The future of Ron Howard’s ambitious adaptation of The Dark Tower series looks to be growing decidedly more grim with each passing day. Concerns over the project’s massive budget recently forced Universal to hit the brakes on the production.

Howard quickly jumped into damage control mode and insisted that everything was still on track, but his interest in an assortment of new films seems to indicate that we probably won’t be seeing Roland Deschain on the big screen anytime soon.

Warner Bros. is developing a live-action film based on MAD Magazine’s long-running Spy Vs. Spy comic strip and according to Deadline, Howard will be calling the shots. The strip centers around two warring spies who use outlandish and over the top booby-traps in an ostensibly unending struggle to eliminate one another. Spy Vs. Spy segments are currently featured on the Cartoon Network series MAD and the titular characters also appeared in animated interstitials on the sketch show MADtv. The property has also been licensed for action figures, video games, and board games.

Howard and his Imagine Entertainment partner Brian Grazer will produce Spy Vs. Spy alongside David Koepp. John Kamps (Premium Rush, Ghost Town) is set to write the screenplay. Deadline affirms that the film will stay true to the spirit of its source material and describes it as “a physical and highly visual action comedy with two spies going mano a mano in ruthless fashion.”

Howard is also attached to direct Rush – a film based on the real life rivalry that existed between Formula One drivers James Hunt and Niki Lauda. The script was written by Academy Award-nominee Peter Morgan, who recently collaborated with Howard on Frost/Nixon. Paul Greengrass previously expressed interest in the project, but ultimately chose to make Maersk Alabama instead.

Howard has also been offered a new Frankenstein feature that’s set up at 20th Century Fox – so clearly he has no shortage of options. The question remains, though – is he simply trying to squeeze in another film before The Dark Tower gets underway or is this further evidence that the beleaguered production is headed for development hell?

Vulture seems to think it’s the latter. They’ve heard that the reason Howard is suddenly circling so many other films is that word has started to spread through Hollywood that the prolific director’s relationship with The Dark Tower is about to come to an end. Universal has yet to approve of the latest batch of rewrites, but Howard was optimistic that he’d get an official green light by the end of the summer. If that turns out to be the case, his priorities could potentially shift once again.

The problem is that even with a reduced budget, The Dark Tower is still a risky endeavor for the studio. The epic story is set to unfold over the course of three theatrical films and two television mini series – a strategy which puts an immense amount of pressure on the inaugural film. If it failed to perform as expected, production on the first season of the television series would already be underway.

It seems like an intriguing gamble, but it might not be one that Universal is prepared to make at this time. They already nixed plans for Guillermo del Toro’s adaptation of At the Mountains of Madness for similar reasons – and right now it looks as if The Dark Tower is coming dangerously close to suffering the same fate.

Rush sounds like a promising film, but something tells me that Spy Vs. Spy won’t be much of a consolation for fans that were ready to see The Dark Tower brought to life.

Source: Deadline and Vulture.