'The Thing' is loose: Universal adjusts 2011 release schedule
The Universal Pictures slate is getting a little cloudy.
The studio has decided to remove "The Thing," its prequel to the 1982 John Carpenter science-fiction picture, from its scheduled April 29, 2011, opening, leaving the film without a release date.
In its place, the studio has moved up "Fast Five," the fourth sequel in the auto-racing "Fast & Furious" franchise from June 10 to the April slot. A studio spokeswoman said that "The Thing" was not yet ready and that the studio was very keen on the new "Fast & Furious" movie, citing the successful release of the franchise's fourth film in April 2009.
"The Thing," which tracks the discovery of an alien craft in Antarctica (the events directly precede those from Carpenter's film), is being directed by debut filmmaker Matthijs van Heijningen Jr. Production began last spring.
Meanwhile, the studio has also faced a setback on its "Ouija" project, a big-budget picture adapted from the Hasbro board game that's being produced by Michael Bay's Platinum Dunes production company.
Universal executives met Thursday with "Taken" director Pierre Morel, who had been considered a front-runner for the directing job. But Morel and the executives couldn't find common creative ground, according to two people familiar with the conversations who asked not to be identified because of the sensitive nature of the discussions. That leaves executives and producers to continue casting a net for directing candidates.
Universal still hopes to make the movie in time for a Thanksgiving 2012 release. There is added pressure to move forward on the big-budget property, with the planned release for another Hasbro-derived movie, the Taylor Lautner-starring "Stretch Armstrong," already pushed from 2012 to 2013.
Hasbro properties are also a priority for more practical reasons: penalties kick in if the movies don't move forward within certin time limits. Another complicating factor is that the film has to sync with the merchandising machine, which is set into motion years in advance.
A Universal spokeswoman declined comment on the "Ouija" situation.
The uncertainty comes as Universal sees its ownership transition from GE to Comcast, putting the fate of the studio's leadership in new hands.
Finally, the sports comedy movie "Ballers," which according to Rentrak had still been on the docket for next November, is now officially undated.
The fictional film, which was to revolve around characters at a LeBron James fantasy camp and was to star the Miami Heat forward himself, had been set to shoot last summer. But scheduling proved tricky as the athlete made the move from Cleveland and was courted anew by Madison Avenue, and the project was put on hold.
-- Steven Zeitchik
Photo: The 1951 movie, "The Thing from Another World," on which John Carpenter loosely based his 1982 film, "The Thing"