The saga of director David Fincher's delayed remake of 20,000 Leagues Under The Sea is a long and painful one. There have been many incarnations of Jules Verne's classic 1870 novel, both on film and television, but it's the 1954 Disney production - the only science-fiction film produced by Walt Disney himself - which to date remains the most beloved and definitive version of the story.
Girl With The Dragon Tattoo director Fincher has been chasing this project for a long time. It was finally set to go into production a few months ago with Fincher's Se7en screenwriter Andrew Kevin Walker to rewriting a script by Side Effects scribe Scott Z. Burns. Now the project has reportedly been put on hold once again, with production due to begin in early 2014.
The delay was reported by the Sydney Morning Herald; filming was supposedly to begin next month in Sydney, with the production lured there by the promise of a $21.6 million tax rebate package by the Australian government. Despite speculation that the delay is due to Brad Pitt (Fincher's preferred choice to play the lead, Ned Land) leaving the project, Pitt actually jumped the ship months ago (probably due to massive delays with World War Z).
By all accounts, Fincher's version would be loosely based on the source material, but keep true to "the spirit" of the story, which follows sailor Ned Land and Professor Pierre Aronnax as they encounter the brilliant, crazed Captain Nemo and his powerful, steampunk-ian proto-submarine Nautilus - all while investigating a series of disappearing ships amid reports of giant sea monsters roaming the Pacific Ocean.
20,000 Leagues has entered production and been halted multiple times, with Terminator Salvation director McG once involved, and Will Smith, then Sam Worthington, eyed for the lead. McG left the project as Disney shut it down in order to focus on Tron Legacy and John Carter, and with neither film living up to its promise, (and the latter proving a real black eye for the studio in 2012), reports went dark until Fincher got involved.
With Fincher's involvement in Dragon Tattoo sequel The Girl Who Played With Fire (the second in the trilogy of novels by Stieg Larsson) evidently still up in the air, there have been no hard reports on what the director's famously short attention span will turn to next. He directed the first two chapters of Netflix's House of Cards, which debuted to great acclaim earlier this year, but word on his feature film projects seemingly dried up.
So will this remake ever really happen? These days, unless a major blockbuster-hopeful has either a superhero, a Pixar franchise or the words "Star" and "Wars" in the title, Disney is skittish about throwing money at it. Given the well-documented marketing fiasco behind John Carter's box-office failure (despite the movie actually being pretty good), this is to be expected from not just Disney but all the major studios. Given the skyrocketing costs of major A-list stars, ballooning production budgets and need for huge, international marketing campaigns, these big-budget tentpoles need to be huge hits, and 20,000 Leagues Under The Sea is far from a sure thing.
It has the sea-faring angle going for it, which - if marketed correctly - could coast on the warm place we have in our hearts for the Pirates of the Caribbean franchise (well, the first one, anyway). The pure nostalgia factor - again, if the ad teams can effectively communicate with audiences - can (maybe) draw in the literary crowd while winning over a slightly older demographic, who may be familiar with the original film and its smattering of remakes. There's also the matter of Fincher, a brilliant filmmaker who just isn't known for his four-quadrant, all-ages output. His one attempt at this was the 2008 film The Curious Case of Benjamin Button which, despite its critical and commercial success, does not exactly qualify him a "crow-pleaser" filmmaker.
20,000 Leagues has potential, but will only connect with the movie-going public if the studio has confidence in its director and a unified vision of how to present this now-relatively-obscure title to an audience used to big movies based on comic book characters and board games. This project may be on hold for now, but it's far from gone. Stay tuned for details as they emerge.