Luke Owen looks back at Red Dwarf: The Movie, and how it never got made…
In 1998, BBC decided to pull the plug on Red Dwarf after its eighth series. The final series, aired in 1999, climaxed with an episode titled “Only The Good”, which ended with the words ‘The End’, before being replaced with ‘THE SMEG IT IS’. And that would be correct, as this was not to be the end of the road for Lister, Rimmer, Cat, Kochanski and Kryten, as co-creator Doug Naylor had big plans for the future of Red Dwarf – he was going to make a movie.
Initially Naylor had planned to do a ninth series of the show, but the BBC rejected his proposal. While it’s not known exactly why the series was turned down, the official Red Dwarf website noted that they now had more than 52 episodes of the show in the can, which meant it could be sent out for syndication worldwide. With no ninth season on the table, Naylor began to write a script for Red Dwarf: The Movie, and the official announcement was made on November 20th, 2000.
“As of August 2000, the Red Dwarf movie has officially pencilled in the main cast to reprise their roles on the big screen,” the official website stated. “The series regulars – Chris Barrie, Craig Charles, Danny John-Jules, Robert Llewellyn, Chloë Annett and Norman Lovett – have all had their places reserved, as has Mac McDonald who plays Captain Hollister. The movie – whose title and storyline have yet to be confirmed – is set to go into production in the spring of 2001, with the cast’s filming schedule allocated from May.”
Naylor penned a deal with an unnamed production company who guaranteed to put £10 million into the movie’s £15 million budget. Naylor and director Ed Bye (who directed 40 episodes of the show) met to discuss the script in February of 2001, and in March the cast got together to read through the script. “The first read-through went by in a zippy couple of hours – halting only occasionally for drastic bursts of laughter – with the stage directions being read by Ed Bye,” a website post in March reads. “A break for lunch allowed stomachs to be filled before returnees took their seats to work on some of the key dialogue sequences.” It was also announced that TV show crew veterans Mark Wybourn (editor), Jem Whippey (sound supervision), Linda Glover (casting director), Andrea Finch (make-up artist) and Howard Burden (costume designer) had all joined the film’s crew along with line producer Patricia Carr (The Mummy) and storyboard artist Jim Cornish (Lost in Space). “I was quite pleasantly surprised by [the script],” Cornish told BABoards in 2001. “It’s not just slapstick comedy, it’s got story items which will – visually – look interesting. That’s probably the leap you’ve got to make if you’re going from TV to film – I think you’ve got to ground it in something a little bit more than the pure comedy. You’ve got a bigger audience – a bigger viewing screen apart from anything else – so I think it’s got to stand up to scrutiny.”
By May 2001, the 2002 release date was still on the cards even though it would have gone up against fellow sci-fi stalwarts Star Wars: Episode II – Attack of the Clones and Star Trek: Nemesis. Rehearsals continued (without John-Jules who was filming Blade 2) while Harvey Harrison (The Mummy and The Mummy Returns) came on board as director of photography, however by June it was announced that Bye had left the director’s chair. “Sadly, Ed’s decided he couldn’t be involved, and I’m directing it on my own,” Naylor told Red Dwarf fanzine Better Than Life. Naylor also revealed that the story for Red Dwarf: The Movie would not continue on from series eight of the TV series. “It’s a complete story unto itself,” Naylor revealed. “The story begins before the series started, and then goes off in a direction that the series didn’t go off on. So it’s set up and then has it’s own story, complete in itself, whilst still being able to assemble the cast that we know and love.” He also hushed rumours that he was planning a series of Red Dwarf movies, but said they would be up for doing a sequel if the first film was a hit.
But by the end of 2001, all news from Red Dwarf: The Movie fell silent. “Within seconds of me finishing the script, something that took nine months, the company’s share price went through the floor and so did their money,” Naylor later revealed at a Red Dwarf convention. The following year, Naylor and producer Charles Armitage found replacement funds for the budget, and pre-production recommenced in the summer of 2002 following other delays caused by Barrie filming Lara Croft Tomb Raider: The Cradle of Life, which also had Harrison behind the camera. “Naturally it’s frustrating, but it’s been perversely good for the film in the long run, with new territories buying up the TV series,” Armitage told Red Dwarf‘s website. “Particularly Japan – as a Red Dwarf market, it’s maturing to match the UK, USA and Australasia.” Red Dwarf‘s webmaster Andrew Ellard added, “The movie’s going to revolutionise Red Dwarf. If I were a gambling man, I’d bet on some kind of offer, simply because it’s worked so well for things like the Bond movies. But it’s simply too far off to speculate”
Sadly, that money also failed to come to fruition. “A tax incentive EIS scheme was drawn up, something which took almost a year and cost legal fees into six figures,” Naylor later explained. “Contracts were signed, and then at the last minute the founders got cold feet and the scheme never happened.” Naylor traveled the world trying to find new investors. “I visited Germany, Austria, Spain, I talked to people in Canada, France, Italy and New Zealand in the search for a home for the movie because the UK studios were full of American films and we could no longer afford to shoot there,” Naylor added. “I shook hands with a man who promised we would be in pre-production two weeks into . He was the managing director of the company and there seemed to be no stopping us. A few weeks into the New Year he called and said he’d spoken to his number two and they’d decided not to invest in the film. ‘But I thought you were the boss?’ I said. ‘I am but I have to do what my number two says,’ he replied.” Armitage added in an interview with SFX Magaine: “We’re just putting together the last pieces of paperwork at the moment, and hoping to be shooting in February or March next year… with a big budget – well, a bigger budget by the standards of British films, anyway.”
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