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Francis Ford Coppola's Megalopolis: A Film Tribute

Updated on July 12, 2016

The Godfather; The Conversation; The Godfather Part II; Apocalypse Now. You are looking at the titles of four of the greatest films ever made, all which were made within a seven year time span (1972-1979) and all directed and written by the same man; Francis Ford Coppola. For that period of time Coppola was untouchable; no one else’s films exploded off the screen quite like his, no one had better timing when it came to touching on current issues and no one did a better job at reinventing genres in one fell swoop (the gangster film, the war film, the spy thriller). Many great directors came out of the 70s but Coppola was by far the leader. This is why it’s so strange that since Apocalypse Now Coppola has sort of faded into the background while his close friends George Lucas and Steven Spielberg have risen in stature. And it’s not like Coppola turned into the late Michael Cimino and stopped directing; since 1979 Coppola has made fifteen films in total (including a guest director spot in the analogy film New York Stories), ranging from the good (The Outsiders, Rumble Fish, Peggy Sue Got Married, Tucker: The Man and His Dream and Bram Stoker’s Dracula),the bad (One From the Heart, Gardens of Stone and Jack), the unmemorable (The Cotton Club, The Rainmaker), the infamous (The Godfather Part III) and the flat out unknown (Youth Without Youth, Tetro, Twixt and the recently released Distant Visions). None of these fifteen however have come close to matching the ambition, the skill and the notoriety that Coppola’s four big hits in the 70s did. Well I suppose The Godfather Part III did on the notoriety, but that was basically for all the wrong reasons.


And then there’s the matter of the one film that got away. Sometime in the 90s, possibly earlier or later, Coppola began work on a new screenplay, one unlike any of the other films he had made since Apocalypse Now. In fact, having read a version of this script myself, I can safely say this was beyond even Apocalypse Now; unbeknownst to the film world Francis Ford Coppola had begun construction of what would surely have been his most ambitious and thought provoking piece of cinema since the first Godfather film. The only problem; the film never happened. Instead this screenplay would wind up in Coppola’s drawer (as he described it) and has remained there, with little hope of being made the older Coppola, now 77 years old, has gotten. What was this film? Why wasn’t it made? And is there any hope that it can still be made before Coppola retires for good? That’s why we’re here today folks. Grab a cold one and sit back, because you’re about to learn about the most famous film to never be made aside from Stanley Kubrick’s Napoleon biopic. I give you a tribute to Francis Ford Coppola’s best kept secret, the project known as Megalopolis.

What You Already Know


Aside from what I just told you in these past few paragraphs, most of you should have no idea what Megalopolis is. For the most diehard of film buffs reading this however, you may recall Coppola talking about this project back in the early 00’s, bringing up names such as Nicolas Cage (Coppola’s nephew), Warren Beatty and others as potential stars and how the film was to be set in New York. Beyond that, Megalopolis has long remained a mystery.


What is Megalopolis?


To put it in the simplest terms possible, Megalopolis is a science fiction epic set in New York City sometime in the near future. You read that right; science fiction epic. Though the epic part may not surprise you when it comes to Coppola, the mention of science fiction should; the director never once has directed a science fiction project in his historic career (though he did produce George Lucas’ cult classic THX 1138). While some who have read the Megalopolis’ script (including the peeps over at ScriptShadow) have suggested the sci-fi elements are scarce at best, it quickly becomes apparent that there are definitely scientific aspects Coppola planned to use, even if the film was more interested in Coppola’s never ending fascination with the dissection of the American Dream and commentary on the state of pop culture and society as a whole. Those familiar with Coppola’s work will be quickly reminded of his classic films when reading this mammoth script.

Francis Ford Coppola
Francis Ford Coppola

Besides from all of that, Megalopolis is the story of two powerful New Yorkers looking to build a city within New York City. There’s Mayor Frank Cicero, a conservative who wants to create Cityworld, a casino driven section of lower end Manhattan that will create jobs, a better living environment and eliminate all debt. Then there’s Serge Catiline, Coppola’s answer to Howard Roark, Ayn Rand’s lead in The Fountainhead. A former Nobel Prize winner and New York’s Chairman of Design Authority, the charismatic but flawed Serge proposes as mini city of his own; Megalopolis, built entirely out of a trash based substance known as Megalon (which is imperishable and can be controlled by nanotechnology) that will eliminate the need for work at all. Serge wins approval, which sparks a deep seated resentment in Cicero, who as District Attorney once failed to convict Serge of murdering his wife (a mystery that hangs over the film till the end of the second act). From there the film follows Serge’s quest to build the city and Cicero’s quest to bring him down, which grows to involve Cicero’s daughter Julia (caught between her father and Serge, her love interest) and a whole slew of other characters. It’s in many ways a tale of two men looking to build utopia, with the viewer asked to pick between two noble but deeply flawed characters.


Why Wasn’t It Made?


This can be answered by a lot of cause and effect situations. Megalopolis’ fate was largely sealed by a date we all know; September 11th, 2001. Those who were aware of this film before this article are so because they read about Coppola’s intentions to film it back in the early months of 2001. Back then Coppola had studio involvement, big name after big name lining up to be in it and a clear sense of what he wanted to do. Then the tragedy in New York happened and after that Coppola was left directionless. To film Megalopolis (which does contain a late disaster that befalls New York that eerily is 9/11 esq) so soon after that tragedy wasn’t possible, and despite an attempt to re-locate the plot to San Francisco Coppola never felt it really clicked. On top of that, the big budget needed for such an undertaking dried up, the big stars all disappeared and ultimately Coppola, never a huge fan of the big studio filmmaking process anyway, retreated into independent filmmaking soon after.


More than all of that however, it appeared that the 9/11 tragedy simply killed Coppola’s enthusiasm to go back and revisit the project. He’s since stated that he never quite figured out how to make Megalopolis work since that time, and looking at the script you can understand why. Megalopolis' script, or at least the only draft that exists on the internet, is 212 pages long, which would’ve put this version of the film (if we go by the one page, one minute rule) at over three and a half hours long. Much of those 212 pages from Coppola are some of the best writing he’s ever done, including his dialog, his three main characters and an amazing ending. Even still the script isn’t flawless; it’s at least thirty pages too long, contains way too many characters and is at times incredibly difficult to follow (it’s also become incredibly dated with some of its references, though that’s more a product of Coppola not going back to tinker with it than it is of him being behind the times). It’s impossible to know if this version of the script is Coppola’s final draft, his first draft, or something in between, but it’s safe to say that if he had doubts about making it work that in the end he couldn’t figure out how to keep Megalopolis the awe inspiring epic it had the potential to be while sacrificing certain parts. In the end the only one who can answer that question is Coppola himself I suppose.

Is there anything from Megalopolis I can see online?


Several pieces of concept art of how Coppola’s Megalopolis would’ve looked have been released online and can be found with a quick Google search (or by looking on here!). The best thing you can find related to Megalopolis however is that 212 page script. Again, it’s unknown what draft of the script this was so it’s impossible to determine whether this was Coppola’s final vision or a rough sketch. In any event, it’s worth reading flaws and all. One way or the other you’ll be fascinated by the time you’ve finished.


Conclusion


Megalopolis was supposed to be the final masterpiece of a filmmaker whose career is loaded with some of the most famous, critically acclaimed films ever made. Instead it looks as though Megalopolis will become one of the greatest “what if” questions in film history. It’s such a shame. Francis Ford Coppola isn’t just one of the best filmmakers ever but one of the most interesting voices in filmmaking, a man who has never been afraid to buck the system and swing for the fences. Megalopolis represented a return to that attitude Coppola had before he abandoned in it in the 80s and 90s (ironically so he could get financing for Megalopolis), and right now it looks as though it’ll merely be a script left in his drawer. Believe me when I say that, as a film buff and an aspiring writer myself, there’s nothing that would disappoint me more than if Coppola never makes this film. Megalopolis is something that deserves to be seen by everyone, even if Coppola merely shoots the version of the script out there now and makes no adjustments. I can’t say on whether it would be an all time classic, an all time disaster or somewhere in between (I’d say somewhere in the middle with the current version), but that matters little. What matters is that Coppola deserves one last shot to make his final dream project and see if he still has the touch that made him the king of Hollywood four decades ago. And the thought of him never being able to do this film fills me with the same dread I feel whenever I’m reminded that Kubrick never made the Napoleon film he so desperately wanted to make. Coppola doesn’t deserve that fate and he sure as hell deserves one last chance to complete what could be his fifth masterpiece. So you can bet that if he does manage to get Megalopolis off the ground I will be there opening night to see it. The script, the story behind the film, the director; all of it fascinates me. I need to see this film. We the film goers deserve to see this film. Above all else Coppola deserves to make this film. I hope he gets that chance.


There you have it folks. I’m off till tomorrow, where I return to my wrestling writing for a review of Lucha Underground’s second night of Ultima Lucha Dos. Till then, some more Megalopolis concept art.

Concept art of Serge's watch.
Concept art of Serge's watch.

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