong.
Before that, the Rampage template had been set by O’Brien when he animated a displaced brontosaurus going berserk in London in the 1925 film The Lost World. O’Brien would animate an endless array of dinosaurs during his career (and a giant scorpion), mentoring the young Ray Harryhausen who, in many ways, perfected the art over the decades that followed.
In 1937, Cooper conceived a spectacular scenario for a film called War Eagles, intending to top his work on King Kong. Its plot was the one I described above. A script was written and work began on the film. Many sketches were drawn, models made and a test reel featuring a Viking on his Eagle battling an allosaurus prepared by O’Brien and his crew.
Marcel Delgado — a well-known stop-motion animator — had worked on the War Eagles project:
About 1939 I worked for Obie at MGM on War Eagles which Cooper was going to make. I made a spearman riding a giant eagle and throwing a spear at a tyrannosaurus. It could have been a hell of a good picture. I don’t know exactly why they didn’t finish it; they spent a hell of a lot of time and money on it. The film is lost now. George Pal has been searching for it. MGM was going to start on it again after the war, but they didn’t.
In an interview with Travis Fickett, Harryhausen said of the film:
That was a picture Merian Cooper was going to make in color for MGM. But then the war came along and he was called away to the Flying Tigers. The whole picture deteriorated. Willis O’Brien was going to do the special effects work. It would have been a really spectacular picture at the time. That was the first time I met Willis O’Brien, during the preproduction for War Eagles. They had three rooms filled with the paintings and drawings of the potential picture. It looked terrific.
The project was shelved after Cooper left to organise mercenary pilots fighting for Chinese nationalist Chiang Kai-shek and it was never continued, despite some attempts to do so. At the time, such an expensive film simply became too daunting for the studio, particularly without Cooper’s push.
Now, however, it seems like a revival of the project may be underway. Though some have already noticed the project, I hadn’t until I stumbled upon an IMDb entry, which suggests that War Eagles is currently in pre-production, set to be released in 2010!
The listing of Cooper as the source of the “original concept” tells us that this is a re-visiting of his old project and the fact that the production company is “Ray Harryhausen Presents” (whatever that means) at least suggests that the SFX may be done in the style Cooper and O’Brien had intended. One rumour I’ve heard confirms that the film will be a period piece, set in the 1930s — as it would need to be in order to work properly. I mean, giant eagles, dinosaurs, vikings, Nazi-types and zeppelins over NY! Modern jet fighters wouldn’t fit into that scenario at all.
If that doesn’t make your heart start palpitating, you’re reading the wrong blog!
War Eagles (1938-39) Abandoned. (US; Dir. / Prod: Merian C. Cooper and Ernest B. Schoedsack; Screenplay: Cyril Hume; SFX: Willis O’Brien, Marcel Delgado & George Lofgren; Drawings: Duncan Gleason.) (Source)
As an aside I notice that a comic series based on War Eagles is about to take flight. In fact, here is the cover:
I also came upon a novel that draws on Cooper’s concept:
Suddenly there seems to be a lot of buzz. I’m keeping my monstrous talons crossed!