Yesterday, Universal had a decision to make: Spend $150 million on a project directed by Guillermo del Toro, produced by James Cameron, and starring Tom Cruise, or pass, instead directing that money to their other endeavors. They passed.
Why, you ask? Hit the jump.
I'm pretty sure Ryan Gallagher at CriterionCast broke the news, but I'll be damned if Daniel Zalewski's follow-up post to his excellent New Yorker profile of del Toro isn't the write-up that really stings:
Adam Fogelson, the chairman of Universal Pictures, had seemed excited about Madness when I talked to him in January. He spoke of being dazzled when del Toro made a visual presentation of his plans for the film, at a meeting attended by James Cameron, the director of Avatar, who had agreed to serve as a producer. Fogelson said, “Boy, I wish I was capable of succinctly summarizing what it is to be in a room with Guillermo, and James Cameron and his team, presenting on a project that is such a passion project for Guillermo.” He called del Toro’s presentation “one of the more extraordinary and gratifying professional experiences I have had.” Fogelson went on, “The kind of movie Guillermo is looking to create is not something there’s been much of in the recent past. But I think anyone working in this business right now would acknowledge that attempting to follow a prescribed formula is not less scary than talking a walk across a virgin landscape. There are no sure things. There are no—or very few—easy, obvious safe bets. And what we’re looking to do here is, we want to make great films. We think great films make great business.”
As others have pointed out, this news is such a bummer not because of how it affects this particular project, but because of how it sums up the abso-fucking-lutely pathetic state that big Hollywood studios have gotten themselves into. From Mark Harris' GQ piece "The Day the Movies Died," which yes, I know I linked to yesterday, but whatever, just read this part:
For the studios, a good new idea has become just too scary a road to travel. Inception, they will tell you, is an exceptional movie. And movies that need to be exceptional to succeed are bad business. "The scab you're picking at is called execution," says legendary producer Scott Rudin (The Social Network, True Grit). "Studios are hardwired not to bet on execution, and the terrible thing is, they're right. Because in terms of execution, most movies disappoint."
With that in mind, let's look ahead to what's on the menu for this year: four adaptations of comic books. One prequel to an adaptation of a comic book. One sequel to a sequel to a movie based on a toy. One sequel to a sequel to a sequel to a movie based on an amusement-park ride. One prequel to a remake. Two sequels to cartoons. One sequel to a comedy. An adaptation of a children's book. An adaptation of a Saturday-morning cartoon. One sequel with a 4 in the title. Two sequels with a 5 in the title. One sequel that, if it were inclined to use numbers, would have to have a 7 1/2 in the title.
And no Inception. Now, to be fair, in modern Hollywood, it usually takes two years, not one, for an idea to make its way through the alimentary canal of the system and onto multiplex screens, so we should really be looking at summer 2012 to see the fruit of Nolan's success. So here's what's on tap two summers from now: an adaptation of a comic book. A reboot of an adaptation of a comic book. A sequel to a sequel to an adaptation of a comic book. A sequel to a reboot of an adaptation of a TV show. A sequel to a sequel to a reboot of an adaptation of a comic book. A sequel to a cartoon. A sequel to a sequel to a cartoon. A sequel to a sequel to a sequel to a cartoon. A sequel to a sequel to a sequel to a sequel to a movie based on a young-adult novel.