This week’s Ketchup covers seven days of movie development news including the latest on James Cameron’s continued plans for the world of Avatar and reboots and/or remakes of Akira, Quasimodo and Scarface.
This Week’s Top Story
JAMES CAMERON ANNOUNCES PLANS FOR FULL TRILOGY OF AVATAR SEQUELS
We’ve known almost since its release in late 2009 that James Cameron had plans for two sequels to the eye candy sci-fi movie Avatar. At one point, they were even expected to start coming out fairly soon (December in 2014 and 2015, respectively). This week, the big news was a mini-avalanche of Avatar sequel news, but the biggest is that Cameron’s plans are now for a full trilogy of Avatar sequels, the first of which, which we’ll simply call Avatar 2 for now, is being scheduled by 20th Century Fox for December, 2016. Avatar 2, 3, and 4 will all be filmed at the same time, with Avatar 3 and Avatar 4 expected to come in the following Decembers of 2017 and 2018. The idea of releasing the three parts of a trilogy in consecutive Decembers was first introduced by Peter Jackson with the original Lord of the Rings trilogy. James Cameron will be assisted in crafting these sequels by screenwriters Josh Friedman (The Black Dahlia; cowriter of War of the Worlds), Shane Salerno (Aliens vs Predator: Requiem; cowriter of Savages), and the writing team of Rick Jaffa and Amanda Silver, best known for Rise of the Planet of the Apes and next summer’s Dawn of the Planet of the Apes. Not much is specifically known about the sequels, except that Avatar 2 is expected to have large portions set in Pandora’s oceans (news flash: James Cameron likes water).
Fresh Developments This Week
#1 HARRY POTTER DIRECTOR JUMPS STUDIO SHIP FOR SCARFACE REBOOT
For years now, it seemed like Warner Bros very much wanted to stay in the “David Yates business,” displaying loyalty for the director of the last four Harry Potter movies for the studio. Then, however, in April, it was revealed that Warner Bros had halted plans for the new live-action Tarzan project that Yates had been developing. And that, apparently (or at least in part), is how David Yates came to be in final negotiations with Universal Pictures for one of their highest priority projects. It’s also worth noting that this move by David Yates comes only a few weeks after Legendary Pictures announced a similar move from Warner Bros to Universal Pictures (starting in 2014). David Yates is in final talks with Universal Pictures to direct their second reboot of Scarface. The original 1932 film was a Chicago bootlegging mobster drama loosely based upon the life of Al Capone, and the 1983 remake told the infamous story of Cuban/Miami cocaine gangster Tony Montana. Each previous movie is particularly known for its famous director-star duos (Howard Hawks and Paul Muni, Brian De Palma and Al Pacino). Details are being kept hidden about this third Scarface, but it’s lead character is expected to represent for the 2010s what the Italian-American and Cuban-American characters in the first two movies did for the 1930s and the 1980s. What this means exactly is anyone’s guess (so many ethnic stereotypes to choose from!). The first draft of the Scarface re-reboot was written by David Ayer (Training Day, End of Watch), which was then rewritten by Paul Attanasio (Donnie Brasco).
#2 HERO DIRECTOR ZHANG YIMOU MAY MAKE HOLLYWOOD DEBUT WITH QUASIMODO
If there is a running theme lately of Universal Pictures borrowing talent from Warner Bros, one could perceive this story as being (part of) WB’s rebuttal. First, some history: one of Universal’s proudest traditions is the collection of “Universal Monsters” films (Dracula, Frankenstein, The Wolfman, The Mummy, etc.). What is less known, even by many horror/monster fans, is that the movie that actually started that whole concept was the 1923 version of The Hunchback of Notre Dame, starring Lon Chaney Sr. as Quasimodo. Okay, now that you’re up to date, here’s this week’s news, which is also surprising for a completely different reason: Famed Chinese director Zhang Yimou (Hero, Ju Dou, Raise the Red Lantern) is in talks with Warner Bros to make his English language Hollywood studio debut with Quasimodo, an adaptation of Victor Hugo’s The Hunchback of Notre Dame. The project has been in development for years at Warner Bros, with Josh Brolin (!) attached to star as Quasimodo, the disfigured bellringer of Notre Dame, who sets out to save his beloved Esmeralda from being framed for murder. Quasimodo was adapted by the husband-wife team of Kieran and Michelle Mulroney (Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows; 2009’s Paper Man).
#3 FROM YOUR DESKTOP (CIRCA 2001) TO THE BIG SCREEN: THE MCAFEE BIOPIC
When famed anti-virus software pioneer John McAfee went on the run last year, it all seemed larger than life and destined to be a big screen movie. People in Hollywood agreed, because screenwriters Scott Alexander and Larry Karaszewski have signed on with Warner Bros to start work on exactly that script. The John McAfee biopic (which at one time was called Running in the Background) joins a series of celebrity biopics by Alexander and Karaszewski which also includes Ed Wood, The People vs Larry Flynt, Man on the Moon, and the upcoming Big Eyes. The script will be adapted from the e-book “John McAfee’s Last Stand,” which was also excerpted in Wired. The directing team of Glenn Ficara and John Requa (I Love You, Phillip Morris and Crazy, Stupid Love) are producing the McAfee biopic, and also hope to direct. Hopefully, Scott Alexander and Larry Karaszewski have been at this game long enough to know to frequently backup their Final Draft files. No one wants irony to zap it.
#4 THE FAILED CBS TV SERIES MAY JUST HAVE SAVED BEVERLY HILLS COP IV
There was a time when one of the surest bets for the 2013-2014 Network TV season was the CBS reboot of Beverly Hills Cop with Brandon T. Jackson playing the son of Axel Foley. A similar reboot worked wonders for CBS after all a few seasons ago with Hawaii Five-O. Although a pilot episode was filmed, CBS ultimately decided not to order Beverly Hills Cop as a series, but the performance of Eddie Murphy reprising his role as Axel Foley appears to have had its own impact. Next year marks the twentieth anniversary of the most recent movie in the franchise, Beverly Hills Cop III, which was released on May 25, 1994. And for much of those two decades since, there has been talk of a Beverly Hills Cop IV (with Eddie Murphy’s “I just do kids movies now” period forming the biggest gap in between). Kids movies, however, haven’t been working the same wonders for Eddie Murphy lately, and that may be why he is once again attached to star in a revived Beverly Hills Cop IV movie project. Paramount Pictures has enlisted the Mission: Impossible – Ghost Protocol screenwriting team of Josh Appelbaum and Andre Numec, who are also working on the reboot of Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles (which is also now back to its full title, as it should be).
#5 ETHAN HAWKE TO ADAPT ONE OF WILLIAM SHAKESPEARE’S FORGOTTEN PLAYS, CYMBELINE
Maybe it’s just part of the same “fan of the underdog” streak that makes this writer love Squirrel Girl and Frog-Man more than Batman and Spider-Man, but when it comes to Shakespeare, I’ve always been fond of the obscurities. Who needs King Lear, Romeo and Juliet, and Henry V, when Troilus and Cressida, Measure for Measure, and Timon of Athens are just sitting there mostly unperformed (and unread)? Ethan Hawke may agree, as he is now signed to reteam with director Michael Almereyda on a modern adaptation of the Shakespeare play Cymbeline. Hawke and Almereyda previously adapted Shakespeare with the 2000 movie Hamlet, which was also a modernization. Their Cymbeline will adapt the story of an ancient British king as an “epic battle between dirty cops and a drug-dealing biker gang set in a corrupt 21st century America.” This update is already drawing comparisons to Sons of Anarchy and Baz Luhrmann’s Romeo + Juliet.
#6 SAMUEL L. JACKSON’S COMIC BOOK VILLAIN PATH: FROM THE SPIRIT TO… THE SECRET SERVICE
After playing the ridiculous villain “The Octopus” in the disastrous comic book adaptation flop The Spirit, one might think that Samuel L. Jackson would never sign on again to play another comic book villain. Well, how do we put this? Samuel L. Jackson has signed with 20th Century Fox and director Matthew Vaughn (Kick-Ass, X-Men: First Class) to play the villain in the comic book adaptation The Secret Service. Adapted from a 2012-2013 comic book mini-series written by Mark Millar (Kick-Ass) with art by Dave Gibbons (Watchmen), The Secret Service tells the story of a British super spy (Colin Firth) who must train his “hooligan” nephew (newcomer Taron Egerton) as his replacement. Leonardo DiCaprio and Tom Cruise were also approached for the role before Samuel L. Jackson signed on. Casting is still underway for the female lead, with Emma Watson and Bella Heathcote (Dark Shadows) reportedly among those in the running. Filming of The Secret Service starts this fall, and 20th Century Fox has already scheduled the film for November 14, 2014.
Rotten Ideas of the Week
#3 PARAMOUNT TO TAKE ON CARS AND PLANES WITH MONSTER TRUCKS
It’s hardly a new thing for an animation studio to take on a competitor’s film with their own very similar project. The trend goes almost all the way back to the beginning of the CGI animation craze, with Antz and A Bug’s Life being released near each other (I’ll let the commenters think of some of the other examples of this over the years). Anyway, even as Disney’s Cars spinoff Planes is just a week away from release (and Turbo came out recently, too), the new Paramount Animation division has announced a May 29, 2015 release date for a new CGI/live action project called Monster Trucks. We don’t know specifically what the movie is about, but the title probably tells us everything we need to know right now (unless it’s a play on words and the trucks are actually monsters). What’s most surprising, perhaps, is that Paramount has lured one of Fox’s animation bigwigs, director Chris Wedge (Ice Age, Robots, Epic) to their new division to direct Monster Trucks. Chris Wedge certainly has a consistently “Fresh” RT Tomatometer, but we’re calling Monster Trucks “borderline Fresh/Rotten” just because… can we be done with all the vehicle-themed animated movies sometime soon?
#2 VIN DIESEL WANTED FOR… WORLD’S MOST WANTED
We’re still over a month away from the September 6, 2013 release date for Riddick, but Universal Pictures appears ready to stay in the Vin Diesel business. Of course, the continued success of the Fast and Furious franchise probably doesn’t hurt that opinion either. Vin Diesel has signed with Universal Pictures to star in an action adventure movie called World’s Most Wanted, the details of which remain fairly mysterious. What we do know is that the original script was written by some of the writers of the Call of Duty videogame series. The latest script rewrite was by Dan Mazeau, cowriter of Wrath of the Titans, who is also working on the 2016 Warner Bros superhero movie The Flash. World’s Most Wanted is being produced by Neal Moritz, one of the producers of xXx and the Fast and Furious franchise.
#1 THE LIVE-ACTION AKIRA JUST. WON’T. DIE.
By this point in this writer’s career, it feels like memory and the passing of time can be measured by what stage Warner Bros’ live action adaptation of the Japanese manga Akira was at any particular point. Warner Bros acquired the rights in 2008, but the project actually goes back much farther than that. Regardless, even if we use the 2008 gauge, that’s now five years ago, much of which time the project spent in heavy duty rumor control among various online fan communities (both pro and con, including allegations of whitewashing). Anyway, in early 2012, it appeared that the project was dead, with the reason given at the time being mostly budget (which had been halved from $180 million to $90 million). Well, now the same director, Jaume Collet-Serra (Orphan, Unknown) is back on the Akira job at Warner Bros, and now the budget has been cut again, down to the $60 million range. Pretty soon, the new Akira is going to be filmed on someone’s smart phone in a borrowed weekend home. Anyway, if you don’t know what Akira is, here’s the Wikipedia page for the classic 1988 anime adaptation. And speculate away about who should be in it.
For more Weekly Ketchup columns by Greg Dean Schmitz, check out the WK archive, and you can contact GDS via Facebook.