Universal's adaptation of Stephen King's epic saga The Dark Tower is an ambitious project - set to include story elements from the main eight books as well as incorporate information from the novella and comic book series.
Now it sounds as if the immense source material, high-cost talent already attached to the project, and the over-complicated release plan for the trilogy (and supplementary TV installments), may be causing some executives to have cold feet.
According to sources close to Variety, despite the support of Ron Howard's Imagine Entertainment, the cost and long-term scope of the project have made Universal's new owners at Comcast nervous - causing them to take another, closer, look at the plan and put The Dark Tower into turnaround (at least for the time being). While it sounds as if the majority of the concern centers on the complicated logistics and sheer size of the adaptation, a report from THR also indicates that the executives could also feel that the latter installment may not be on-par with the rest of the series.
The same sources indicate that Universal is currently weighing options ranging from a temporary halt to seek additional financial backing or potentially canceling the project outright - and that a decision should be announced soon. That said, it's worth noting that Michael Rosenberg (president of entertainment at Imagine) is denying The Dark Tower adaptation has hit any snags.
However, beyond the long-term commitment of adapting this much written material into a cohesive and satisfying cinematic experience, there's no doubt that Universal's choice to further complicate the process by releasing the filmed content through alternating movie and TV projects - with the televised portions filling in the gaps between the larger blockbuster features - will require an extremely complex (and expensive) marketing campaign. As a result, it's understandable why the Comcast execs might be a bit weary.
While certainly a high-profile printed franchise in the comic book and sci-fi community, The Dark Tower doesn't have the same kind of casual audience name recognition as other large-scale book adaptations such as Lord of the Rings or The Chronicles of Narnia. This isn't to say that director Ron Howard coupled with an Oscar winner Javier Bardem couldn't offer-up a film (and TV) experience that would keep fans, and newcomers alike, coming back for each installment.
The Chronicles of Narnia film franchise, now on its third installment, has fallen short of expectations over the last few years - as a result of filmgoers growing tired of the drawn-out series. Certainly, as a trilogy, The Dark Tower would be a much tighter narrative than the one movie per book format Narnia embraced. However, given the ambitious release plan, Universal would be committing to a much bigger project than a normal film trilogy - with the marketing campaign constantly hyping the next TV installment as the release of the prior feature film winds down, and vice versa.
In order for the plan to work, Universal would have to maintain momentum in more than one medium for over half a decade - so that no viewers fall-off and get left behind. The studio could always halt production in the middle of the series, should it fail to ignite the box office - but by the time executives would have a chance to truly analyze the success of even the first film, they'd already have one TV installment en route - and at least be in pre-production on the second film.
Since we're hearing conflicting reports, Dark Tower fans shouldn't panic - yet. Even if the project is killed-off at Universal, Howard and Co. could take the project to Sony (who enjoyed success with Howard's Da Vinci Code films) or Warner Bros. (who previously attempted to snag The Dark Tower rights last year).
Follow me on Twitter @benkendrick and let us know how you'd like to see The Dark Tower make it to the big screen.
The Dark Tower was expected to arrive in theaters in 2013. We'll keep you posted when we hear official confirmation one way or the other.