It always did feel like it was too good to be true. Kind of like the Goldilocks fable…
Ambitiously announced last year as a joint Universal and NBC venture and raising eyebrows everywhere was the unveiling of their planned multi-platform and groundbreaking adaptation of Stephen King’s magnum opus sci-fi western series The Dark Tower that would be translated as three epic feature films and at least one, but probably two, t.v. series’ in between. The first film would be released in May 2013 but the history of cinema suggested that adaptations like this simply just don’t happen – especially not for a series whose popularity and tone is somewhat cult-ish and certainly not as popular or well known in the mainstream as the works of Tolkien, JK Rowling or C.S. Lewis.
In fact I would go as far as saying that in my near five years of reporting daily on film, the most surprising press release that ever landed in my inbox was the announcement of Universal’s plans for King’s epic novel and I thought for a long while it was a wind-up. But true it was and Universal seemed to be pushing hard with the adaptation that Ron Howard and Akiva Goldsman (director & writer responsible for the Robert Langdon films The Da Vinci Code & Angels & Demons) had pitched, and later Battlestar Galactica’s Mark Verheiden jumped on board to spearhead the t.v. series.
Universal & Howard even seemingly pulled off the impossible, landing the Oscar winner and normally tentpole resistant Javier Bardem to lead the whole epic saga as the gunslinger Roland Deschain, and filming was set to begin on the first film, The Gunslinger, this fall.
But the foundations of the project began crumbling in May and now the project is done – Deadline reporting that NBC and Universal have pulled the plug on The Dark Tower after telling Howard and producers Goldsman, King and Brian Grazer that they could now only finance one film, an offer which they declined. The situation is eerily similar to the conversations Peter Jackson once had when trying to convince studio’s that The Lord of the Rings shouldn’t just be one film but three.
Costing & logistical problems have been cited as the keystone to the decision and one feels like answering – “DUH… didn’t you know you couldn’t do this kind of thing easy and on the cheap??” and our only real hope is that Ron Howard and Imagine Entertainment manage to keep the interest of Javier Bardem (which they won’t) and successfully convince another studio that they can make this work. But one feels they need to do this fast to keep up the momentum of the work they have done already.
If I were Howard I would pitch The Dark Tower straight to Warner Bros this afternoon as if they are ever going to make these movies into something, now is the time!! They are just coming off their last huge paycheck for the Harry Potter saga and next year will mark the last of their Batman movies with Christopher Nolan and nobody quite knows what to expect beyond that and whether under another director they can keep the quality of those films up and match fan expectations.
We heard that WB recently sat down director David Yates to mull over potential franchise films that could be his next project – they are clearly on the lookout for what could be their next big money driver. The Dark Tower is without doubt the most ambitious screen adaptation since the Harry Potter saga and in some ways it’s more ambitious as they want established actors to give the same kind of commitment these young kids gave in their teenage years but if anyone is going to take a risk it’s Warner Bros.
And if Ron Howard was REALLY smart… he would tell WB that there’s a cross-pollination potential with Stephen King’s other epic The Stand which they are trying to crack and which does have connection and story cross-overs with The Dark Tower series. If they put Howard and David Yates in a room together…. they could come up with something that could work for a big Stephen King franchise.
Perhaps that’s just the fanboy in me talking but it could happen…. and then all the other of Kings novels that tie into it as their own Avengers style multi-film universe (but clearly I am living in a fantasy land!).
But in truth I doubt Ron Howard thinks this as a possibility. His mind right now seems to be focused on his Formula 1 biopic of racer Niki Lauda titled Rush, that’s based off a Peter Morgan screenplay and sounds much more like an atypitcal Ron Howard picture. Howard became interested in the screenplay when Paul Greengrass flirted with the film this year and Howard already has Chris Hemsworth to star in the lead role, a major coup, and no doubt that one is being eyed as a potential Oscar movie. I do love Formula 1 movies and I’m excited for that movie…. but it’s just not quite The Dark Tower is it?
As for Universal, well don’t expect to get anything greenlit over there that takes more than a 5% risk of not getting your money back. The writing for this expected decision was probably on the wall this past May when Debbie Liebling, Universal’s President of Production was fired after a two year string of risky, ambitious and left-field projects that crashed and burned at the box office and cost the studio a shit load of money. Those films included Scott Pilgrim vs. The World, Your Highness, The Wolf Man, Land of the Lost, Green Zone and even what on paper should have been a banker – a re-teaming of Gladiator duo Ridley Scott & Russell Crowe in a Robin Hood epic – all of which were high-profile flops.
Despite a decade ago a precedent being set for studio brass having the balls to think bigger with their adaptations in the light of The Lord of the Rings’ success, Universal are simply sick of losing money and are in no moods for risks anymore. With a t.v. series having to be put into production likely before The Gunslinger has even hit the screens, the potential for further ploughing money into a risk project was simply too great.
Just as it was with Guillermo Del Toro’s $150 million budgeted adaptation of H.P. Lovecraft’s At The Mountains of Madness which couldn’t even get off the ground with the heavyweights of James Cameron producing and Tom Cruise starring! We have truly entered a different world and it sucks to be a sci-fi fan right now.
So The Dark Tower is back to where it’s most often been…. in limbo.
J.J. Abrams couldn’t crack it some years back and now Ron Howard has seemingly failed.
Just who will etch the next attempt to make these fabulous books – my favourite series of all time – into the films they deserve to be? We await to hear of the next attempt to help Roland make it to The Dark Tower.