'The Dark Tower' Trilogy & Series Won't Happen at Universal

Tuesday, 19 July 2011 08:32 Written by  Jordan DeSaulnier
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'The Dark Tower' Trilogy & Series Won't Happen at Universal

For awhile there, it really looked like Universal Studios was going to show some cajones of unparalleled size by financing The Dark Tower, an adaptation of the seven-novel series by Stephen King that would span a hugely expensive  motion picture trilogy and two limited-run seasons of a television series.  Along with his writer Akiva Goldsman and producing partner Brian Grazer, director Ron Howard was zipping through preproduction, even snagging Oscar winner Javier Bardem to play the principal character, Roland Deschain.  In May, they hit some serious budgetary speedbumps, but the project was not yet dead at Universal until now, as Deadline reports that the studio has opting against proceeding with The Dark Tower.

The story, set in a world that mixes elements of westerns, postapocalyptic science fiction, fantasy, and Americana, follows the last of an ancient knightly order of Gunslingers on his quest to reach the eponymous structure.  Bardem and other central castmembers would have starred in all three films, as well as one season of the television show, with the other being a prequel featuring younger actors as the same characters.  To serve as co-writer and showrunner for the series, the creative team recently selected Battlestar Galactica co-executive producer and writer Mark Verheiden.

Production was scheduled to commence this September, but Universal rather abruptly abandoned preproduction in early May, sending employees home on a hiatus due to concerns over budget and the creative potential of later installments.  Howard, Grazer, and Goldsman reportedly convinced the studio brass to stick with the project while Goldsman delivered a rewritten screenplay for the first film to facilitate a lower budget.

For the last two months, the official line was that production would be delayed until probably the spring of 2012, with a green light still likely at a reduced budget.  According to Mike Fleming at Deadline, Universal reviewed the scripts for both the first film and the first television series and concluded that they would only be willing to finance the film.  The creative team intended to make both as more or less one extended shoot, using the sets, actors, and other resources from the film for the series.  As such, the commitment only to the first movie was not satisfactory.  Universal denies that this is how things shook out, though. 

Speculation suggests that the studio has a whole lot of resources tied up in tentpole action films Battleship and 47 Ronin, directed by Peter Berg and Carl Erik Rinsch, respectively.  Universal had a big hit earlier this summer with Fast Five, a more conventional action sequel.  In the spring, the studio passed on Guillermo del Toro's 3D HP Lovecraft adaptation At the Mountains of Madness, despite the involvement of producer James Cameron and star Tom Cruise.

Regardless of the exact motivations, the hugely ambitious Dark Tower project won't be happening at Universal.  Imagine Entertainment, Howard and Grazer's production company, is still free to shop the project to other studios who might be willing to take a big risk on the property.  Warner Bros seems the most likely to pick up the trilogy and series, as the studio is in need of a new franchise to pick up some of the slack now that the Harry Potter series is finishing up its decade-long run.

Ron Howard isn't dallying, however, as he is freshly signed on to direct the fact-based Formula 1 racing film Rush.  Both Chris Hemsworth and Daniel Bruhl potential leads to play rival drivers Niki Lauda and James Hunt.  All indications are that Howard and producer Brian Grazer are antsy to get a film into production and will move ahead with Rush quickly while sorting out this The Dark Tower business.

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