Now that we're all excited about Ridley Scott's Forever War movie, it's worth looking back at the version by Stuart Gordon (Reanimator) that we almost had in the early 80s. Gordon, who later worked with Forever War author Joe Haldeman on Robot Jox, came close to making a PBS miniseries of the epic war novel, but ended up turning it into a stage play instead. (Really.) But at least the PBS project got as far as generating some amazing concept art by comics god Neal Adams, who helped reinvent Batman a decade earlier. More art, and more details on the strange saga of the Gordon Forever War, below the fold.

The blog A Subtle Echo dug up an interview with Adams from the early 80s about his Forever War designs. Adams says the book's Egg suits posed a particular challenge, and his first design was more form-fitting. Gordon looked at this and said, "Well, if you can't do it..." Chastened, Adams went back to the drawing board, "rethought the egg principle" and figured out the necessary arm and leg movement. The only drawback: you couldn't twist your torso in one of them. With a budget of only $3 million (up from $1 million originally) creating the Taurans posed another challenge. Adams accepted the "man in a suit" look, but tried to distort it by using extra-tall basketball-player figures, with extensions on the hands to make them look even more angular. "Subtly altering body movements, and perhaps changing the eyes, would convey an eerie, alien quality," Adams said. A third challenge: the spaceships had to evolve, starting with a group of Saturn rockets strapped together. "Each generation of spacecraft got bigger and more fanciful," Adams explained. Sadly, he concluded the interview by saying "I think The Forever War has a good chance of being made" with Gordon as director. If only. So what went wrong? Haldeman explains on his website:

The Forever War had been optioned by the Chicago public television station, who proposed to do it as a four-part miniseries. I had a few meetings with Stuart Gordon, the director, and it looked pretty exciting: the production was going to be lavish; it was the number-one budget item for the next couple of years. Then Reagan got elected, and public (or at least political) support for the arts was slashed. The station, its annual budget halved, had to drop the miniseries. But Stuart Gordon didn't want to drop The Forever War. In the course of outlining how to break up the story into four parts, I'd told him that the last part would be the simplest to shoot — you could almost do it as a stage play, with two or three sets. It turned out that Stuart was also director of the Organic Theater Company, and he tossed down a gauntlet: you write the last part as a stage play, and I'll have it produced.

The stage play was moderately successful, making back its big budget over a six-week run, including the $75,000 spent on special effects. And then two years later, Gordon hired Haldeman to write Robot Jox, which turned into another weird ordeal when Gordon tried to replace Haldeman as scriptwriter halfway through. (The movie's producers eventually sided with Haldeman and brought him back in for emergency rewrites on set.) Given how great the PBS version of Ursula LeGuin's Lathe Of Heaven was, around that same time, I'm incredibly bummed that we didn't get to see the PBS Forever War. (Especially with mega-genius Gordon involved.) But hopefully the Ridley Scott version will ease the sadness somewhat. More pics and info at the link. [A Subtle Echo]