For the second time this year Universal Studios has had to pull the plug on an ambitious (and geek-drool-worthy) fantasy project due to budgetary concerns. Back in March it was Guillermo del Toro’s adaptation of H.P. Lovecraft’s At the Mountains of Madness, which sported a box-office-limiting R-rating and a $150-million budget (much of it to have been spent on giant CGI Elder God monsters and a non-CGI star, Tom Cruise).
Now the studio has also had to back out of producers Ron Howard and Brian Grazer’s sprawling, multi-format adaptation of Stephen King’s Western-flavored fantasy series The Dark Tower. The mighty plan was for Angels & Demons writer Akiva Goldsman to adapt King’s eight-book fantasy/sci-fi/horror/Western on both the big and small screens: There were to be three feature films that started shooting early next year, plus two television seasons folded in around them.
At one time, J.J. Abrams and Bad Robot were going to tackle King’s Dark Tower series, which follows the last of a knightly clan of gunslingers, Roland Deschain, as he wanders a magical, somewhat Old-West, post-Apocalyptic other-world on a quest to find the powerful tower of the title.
In Howard’s version, Javier Bardem was going to star in the films and the second TV season as the franchise’s hero, the gunslinger . The first TV season would have focused on Roland’s youth and featured a younger actor playing Bardem’s character.
This isn’t a case of a studio being a mean, poop-pants spoilsport — according to a Deadline Hollywood inside source, everyone at Universal loved the project and really wanted to see it happen. But even after asking Howard and Grazer to scale back the budget earlier this year, Uni just couldn’t make the numbers work during these tight economic times.
The studio was willing to finance the first film, but not the TV series, or commit yet to the second and third films. At the end of the number crunching, Universal felt The Dark Tower books (like Lovecraft’s) weren’t well-known enough in the broad mainstream to justify the risk of three big-budget fantasy films and two expensive seasons of fantasy TV.
This doesn’t mean Howard and Grazer’s Dark Tower is completely razed to the ground. Howard is going to move on this fall to directing Rush, his Formula-1 racing movie, but there’s still a chance another studio could pick up the Dark Tower film/TV series.
Warner Brothers in particular is being mentioned, according to Deadline – the studio and its Time-Warner siblings have plenty of experience with big, ambitious fantasy undertakings: HBO’s Game of Thrones, New Line’s Lord of the Rings and Hobbit films, and some little movie series with a boy wizard and his pals that’s just wrapping up, leaving a nice fantasy-sized opening in Warners’ franchise slate.
I have not read King’s Dark Tower books, but I’m always happy to see big, ambitious fantasy projects undertaken (and always happy to see Bardem in anything)–and sad to see them thwarted.
So I defer to you fans out there: How do you feel about what Howard and Grazer were planning, and about this current setback? Is it worth it for them to keep trying to get King’s series up on the big (and small) screen? Or in these post-Potter, economically strapped times, is it going to be nearly impossible for expensive new fantasy and sci-fi series based on lesser-known sources to get off the ground?
More from the Dark Tower players at redbox:
More fantasy action from redbox:
- The Storm Warriors
- The Last Airbender (on DVD and Blu-ray)
- Legend of the Guardians: The Owls of Ga’hoole
- Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, Part 1 (on DVD or Blu-ray)