This week’s movie development news includes sequel news for the Avatar, Batman and Mission: Impossible franchises, new projects for directors Francis Ford Coppola and Darren Aronofsky and new roles (or potential new roles) for Sandra Bullock, Danny DeVito, Angelina Jolie, Meryl Streep, Betty White and Oprah Winfrey.
After making the news two weeks ago with word that he was discussing helming Cleopatra for Sony, starring Angelina Jolie, James Cameron has instead signed with 20th Century Fox to write and direct Avatar 2 and Avatar 3. Although Cameron will not officially decide whether to film the movies back to back until he completes the scripts, the two sequels are currently scheduled for releases in December, 2014 and December, 2015. Fox Filmed Entertainment co-chairman Tom Rothman had this to say about the sequels, “Avatar is not only the highest grossing movie of all time, it is a created universe based on the singular imagination and daring of James Cameron, who also raised the consciousness of people worldwide to some of the greatest issues facing our planet.” Here’s part of what James Cameron had to say, “In the second and third films, which will be self-contained stories that also fulfill a greater story arc, we will not back off the throttle of Avatar’s visual and emotional horsepower, and will continue to explore its themes and characters, which touched the hearts of audiences in all cultures around the world. I’m looking forward to returning to Pandora, a world where our imaginations can run wild.” James Cameron also spoke loosely about this article today. Although the details of the sequels aren’t yet known, one aspect of Avatar 2 that has been revealed is that the first sequel is expected to have large segments that take place underwater on Pandora.
After years of Francis Ford Coppola butting heads with studio bosses over projects like The Godfather Part 3, a planned Pinocchio movie (for which Coppola won a massive lawsuit) and his dream project Megalopolis, the acclaimed director now just makes his movies as “indies.” Coppola’s ability to film movies independently is so effective that he’s already started filming his next project Twixt Now and Sunrise on his own property in Napa before anyone even knew the movie was in the works. Twixt Now and Sunrise is “a thriller with overtones of horror” that sees Coppola returning to the genre that got his directing career started in 1963 with Dementia 13. And this will be his first time working in the genre since 1992’s Bram Stoker’s Dracula. The details of the Twixt Now and Sunrise premise aren’t yet known, but Val Kilmer is starring as a horror novelist, and the cast also includes Elle Fanning and Bruce Dern. Francis Ford Coppola also wrote the screenplay, which is based upon an original story idea of his own.
Many Marvel fans probably had a similar reaction as this writer this week when they first saw headlines proclaiming that Darren Aronofsky (The Wrestler, Black Swan) had signed on to direct a movie called Machine Man. However, this movie, which could be Aronofsky’s next film after X-Men Origins: Wolverine 2, is not based upon another Marvel Comics character. Instead, this Machine Man is a partially finished novel that has been appearing on the website of author Max Barry (Jennifer Government). Machine Man is described as a thriller about “a gadget geek and engineer at a forward-thinking tech firm who is tired of going through life average and unnoticed and is also obsessed with his own self improvement. He decides to replace his weak, fleshy parts with high-end titanium performance upgrades of his own design but then discovers other entities have designs on him for their own motives.” Darren Aronofsky will be reuniting with screenwriter Mark Heyman (his cowriter on Black Swan) on adapting Max Barry’s in-progress novel, which will be published in print in April, 2011.
Normally, a title change probably wouldn’t be enough to land a story in the Weekly Ketchup, but when two of the highest profile upcoming movies both get titles in the same week, then that’s news. First up, there is Christopher Nolan’s third Batman movie, which is now known as The Dark Knight Rises, and which apparently establishes this movie as being a direct sequel to The Dark Knight. The Dark Knight Rises is also a close echo of the classic Frank Miller future Batman story The Dark Knight Returns. Christopher Nolan announced the title while also confirming that he plans on filming The Dark Knight Rises with 2D IMAX cameras and specifically not in 3D. The reasoning is that The Dark Knight Rises is the final chapter in Nolan’s trilogy, and he wants to visually match The Dark Knight, which he says had “a large canvas and operatic sweep” that 3D would distract from. Christopher Nolan will start filming of The Dark Knight Rises in April, 2011 and Warner Bros has scheduled the movie for a release on July 20, 2012. The other big movie to get its title this week is the fourth Mission: Impossible movie, which is now being called Mission: Impossible Ghost Protocol (although there may eventually be additional punctuation in there to separate the subtitle). This new title for the spy movie sequel is interesting for the way that it brings to mind certain video games, namely Tom Clancy’s Ghost Recon and the espionage role playing game Alpha Protocol. Or maybe this writer just plays too many video games.
As part of Hollywood’s post-Alice in Wonderland fascination with fairy tale movies, there are currently three projects in active development based on Snow White. Two of them are Disney’s kung fu version Snow and the Seven and a particularly dark version called The Brothers Grimm: Snow White. It is the third project, Universal’s Snow White and the Huntsman, however, that appears to be closest to actually filming, with the studio having placed it on the fast track. Universal is currently casting, and Tom Hardy, who impressed audiences in Inception, is reportedly close to signing on to play Eric, the huntsman of the title. There’s no word yet on who might play Snow White, but Angelina Jolie is being courted by Universal to play Ravenna, the evil queen who hires Eric the huntsman to track down her runaway stepdaughter Snow White. When Eric realizes that Ravenna intends to kill Snow White, he helps her escape and the two go on the run together in what is being called a “revisionist, buddy movie spin on the tale.” Universal plans on filming Snow White and the Huntsman in early 2011, and both Tom Hardy (who recently signed on for The Dark Knight Rises) and Angelina Jolie (who is working on her directorial debut in Bosnia) have busy schedules for the next few months that need to be negotiated around. Commerical director Rupert Sanders will be making his feature debut with Snow White and the Huntsman, working from a spec script by Evan Daugherty, who also worked on Greyskull, the now-shelved “dark” adaptation of He-Man and the Masters of the Universe. Universal Pictures has already scheduled Snow White and the Huntsman for a release date of December 21, 2012.
Since the 2005 premiere of the FX series It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia, Danny DeVito has mostly only had supporting roles in movies. DeVito’s last leading role was in 2006’s Deck the Halls (which led to his infamous Limoncello incident on The View). Danny DeVito’s next lead role will be as the voice of Universal Pictures’ The Lorax, the little furry creature who tries to prevent the destruction of a forest, based on the book by Dr. Seuss. The Lorax is the next major CGI-animated comedy from Illumination Entertainment, which made their debut this year with Despicable Me. Former Daily Show correspondents Ed Helms and Rob Riggle will also costar, with Helms playing the Once-ler, the villain who wants to chop down the trees, and Riggle playing a new character that sells cans of fresh air to a world polluted by the Once-ler’s anti-environmentalist policies. Zac Efron will provide the voice of Ted (named after Theodore Geisel, AKA Dr. Seuss), a boy who goes looking for the Once-ler to ask him why he makes the world so ugly. Betty White will play Ted’s grandmother, who tells him about how beautiful the world used to be. The Lorax is being directed by Chris Renaud (codirector of Despicable Me), Cinco Paul and Ken Daurio (who are making their theatrical directorial debuts). Cinco Paul and Ken Daurio also adapted the screenplay from Dr. Seuss’ 1,800 word book, marking their fourth collaboration together (without other screenwriters) after Bubble Boy, Horton Hears a Who and Despicable Me. Universal Pictures has scheduled The Lorax for release on March 2, 2012.
Warner Bros is in the midst of developing several CGI/live action movies based on Looney Tunes characters like Speedy Gonzalez, Marvin the Martian, Bugs Bunny and Pepe Le Pew. Now, the studio has picked up an original pitch that is actually built around a concept from those classic cartoons without actually featuring any of the Looney Tunes iconic characters. The apparently untitled project is based around the concept of the (fictional) ACME warehouse that most famously provided Wile E. Coyote with all of his gadgets he used to on his perpetually doomed quest to catch the Road Runner. The CGI/live-action comedy will feature “the many outlandish devices of the company in a tone that recalls the Amblin pics of the 1980s or a Men in Black-style movie.” The ACME pitch will be written by the screenwriting brothers team of Kevin and Dan Hageman, who have also worked on the Sony Animation project Hotel Transylvania.
Universal Pictures has cast three of the biggest female stars working today for an untitled comedy set at a “home shopping” cable network. Those actresses are Sandra Bullock, Meryl Streep, and Oprah Winfrey, marking her first live-action film role since 1998’s Beloved as a possible sign that Winfrey will be making more movies after her show goes off the air. This comedy will be written and directed by Michael Patrick King, creator of Sex and the City, and this is also an indication that recent rumors that there will be no Sex and the City 3 are probably true. Streep, Bullock and Winfrey will play “characters as they make their way through the maze of mania that surrounds marketing, marriages and the media.”
Last week brought the news that Steven Spielberg has signed to make his next movie (after War Horse) an adaptation of the upcoming novel Robopocalypse by Daniel H. Wilson. Now, this week, Wilson’s first book, How to Survive a Robot Uprising: Tips on Defending Yourself Against the Coming Rebellion has moved back into active development after first being announced in 2006 as a possible starring vehicle for Mike Myers. Myers, whose only live-action starring role since 2004 has been the flop The Love Guru is apparently now out, however, and is likely to be replaced by Jack Black. Black has not officially been announced as starring in How to Survive a Robot Uprising, but he did acquire the project this week along with director Steve Pink (Accepted, Hot Tub Time Machine). The How to Survive a Robot Uprising script was adapted by the writing team of The State alumni Thomas Lennon and Robert Ben Garant, whose filmography includes the two Night at the Museum movies, Balls of Fury and Reno 911!: Miami. This story was nearly a Rotten Idea, but was saved by the involvement of Steve Pink, whose Hot Tub Time Machine was surprisingly funny and received a “Fresh” score of 64%.
With his remake of the Charles Bronson movie The Mechanic (starring Jason Statham) wrapped and scheduled for January 28, 2011, action director Simon West (Con Air, Lara Croft: Tomb Raider) is reportedly close to signing on to direct an action movie called Medallion. This Medallion should not be confused with The Medallion, one of the worst American Jackie Chan movies. Medallion has a very Taken-ish premise, about a father who has just a few hours to find his kidnapped daughter who is being held in the trunk of a New York City taxi cab. Medallion was written by David Guggenheim, whose first produced movie will be Safe House, which is currently filming and stars Denzel Washington and Ryan Reynolds. Medallion will not be Simon West’s next film, but will follow Protection, a thriller starring Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson. The casting of Medallion has already started, however, with Clive Owen and West’s Con Air star Nicolas Cage reportedly in the running to play the father. Medallion is one of this week’s most (only) Rotten Idea solely because Simon West’s four movies as director have all had “Rotten” RT scores (57% for Con Air, 22% for The General’s Daughter, 19% for Lara Croft: Tomb Raider and 9% for When a Stranger Calls).