By Gabe Toro | The Playlist July 21, 2011 at 3:56AM
One of the more ambitious projects in recent memory, "The Dark Tower," was canceled earlier this week by Universal Pictures. It's not a surprise, as the studio also recently put the kibosh on a $150 million-budgeted R-rated take on "At the Mountains of Madness" by Guillermo del Toro and Ron Howard, and Akiva Goldsman's multi-platform, multi-film Stephen King adaptation was arguably more risky and definitely much more expensive. We here at The Playlist root for movies to be good, but we mostly root for movies to be made, for a director to complete their vision and for it to have a chance to reach an audience and possibly become a part of the popular culture.
As such, every year films fall by the wayside because they weren't ready because they cost too much or because the filmmakers had moved on due to a variety of circumstances. So here's a look at 10 canceled projects that never saw the light of day, as well as some thoughts on how they can be resurrected. We've done this before -- you can read about 10 more projects here and another 10 right here. And if you want separate knowledge of the lost films of David Fincher and Joe Carnahan, check here and here.
“Pompeii” Dir. Roman Polanski
What Killed It? “Pompeii” was meant to be a huge international blockbuster with Orlando Bloom and Scarlett Johansson set to star in the true-life story set in 79 A.D. about a young engineer who attempts to repair a massive aqueduct before Mt. Vesuvius blows with "Chinatown"-esque political machinations playing out in the background. With a budget of $130 million and shooting locations already set, acclaimed director Roman Polanski jumped on board. However, securing that budget proved to be a more difficult task than previously imagined, and shooting dates were postponed due to the 2008 writer's strike. Reluctant to commit to a rushed strike shoot, Polanski bowed out and the project died a quiet death. Robert Harris, who penned the book “Pompeii,” later teamed with Polanski for “The Ghost Writer.”
How Can It Be Resurrected? Perhaps this project HAS taken on a second life, albeit in a new medium. Ridley Scott is developing a four-hour miniseries based on the original novel with Robert Towne adapting. Meanwhile, drive-in trash director Paul W.S. Anderson is currently developing a big-budget film about the Pompeii disaster centered on a slave bound for Naples after Vesuvius blows, who heads back to rescue his love and best friend from a city that has been reduced to rubble.
“Inside Man 2” Dir. Spike Lee
What Killed It? “Inside Man” was a much-needed box office hit for Spike Lee in 2005, combining the tough New York sensibilities of his earlier work with a crowd-pleasing heist formula provided by Russell Gerwitz’s topsy-turvy script. Once the studio requested a sequel, Gerwitz got to work, putting together a narrative involving a diamond heist that would rejoin Detective Keith Frazier (Denzel Washington), thief Dalton Russell (Clive Owen) and mover-shaker Madeleine White (Jodie Foster). Apparently that draft wasn’t up to standard, so Lee enlisted Terry George to create an entirely new narrative involving these characters. But years later, Lee has made it clear that the studio is uninterested in this pitch as well, financing couldn't be raised, and thus “Inside Man 2” was dead. Meanwhile, plans to shoot “Brooklyn Loves MJ” and the terrorist blockbuster thriller “Nagasaki Deadline” have also passed him by, even with the latter produced by James Cameron.
How Can It Be Resurrected? It’s pretty implausible that those three characters would encounter each other again, but the original was so much fun that we’d be on board. But it seems as if the studio has passed on the film for good, and as years go by, it becomes harder to justify spending money on a six-year-old film that didn’t generate $100 million domestically.
“Green Lantern: The Robert Smigel Edition”
What Killed It? There was a movie that came out a little over a month ago. It was called “Green Lantern.” Do you remember it? It had a superhero of some sort. Well, it wasn’t the first cinematic interpretation of that character to be pitched to Warner Bros. Back in 2004, prolific "Late Night With Conan O'Brien" and "Saturday Night Live" writer Robert Smigel had drafted a treatment of the Emerald Guardian that was comedic in tone. Jumping off from the popular “Emerald Dawn” storyline, Smigel’s script found a magic ring being granted to middling reality TV star named Hal Jordan, a part written specifically for Jack Black. Once word got out that the WB was preparing a comedic take on a hero many consider “sacred” to the DC brand name, they killed the project. Even Smigel, who wrote a script where Green Lantern chases girls, wears a fanny pack, and conjures up Superman to save the world, admitted the fans were likely to rebel.
How Can It Be Resurrected? Hal Jordan got his time in the sun in last month’s “Green Lantern,” but the GL mythos actually allows room for multiple characters using that title. So Smigel’s comedic take can be brought back to life as an alternative to the often deadly-serious last film with a new lead character. The only issue with this is that the initial film was a tremendous box office flop derided by critics. If Warner Bros. is serious about a sequel, they might have to start talking “reboot,” and if they do, there’s no more drastic reboot than the Robert Smigel script they have sitting in a drawer somewhere.
“Hands on a Hard Body” Dir. Robert Altman
What Killed It? Probably the saddest way for a movie to evaporate. “Hands on a Hard Body” was a critically acclaimed documentary of the same name from 1997 in which residents of a small Texas town compete in a deceptively simple competition to see who would win a Nissan Hardbody truck. The rules are simple: place one hand on the truck and never let go. The event came to a memorable, unfortunate end (not seen in the doc) when a man let go of the truck, walked across the street, and fired a shotgun into his own face. A narrative film based on the documentary was in the planning stages at now-defunct Picturehouse with Robert Altman on board to direct, with Billy Bob Thornton and Hilary Swank in discussion for potential roles. But Altman fell ill and eventually passed on in late 2006, months before production was to start. Bob Berney, the head of Picturehouse, solemnly told Variety, “This was conceived as a Robert Altman film, and I’m not sure there can be any other way to do it.” And it wasn't the only Altman picture left behind -- the auteur was also involved with “Paint,” a comedy about a documentary filmmaker investigating a murder in the New York City art world. Salma Hayek and James Franco were attached to star in what would've been a follow-up to “The Company” but the project never materialized.
How Can It Be Resurrected? It’s not certain as to whether Altman had finished the script for 'Body' that he wrote with Stephen Harrigan, but if so, there’s a potential Altman-esque script lying there, waiting to be brought to the screen. Perhaps Altman protégé Paul Thomas Anderson, who directed second unit on Altman’s final film “A Prairie Home Companion,” could be persuaded to bring the story to life. For those of you desperate to get a feel for “Hands on a Hard Body,” the documentary is readily available, but there’s also a lengthy subplot in the 2003 indie “The Safety of Objects” that dramatizes a similar event.