Weekly Ketchup

Weekly Ketchup: Steven Spielberg Sees an Invisible Rabbit

Plus casting news for Jennifer Aniston and Hugh Jackman

by | August 7, 2009 | Comments

The predominant theme in this week’s Ketchup is “new spins on classic themes,” as Robin Hood, Little Red Riding Hood, Edgar Allan Poe and P.T. Barnum are all getting remakes or reimaginations, and so is the classic Jimmy Stewart movie, Harvey. There’s also the obligatory TV show and video game adaptations, as well as new roles for Hugh Jackman, Jennifer Aniston, Robert De Niro, Lindsay Lohan and Liam Neeson.


As dueling Easter Bunny movies make their way through development (I Hop and Hip Hop), Steven Spielberg is joining the rabbit-obsessed crowd with his plans to make the long-in-development remake of the classic Jimmy Stewart film, Harvey. This would be his next project as a director after The Adventures of TinTin: Secret of the Unicorn. Based upon a Pulitzer Prize-winning play by Mary Chase, the original 1950 Harvey starred Jimmy Stewart as a man whose best friend is an imaginary, 6 foot tall rabbit named Harvey. Another upcoming project that Harvey closely resembles is The Beaver, in which Mel Gibson will play a man whose best friend is his furry hand puppet. Harvey will be a coproduction between 20th Century Fox and DreamWorks, and Spielberg is expecting to start filming in early 2010. The Harvey remake script was written by novelist Jonathan Tropper, who is also working on adapting his latest novel This is Where I Leave You for Warner Bros. The next step for Spielberg is to find his star, which early reports suggested might be either Tom Hanks or Will Smith. Tom Hanks was quick to squash the idea however, saying that he is already closely compared to Jimmy Stewart, and so “the last thing he would want to do is star in a project so closely identified with the actor.” So, do you think the idea of Will Smith talking to an imaginary giant rabbit sounds like the makings of his next big hit? Here’s hoping that Spielberg resists the temptation to make Harvey a CGI creature that the audience sees as well as Elwood P. Dowd thinks he does.


Just a few weeks after the announcement of a movie version of the 1960s western TV show The Big Valley, CBS Films has announced plans for a movie version of Gunsmoke, the 1955-1975 western that had long held the record as the longest-running fictional primetime show (which was broken when The Simpsons hit its 21st season). The star of Gunsmoke is Marshall Matt Dillon, played by James Arness (who is still alive at age 86), but the strength of the show (which I have watched a lot of) was its colorful ensemble cast which included a sassy saloon matron named Miss Kitty, the town’s physician, Doc Adams, and Dillon’s deputy, Festus Haggen, a crusty old coot who is regarded as one of TV’s most classic characters. The job of adapting Gunsmoke as a movie has been handed to Gregory Poirer, whose filmography includes National Treasure 2: Book of Secrets, the awful Ray Bradbury adaptation A Sound of Thunder and the 2001 comedy Tomcats. Poirer is also working on a Jackie Chan movie called The Spy Next Door and a new movie version of The Swiss Family Robinson. Poirer’s script is reportedly almost finished, and is a prequel that establishes how the characters of Gunsmoke came to the town of Dodge City, Kansas, and will include “a contemporary look and modern action twists.” Gunsmoke is CBS Films’ first attempt at using its massive library of TV titles, following other projects like Crowley, a medical drama starring Harrison Ford, the Jennifer Lopez-starring romantic comedy The Back Up Plan and the supernatural high school drama Beastly.


20th Century Fox has signed Hugh Jackman to star in The Greatest Showman on Earth, a contemporary musical biopic about circus entrepeneur P.T. Barnum. Scripted by Jenny Bicks (cowriter of 2003’s What a Girl Wants, and writer of several episodes of Sex and the City and Men in Trees), The Greatest Showman on Earth will focus on both P.T. Barnum’s success at selling his three ring circus to the world and his infatuation with a Swedish singer named Jenny Lind. The project is being produced by one of the producers of last year’s Oscars, which Hugh Jackman hosted, and his musical partner in the ceremony, Anne Hathaway is being eyed as the likely choice to play Jenny Lind. Jackman has another musical in development, a remake of Carousel, which he also hopes will costar Anne Hathaway. British pop singer Mika is in talks to write the music and lyrics of The Greatest Showman on Earth.


Director James McTiegue (V for Vendetta) is currently casting his next project after this fall’s Ninja Assassin, and it comes with a high profile title: The Raven (as in Edgar Allan’s Poe’s classic poem). The Raven will attempt to explain what happened in the final five, mysterious days of the writer’s life, in a story that has Poe teaming up to hunt down a serial killer whose murders are inspired by Poe’s stories. The Raven was written by Hannah Shakespeare (2005’s Loverboy) and actor Ben Livingston. In real life, Poe was found dying on the streets of Baltimore, wearing someone else’s clothes and unable to explain where he had been for the past five days. Does this movie sound like it has the answer? In other news related to Ninja Assassin, that film’s star, Rain, is reportedly Warner Bros’ top choice to star in Awaken the Dragon, their neo-noir remake of the classic Bruce Lee kung fu movie Enter the Dragon.


Warner Bros and the producers of 300 and The Dark Knight are developing a new movie inspired by Robin Hood, even as Ridley Scott wraps up filming of Robin Hood, starring Russell Crowe, for Universal Pictures. Unlike Scott’s movie, however, this Warner Bros movie’s connections to Robin Hood are only thematic, as it is set in a futuristic London ruled by a dystopian society, and focuses on a gang of thieves whose crimes bring hope to the city’s “embattled population.” This concept actually sounds a lot like Alan Moore’s V for Vendetta, which was also set in a dystopian London and featured a hero inspired by a historical revolutionary icon (Guy Fawkes). Warner Bros is the studio most associated with Robin Hood movies, having released both 1938’s The Adventures of Robin Hood (starring Errol Flynn) and 1991’s Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves (starring Kevin Costner). This untitled futuristic Robin Hood project is being written by Jason Hall, who doesn’t yet have any produced scripts, but did write a movie called Spread which stars Ashton Kutcher and is opening this month. The project’s director, Nicolai Fuglsig, is also a newcomer, as he is a commerical director that is most famous for a Sony Bravia ad in which Fuglsig launched 250,000 bouncing balls down the steepest hill in San Francisco. So, will this futuristic Robin Hood treatment still feature bows and arrows, or will the Merry Men be sporting guns?


Leonardo DiCaprio’s Appian Way production company is developing a movie version of the Brothers Grimm fairy tale Little Red Riding Hood. David Leslie Johnson (Orphan) is working on the script, which will reportedly focus on a “Gothic reimagining” of the story of a girl taking a basket to her sick grandmother who finds a wolf (or possibly a werewolf) at her house instead. Although DiCaprio is producing, Little Red Riding Hood is not being seen as a potential starring vehicle for the star. It’s interesting that screenwriter Johnson’s one credit is last week’s Orphan, which is itself sort of a gothic-inspired story, so Johnson at least has a potential theme to his filmography; “creepy little girl” movies.


Jennifer has signed on to produce and star in Goree Girls, a musical biopic about an all-female country band formed in a Texas prison in the 1940s who went on to fame and pardons for their crimes. Michael Sucsy, the director of the HBO movie Grey Gardens, will make his feature debut with Goree Girls, and will polish a script that was originally adapted by Margaret Nagle (the 2005 HBO movie Warm Springs) and then rewritten by John Lee Hancock (Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil). The inspiration for Goree Girls comes from a 2003 article in Texas Monthly called “O Sister, Where Art Thou?,” about how eight inmates from the Goree State Prison transformed themselves into the Goree All Girl String Band and became the stars of a weekly radio show heard by millions. Filming of Goree Girls starts in January, 2010, with DreamWorks having first shot at distributing as part of the deal which got the project out of turnaround. There are rumors online that Gerard Butler may be in talks to star as Jennifer Aniston’s romantic interest, but they haven’t been confirmed yet.


Liam Neeson is in talks with Warner Bros and Dark Castle Entertainment to star in Unknown White Male, a thriller from director Jaume Collet-Serra, who has previously directed both Orphan and the 2005 House of Wax remake for Dark Castle. Unknown White Male is an adapation of the French novel Out of My Head by Didier Van Cauwelaert, with a script adapted by Stephen Cornwell, son of popular spy novelist John Le Carre. Unknown White Male is the story of a doctor (Neeson) who goes to Berlin for a medical conference, ends up in a coma following a car accident, and comes home to find that another man has taken his place, living under his name with his wife (who doesn’t recognize him). Filming of Unknown White Male is scheduled to start in January, 2010 after Liam Neeson wraps up his role as Hannibal Smith in The A-Team.


Mysteria Film Group, an independent production company based in South Bend, Indiana, has acquired the rights to develop the 1996 science fiction novel Myst: The Book of Ti’Ana as a major motion picture. Myst: The Book of Ti’Ana was a prequel to the Myst video game, which was a big hit for Mac in 1993. Brothers Rand and Robyn Miller, who created the original Myst game, also cowrote The Book of Ti’Ana with British sci-fi novelist David Wingrove. The Myst games are set on an alien planet where the player is challenged to figure out puzzles, break codes and solve mysteries. There’s no word yet as to who actually wrote the script, but the company’s site does say that the script is finished, and the next step is to take the project to the major studios. Myst becomes the latest video game adaptation of a trend that sees games being adapted many years after they are most popular. Myst came out sixteen years ago, back when 3D games were the hot new thing. Is there enough of a fanbase out there to support the idea of an actual big budget Myst movie?


There have been a lot of casting rumors in recent weeks about Robert Rodriguez’s movie version of the Machete fake trailer first seen as part of 2007’s Grindhouse, but this week, at the end of an unrelated article, Variety confirmed most of them, and revealed a couple of new names. Machete is the story of a Mexican Federale (Danny Trejo) who is hired to assassinate a U.S. Senator (Robert De Niro), but quickly discovers that he has actually been set up as a patsy, and so Machete sets out for vengeance against those who organized the plot. Cheech Marin and Jeff Fahey, who were both in the original fake trailer, will reprise their roles, and the two costars of Lost will also be joined by former co-star Michelle Rodriguez. The rest of the confirmed cast includes Jessica Alba, Lindsay Lohan, Don Johnson (Cheech’s Nash Bridges costar) and Steven Seagal. Robert Rodriguez (Desperado, From Dusk Till Dawn) is codirecting Machete with Ethan Maniquis, his editor on Shorts and Grindhouse, who is making his directorial debut, in a partnership similar to how Rodriguez helped comic book artist Frank Miller make his debut with Sin City. Filming of Machete started this week in Texas.


The 2008 South Ossetia War was a bloody conflict between Russia and Georgia that lasted only 9 days but resulted in the deaths of at least 800 people. Renny Harlin is a Finnish director who had two huge hits early in his career (Die Hard 2 and Cliffhanger), which were then followed by a series of critically reviled misfires like Cutthroat Island, Mindhunters, The Covenant and that unnecessary prequel, Exorcist: The Beginning. This week, Renny Harlin announced plans to start filming an untitled war movie in the Ossetia region in mid-September, in an attempt to “use my experience in action films to tell the story of a complex conflict that is impartial but makes a strong antiwar statement.” There’s no word yet as to who actually wrote this project (Harlin himself, perhaps?), and all that is known of the story is that it’s about an American journalist and cameraman who are stuck in Georgia during the war. There’s also no casting news yet, and as an independent production, the project currently doesn’t have distribution in the USA. Renny Harlin sounds quite honest about his interest in making a movie that is different than what he is known for, but since Harlin has one of the worst track records in recent mainstream movie memory, that still makes this the Rotten Idea of the Week. It’s actually the subject matter that nudges this into the Rotten category, since the story of this short war is a serious, complicated and tragic matter that, if it must get movie treatment, should be done the correct way. Harlin apparently wants to be taken seriously, but he’s also the director who I associate with that scene in Deep Blue Sea where Samuel L. Jackson gets swallowed by a shark in the middle of a “we’re not going to take this anymore!” speech. This untitled Georgia/Russia war movie probably won’t have any sharks, but it’s probably safe to say that Renny Harlin’s career jumped the shark a long time ago.

For more Weekly Ketchup columns by Greg Dean Schmitz, check out the WK archive, and you can contact GDS through his MySpace page or via a RT forum message.