By Anne Thompson | Thompson on Hollywood August 3, 2009 at 2:47AM
Steven Spielberg is directing a remake of the Universal/Broadway classic Harvey; he's seeking a star like Tom Hanks or Will Smith to star. Fox is partnering with DreamWorks/Reliance to produce the movie about a six-foot, invisible rabbit.
Rob Marshall is "circling" the latest Pirates of the Caribbean sequel.
Ridley Scott is ramping up an Alien prequel.
Ron Howard is directing a Robert Ludlum novel, The Parsifal Mosaic.
Robert Downey Jr. is starring as Sherlock Holmes. Russell Crowe is Robin Hood. Warners is rebooting Captain Blood as a space odyssey. Universal has remakes of The Creature from the Black Lagoon and The Wolf Man in the works. Every studio is desperately seeking franchises, tentpoles, remakes, reboots, prequels and sequels. Original is a dirty word. It means having to start something from scratch with no safety zone.
We know that books, plays, tv shows, videogames, theme park rides, comics and graphic novels are easier to make than anything original. (The Independent rounds up some of the studios' recent franchise-chasing activity.) But these are Hollywood's best and brightest, the directors who can usually get anything made. But not if the studios don't give them the money. These are what the studios consider to be the most commercial projects. Handing Tim Burton Alice in Wonderland is a no-brainer. And I want to see Downey as Sherlock Holmes, too. But Rob Marshall directing a Pirates sequel tells me the guy is chasing the bucks. Producer Jerry Bruckheimer has visual taste. But Marshall considering Pirates makes me wonder how Nine turned out. A gifted musical director, Marshall flubbed the period drama Memoirs of a Geisha . He's not a big-budget VFX action maven.
If you want to go original at a studio, you'd better be the Coen brothers (A Serious Man), James Cameron (Avatar) or Peter Jackson (producer of District 9). Pixar/Disney's John Lasseter and Japan's Hayao Miyazaki (Ponyo) have been making originals their entire careers. They believe in it. And it works. You just have to fly by the seat of your pants and make strong judgement calls about actually delivering a satisfying movie that isn't pre-digested, already proven. It's about fear of failure. In today's Hollywood, it takes guts to be original.