We spent most of last year guessing what project David Fincher is directing next, with Disney’s 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea remake and Sony’s The Girl Who Played with Fire being the front-runners. The filmmaker entered negotiations to adapt Gillian Flynn’s mystery book Gone Girl in January, leading some to wonder if Fincher had tired of studio executives holding up progress on those bigger-budget adaptations (not to mention, pondering unreasonable cost-cutting measures).

Disney has been weighing the decision to move forward with 20,000 Leagues since last October, back when Brad Pitt was reported as Fincher’s preferred choice to play sailor Ned Land (marking their fourth collaboration). It appears that the Mouse House is finally readying to commit; however, Pitt is not onboard (no pun)… not yet, anyway.

THR is reporting that Disney executives and Australian federal arts minister Simon Crean are finalizing a deal that allows 20,000 Leagues to shoot for cheaper in the country (thanks to a rebate worth $19.2 million), before the studio officially green-lights production. Several publications based Down Under are reporting that Pitt is starring, but THR‘s source are claiming that’s (currently) not accurate.

Between Fincher planning to use 3D cameras on the project and estimates that the re-imagining of Jules Verne’s fantastical adventure novel will be 70% CGI, this is going to be a pretty expensive flick (maybe in the vicinity of $150-200 million). It requires more sound stage work and manpower that director James Mangold’s X-Men installment The Wolverine, which filmed last year at the Village Roadshaw Studios in Queensland (where location scouts are considering for 20,000 Leagues). Hence, Disney is keen to address budget concerns ahead of production, following on the heels of last year’s John Carter and this summer’s The Lone Ranger; both cost the studio a pretty penny more than desired.

Fincher’s broody and visually-subdued filmmaking tendencies don’t seem like an obvious fit for a big-budget Disney movie, which is probably another reason the Mouse House has been extra cautious about signing off on his version of 20,000 Leagues. In addition, the earliest script draft was penned by Contagion and Side Effects screenwriter Scott Z. Burns – again, not exactly the sort of ideal candidate for making inoffensive, all-audiences entertainment that Disney specializes in.

Here’s what Burns recently told The Playlist about his and Fincher’s approach:

“I think both of our goal was to make Captain Nemo, as he is in the book, a very complicated character, because there’s some things that he say says and explores that are really profound and amazing but there is some behavior that he engages in that is horrific and criminal,” Burns said. “And there’s a really interesting triangle, between him and Ned Land and the Professor, of three things that continue to march through time since the Industrial Revolution, and that’s technology and commerce and humanity. And these three things tugging at each other inside a submarine is what I wanted to get at.”

Burns’ original screenplay was revamped by Andrew Kevin Walker, who penned Se7en for Fincher (in addition to films like 8MM, Sleepy Hollow and The Wolfman). No doubt, their version of 20,000 Leagues is walking more on the dark side than Disney’s whimsical 1954 adaptation – or even the relatively darker Pirates of the Caribbean movies – and that makes it a riskier investment for the company. On the other hand, Disney is actively pushing to broaden its appeal (see: J.J. Abrams directing Star Wars: Episode VII for the studio and Lucasfilm) – and this could very well be an effective way to do just that.

More on 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea as the story develops.

Source: THR, The Playlist