If its last-minute bailing on the Tom Cruise-starring, Guillermo del Toro-directed At The Mountains Of Madness weren’t indication enough, Universal has become increasingly risk-averse—an attitude first hinted at back in 2009, when the company (still smarting from a summer of flops like Land Of The Lost) promised a future dominated by “marketable concepts” and sequels to established properties. This week saw two indicators of how that future will play out, with both the firing of the studio’s president of production and Universal’s excited announcement of how they planned to wring several more years out of the Fast And Furious franchise, now that Fast Five gave them their biggest-ever opening weekend. But in perhaps the most obvious omen that the mood at Universal has shifted, Variety reports that the studio is now considering abandoning Ron Howard’s ambitious adaptation of Stephen King’s The Dark Tower novels, a massive, massively expensive project that was supposed to encompass three films and two TV series over the course of the next decade.
Which is not surprising: Devoting the next several years to telling a single story across two different platforms is a huge gamble, one that could blow up in their face should audiences not immediately embrace the first film—and with Howard and Akiva Goldsman in charge, it’s never been a sure thing that even Dark Tower diehards would flock to it. Still, this is yet another sign that the studio has been forced to play it so incredibly safe, preferring a development slate that includes board-game adaptations like Battleship and Ouija to a potential Lord Of The Rings-like franchise (albeit one with a far less satisfying ending). Anyway, we should note that nothing is final yet: The official word from the studio as of yesterday is that Javier Bardem is still signed to play the lead and the first Dark Tower is still on track for its 2013 debut. Nevertheless, Variety claims that meetings will be held within the next few days to consider shopping it to other studios or just dump it completely. Expect to hear more soon.
UPDATE: Deadline now reports that the Dark Tower pre-production staff have been asked to stop working, and that all plans for a September start date have been canceled. The studio officially still insists that the project is a go, however, although it's looking increasingly likely that it will have to find another studio to share the burden, with Warner Bros. named as the likeliest candidate, or just hand it over to someone else altogether. (Or scrap it entirely.)