“What if they Lived?” is written with such an impression of profundity and grace that it’s hard to imagine it being anything other then such an eloquent piece of speculative non-fiction. “What if They Lived?” is a lengthy tome of work that could have very well been exploitative nonsense as if drummed by the hackiest writers South of TMZ, but with two genuine movie lovers at the helm, “What if they Lived?” results in a four hundred page oath to the rising talent and quickly destroyed stars that were taken from us much too soon. From Jean Harlow, to James Dean, right down to Brandon and Bruce Lee, “What if they Lived?” speaks with experts and historians and examines a life had these talented thespians and ingénues been given just a little more time to shine on and explore their career options rather than fade away in to a sad and often tragic demise.
One of the chapters I skipped to immediately was Brandon Lee a man capable of hitting all of the high notes his father Bruce Lee once did, and while the one real caveat within this chapter is not exactly pin pointing all of the roles he had impending (including a role in “Mortal Kombat” and an inevitable running for a key role in “The Matrix”), we’re able to see much of what he had optioned and what he was capable of.
“What if they Lived?” though isn’t so much about harping on the sad fates of big stars, but on exploring the possible alternate realities upon which these gifts to audiences and fans weren’t so immensely short lived and greeted with woe and sadness. “What if They Lived?” is meant primarily to dispel rumors that perhaps none of these individuals had careers waiting for them at the other end to begin with, thus giving them one final chance to defend themselves and show that they had so much to give audiences and so little life in them to give it through. There are some chapters where historians just admit the individual was fated to enter in to an early grave, as explained in the Dorothy Dandridge chapter to where it’s explained she didn’t much of a career waiting for her and was just going to stall the inevitable, thanks to her reliance on prescription pills and champagne.
River Phoenix is told as having bounced back and forth between indie fare and mainstream fare never quite finding his footing as an icon like James Dean. Those are just entries in time that we will never quite know the true fates of, but it’s daring to wonder and ponder on the possibilities and hope that perhaps–just perhaps–these great geniuses had so much more left in them, so much more wills to live and to learn and love. However, there are more positive explorations in to the many possible legendary roles that not only the actor would have defined, but vice versa. These are just as tragic as James Dean was set to play Billy the Kid in a role he’d coveted especially, while Tupac would have become even more powerful as a musician and actor had he survived his shooting.
There are the evident trademarks of writer Phil Hall and Rory Aronsky here as Hall’s entries (left unmarked) dabble more in to the lost films of said stars and odd tributes (the pop eye and Lee team-up for example), while Aronsky is more keen on discussing the speculation with others of his ilk. But at the end of the day whether this can be taken as gospel or not is up to the reader, since fans will want to believe what they choose, while others will take these chapters as the definitive startling looks in to the ill fated lives of these artists, and for that it deserves an in-depth exploration by all inquisitive readers and movie buffs anxiously trying to figure out what could have been if life hadn’t played a key role.