What is holding up The Dark Tower & Mountains of Madness?

You may have read that the adaptation of Stephen King’s The Dark Tower was going to be a three part theatrical series directed by Ron Howard, with a TV mini-series in-between films to bridge the gap.

This is certain an interesting idea that hasn’t been done before, and an exciting roll of the dice, a la The Lord of the Rings series.

Well, now all bets are off with the reports coming in through Deadline and The Hollywood Reporter that The Dark Tower has been put on hold, something which Ron Howard’s production company denies. 

Word came down on May 5 that the budget for the series was too high, and it was budget issues that also brought the movie version of Halo, and Guillermo Del Toro’s adaptation of H.P. Lovecraft’s At the Mountains of Madness, his dream project of many years, to a halt at Universal as well.

Reports have also said that Universal paid $5 million for the rights, and the studio would have to pay a $10 million penalty if the project goes into turnaround.

Del Toro has already moved on to another project, Pacific Rim, and when Halo fell apart, Neill Blomkamp moved on to his acclaimed debut, District 9. 

The Halo project that Blomkamp was going to direct with Peter Jackson producing officially died several years ago, with a huge budget that couldn’t be brought down, and control issues between Jackson and Microsoft that couldn’t be resolved. (Stuart Beattie, screenwriter of Pirates of the Carribean and Collateral, even tried a one man crusade to launch his own Halo movie years ago, writing a script on spec even before approaching Microsoft about the rights.)

Where Del Toro wanted to launch what would be a major, epic horror film in 3-D, The Dark Tower, like Rings, is more in the fantasy realm, but still a major gamble, for the company. Rumor has it Universal has also sank a lot of money into Battleship, the big screen adaptation of the famous board game, which could also explain their wariness with both Tower and Madness. 

As ace entertainment reporter Michael Fleming has also pointed out, putting up $150 million for an R rated Madness was a tough pill to swallow, because very few R rated movies have made $500 million dollars that Universal would have to make to make a profit.

“What is really dramatic to me is that most decisions are now being taken by comps, and charts, and target quadrants,” Del Toro told Fleming.

“Marketers and accountants seem to be running things and less and less and less of the decisions are in the hands of filmmakers.” 

And perhaps this is why when Halo fell apart, something like Land of the Lost may have looked like a better business plan on paper to GE, but it was a major disaster at the box office (being a long time Sid and Marty Krofft fan who was dying for a Land of the Lost movie for decades, that was a tough one for me).

What brought Madness to a halt, even with the star power of Tom Cruise and James Cameron on as a producer, was Universal wanted a PG-13 rating, and Del Toro thinks it could get that rating, but even without nudity, gore, or profanity on Don’t Be Afraid of the Dark, which Del Toro produced, it still got an R for being too intense. 

He told Deadline with Mountains, “I do not want it to be bloody, I do not want it to be crass, but I want it to be as intense as possible.”

With The Dark Tower, there’s also been speculation Tower will go to Warner Brothers if Universal decides to pass, and there will certainly be more news soon wherever things end up landing.

If The Dark Tower, and The Stand, which has also been announced as a several feature series, go forward, both could be exciting and risky King adaptations that couldn’t have been done before Lord of the Rings, whatever studio is ready to take them on, and Madness could also be the big epic horror film genre fans, and Del Toro himself, have been waiting for.