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Movies: Past, present and future

Category: Ron Howard

Does 'Dark Tower' collapse suggest end of Hollywood's ambition?

July 20, 2011 |  4:23 pm

Pretty much any time one discusses a Hollywood studio, a certain phrase seems to come up: "Oh, them -- they need franchises." And why not? Saying a large-scale production and distribution entity needs franchises is like saying an Italian restaurant needs tomato sauce. You can never have too much.

That would seem to make the cancellation of "The Dark Tower," the ambitious film and television adaptation of Stephen King's opus (it was to be turned into three movies and two limited-run TV series), more than a little surprising. In "Tower," Universal and NBC had a project that couldn't be more appealing: The fantasy-western was a property fans salivated for; it was a story of vast critical and commercial ambition; and it had some of the best elements money can buy, such as Javier Bardem (he was to play gunslinger Roland Deschain) and director Ron Howard. And NBCUniversal also had the broadcast, cable and studio platforms to release it.

But the we-need-franchises mantra these days usually comes with a second phrase: "Can we make it for a price?" For all of its interest in big-canvas, big-budget filmmaking a la Harry Potter, Hollywood is of course governed by conglomerates. And conglomerates, along with the people who run them (and the Wall Street perceptions that run them) don't like risk, which is pretty much exactly what you get when you decide to spend hundreds of millions of dollars on the basis of a few contracts and some dialogue on a page. Wall Street loves sure things. In moviedom, a sure thing is only that way in retrospect.

There are many reasons why "The Dark Tower" collapsed. A general industry skittishness was compounded by Universal-specific reasons -- the company is under new ownership in Comcast, and also has some pretty big bets coming up, like "Battleship." To hear the scuttlebutt, the studio was willing to greenlight only a single "Dark Tower" film, and the filmmakers said no go; they didn't want to start down the road of a seven-book series if they could make it only to the first signpost.

The losers in all this are -- who else? -- fans, who don't get a chance to see a beloved property given the treatment it deserves. (There is still a chance "The Dark Tower" could be set up somewhere else, but the odds are long.) As Hollywood clenches into conservatism, the one exception was supposed to be properties with big names and built-in fan bases. It turns out those aren't immune either. Unless a Peter Jackson or James Cameron gets involved -- and sometimes even if they do -- the properties can't get off the ground.
In following the drama surrounding "Tower," it was hard not to at least think of the discussion about a very different shelved project: the space-shuttle program. Like the U.S. government, it wasn't that long ago that Hollywood was willing to spend a lot of money to execute big ideas. But increasingly, the pragmatic takes priority. That makes a certain amount of financial sense. But each time it happens, we get a little further away from launching something great.


The Dark Tower: Ron Howard's plans and passion for Stephen King's epic

Stephen King follows DeLillo, Stone into JFK myth

A Formula One movie steps on the accelerator with Ron Howard

-- Steven Zeitchik


Photo: Cover art from the "Dark Tower" book series. Credit: Simon & Schuster

A Formula One movie steps on the accelerator -- but with Ron Howard instead of Paul Greengrass

June 21, 2011 |  3:44 pm

EXCLUSIVE: Formula One racing is one of the most popular sports around the world. Can it also be the stuff of blockbuster filmmaking in the United States?

A movie called "Rush" will test that question. A development project currently making the rounds of  Hollywood studios, "Rush" tells of the 1970s F1 rivalry between the late playboy British driver James Hunt and his nemesis, Austrian champion Niki Lauda.

Packaged just a few weeks ago as a Paul Greengrass film, the director has opted to move on to other projects, say two sources familiar with the pitch who asked not to be identified because they weren't authorized to speak on the director's behalf. Instead, one of the sources said, the movie is being shopped with veteran director Ron Howard ("A Beautiful Mind," "The Da Vinci Code") as the filmmaker.

The movie reunites Howard, who directed another '70s-set true-life piece, "Frost/Nixon," with his screenwriter on that film, Peter Morgan, who has written the "Rush" script. It aims to shoot this year in Europe and could command a budget as high as $50 million.

Lauda and Hunt would make compelling movie subjects. Archrivals who dominated their sport in the 1970s, their most storied square-off came in 1976, when Ferrari's Lauda went out in middle of the season after suffering a serious injury. That allowed McLaren's Hunt, who had lagged behind Lauda, to make up ground and eventually eke out a season win.

Adding to the rivalry: the pair were opposites both on and off the track. Hunt was known for dining with his dog at high-end London restaurants and for a general club and party lifestyle. Lauda led a more hard-luck life, contemplating suicide at one early point in his career and suffering the 1976 accident that burned a considerable portion of his face. His post-race career has nonetheless been fruitful: He's founded two airlines and for a time managed a Formula 1 team. (Hunt, who after retirement did racing commentary for the BBC, died in 1993.)

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Ron Howard looks to digital generation for inspiration

May 23, 2011 |  7:57 pm

Ron Howard Today’s youth are the most photographed and filmed generation in history and that holds a special fascination for Ron Howard, a man who knows exactly what it’s like to grow up with the cameras rolling.

“Whether people know it or not, they are developing a visual style, an aesthetic, a point of view about the pictures they take, they are,” the Oscar-winning filmmaker said. “They are seeing the world in a different way.”

The 57-year-old Howard sees a poise and perspective in today’s digital youth that eluded him even as a child actor on “The Andy Griffith Show” and as young star of “Happy Days” and “American Graffiti.” That acting career gave way to a celebrated filmmaking career (“A Beautiful Mind,” “Apollo 13,” “The DaVinci Code,” “Frost/Nixon”) but now, seeing the impact of the digital devices on modern culture, Howard is increasingly fascinated with muse of the masses.

In short, a man who grew up as the definition of Hollywood professionalism thinks he has plenty to learn from the collective amateur imagination of an audience that makes movies of their own every day.

That’s one of the reasons the Oscar-winning filmmaker announced an unexpected new enterprise this week -– it’s a partnership with Canon for an international photo contest, but the final goal is to use the eight winning entries as creative coordinates of a short film that connects the seemingly random images within a unified story. Howard will work with the contest and the film every step of the way and be there with winners at the red-carpet event in New York later this year.

For the corporate sponsor, no surprise, the hope is to get people using Canon gear as well as a new online community called Long Live Imagination. But Howard seems to be coming into the venture with the unexpected hope of finding a new method of adding creative crackle to his own filmmaking.

“It’s more and more difficult to find fresh stories,” Howard said. “I honestly think that some version of this creative exercise is something I will do on my films forever. Not with a contest, necessarily, but this idea of using sets of images that would appear to be only loosely linked to your story –- I think that is going to push me and all of us involved in this project outside of the box in a way that is fresh and exciting.”

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Stephen King's 'The Dark Tower' set for movie, TV series

September 8, 2010 |  3:01 pm

Sking Stephen King's "The Dark Tower" -- comprising seven novels, short stories and comic books -- will come to life in three films and a television series. The unique deal will have Ron Howard directing the first film in the trilogy and the first season of the TV series, Universal Pictures and NBC Universal Television Entertainment announced Wednesday afternoon. 

Akiva Goldsman, perhaps best known for writing "Angels & Demons" and "A Beautiful Mind," will write the first season of the television program and produce the film alongside Imagine Entertainment, which Howard runs with Brian Grazer.

"The Dark Tower" has been wildly successful -- the novels alone have sold more than 30 million copies worldwide. The story centers upon the sole survivor in a line of knightly gunslingers, Roland Deschain, who has been charged with finding a Dark Tower in order to save humanity.

“We are excited to have found partners at Universal who understand and embrace our approach to King’s remarkable epic,” Howard said in today's release. “By using both the scope and scale of theatrical filmmaking and the intimacy of television we hope to more comprehensively do justice to the characters, themes and amazing sequences King has given us in The Dark Tower novels. It might be the challenge of a lifetime but clearly a thrilling one to take on and explore.”

The first film will be quickly followed by the television series, which will lead to the second film. The TV series will then resume until the third film is released. No word yet on when production is slated to begin on the first film.

--Amy Kaufman


Photo: Stephen King in 2009. Credit: Mark Lennihan / AP

Don't ask 'Robin Hood's' Russell Crowe about wearing tights

April 12, 2010 |  2:06 pm

Russellcrowe The storm clouds parted just in time for Russell Crowe to receive his star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame on Monday morning, when studio heads, actors and producers gathered to honor one of the industry's most celebrated leading men.

Producer Brian Grazer, DreamWorks Animation head Jeffrey Katzenberg, and "Clash of the Titans" star Sam Worthington were some of the famous faces crowding the sidewalk in front of the Kodak Theatre, where throngs of fans held posters over barricades in hopes that Crowe might adorn them with his John Hancock.

After signing a few autographs himself, Jay Leno breezily took the stage to call Crowe an "all-around good guy" who "rides motorcycle" and is a "regular guy" who "just happens to be one of the greatest actors in the world."

Then came Ron Howard, who worked with the actor on both "A Beautiful Mind" and "Cinderella Man." He said the weather befitted the event.

"It's even more appropriate that it's clear, there's a little wind, there's a light cloud over here, dark clouds over there," he said, "because Russell is the type of artist that is a kind of force of nature."

We experienced that, er, force, first hand while interviewing Crowe after the ceremony. Things started out well enough, with a relaxed-seeming Crowe saying how happy he was to be receiving his star.

"Next to Sir Anthony Hopkins, that's not a bad spot," he smiled. "It's a nice piece of real estate."

But then we made our first mistake:

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Will Jennifer Garner take on another film alias?

April 7, 2010 |  5:09 pm

"Alias" fans, take note.  Jennifer Garner could keep those multiplex appearances coming, After appearing in the ensemble "Valentine's Day" and opposite Ricky Gervais in "The Invention of Lying" over the past six months, Garner is getting ready to shoot the lead part in "Butter," that story of Midwestern country-fair jealousies that she's also producing.

Now comes word that producers are talking to her for a key part in Ron Howard's (at-the-moment untitled) movie about cheating. Kevin James, Vince Vaughn and Winona Ryder are already on board for the Universal/Imagine project. So, another sultry beauty in the land of average-seeming guys. But we guess if she could hook up with Gervais, playing alongside these guys should be as easy as, well, butter.

-- Steven Zeitchik


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