When details about the film began to circulate several months ago, "Gravity" looked like the kind of project many believe Hollywood studios do best: employ a muscular budget in the service of a grand vision, creating memorable effects and hitting emotional beats. And serious talent was involved: Alfonso Cuaron, the "Children of Men" auteur, was writing and directing the movie, and Angelina Jolie was set to star.
Fan sites were gushing immediately. "Anyone know when filming is supposed to begin because I can't wait for this. If there's any director who could potentially match what [Christopher] Nolan is doing with 'Inception,' it's Cuaron," was one typical fan-site comment.
But the movie that many saw in their mind's eye may never make it to the screen.
Jolie bowed out of the film three weeks ago, and Natalie Portman had discussions with Cuaron to replace her but opted out as well, according to several trade-news outlets. Robert Downey Jr., who was to play a supporting role, now looks likely to exit. ("Scheduling issues" are acknowledged by Warner Bros. executives, who say they have not entirely given up hope that the actor will take the part.) Sandra Bullock, who came on to the film after talks with Portman didn't materialize, remains in — for now.
Over the last few days, the talk in Hollywood circles has been that all the casting issues, as well as budgetary concerns for the effects-heavy movie, were causing Warner Bros. to put the film on hold. One person who had been briefed on the project but asked not to be identified because the conversations were private said that studio officials had told him the project was headed to the shelf.
Reached by phone, the Warner Bros. executive in charge of production said that, despite the casting issues and the other talk, the film remains on track. "We love this movie, and we're going to find a way to make it," Lynn Harris, executive vice president of production, told 24 Frames.
Harris said there were "four or five scenarios" for how to make the movie but said none involved cutting the budget or replacing Bullock. Harris did not disclose the budget, but Hollywood observers estimate it to be in the ballpark of $75 million.
To some in the movie business, "Gravity" has been a question mark from the start: It's coming at a time when studios rarely make expensive character-driven movies. It also lacks an obvious commercial hook, and there are artistic touches that include a reported 20-minute single take to open the movie.
Some have likened "Gravity" to "Cast Away," but even if the comparison holds, times have changed in the decade since the Tom Hanks film came out. These days, most movies of this kind are left in independent-film hands. The premise of "Gravity" is similar to that of 2008's "Moon," Duncan Jones' story of a man on the lunar surface struggling to get back to his family — which was made for a small budget outside the studio system.
Warner Bros. executives say they wouldn't want to make "Gravity" with anyone other than Bullock. The question for many in Hollywood is whether they will make the movie at all.
— Steven Zeitchik
Photo: Cuaron's 'Children of Men.' Credit: Universal Pictures