Universal Cancels 'The Dark Tower'

darktower_CoverBeen waiting for further confirmation, but it seems Deadline’s  report of  Universal Studios cancellation of Ron Howard and Akiva Goldsman’s adaption of Steven King’s THE DARK TOWER is correct.
There have been no detailed announcements as the the reasons, but it seems that the studio just couldn’t justify the budgets for the three planned feature films, supported by a seperate TV series to bring King’s epic horror/western fantasy to the screen.
It’s speculated that Universal might have been willing to greenlight one film at a reduced, but still substantial budget, but not the massive commitment the producers were demanding.
The project is not dead, Howard and Goldsman are free to shop it around to other studios, but the feature and mini-series approach might well remain a stumbling block.

'Dark Tower' Going Forward?

darktower_CoverIn an wide-ranging interview with Imagine Entertainment’s Ron Howard and Brian Grazer about the 25-year producing partnership, Deadline broached some questions about their planned adaption of Steven King’s The Dark Tower at Universal Studios.
An epic undertaking, the project would encompass three movies AND two TV mini-series. Whay take on such a massive production?
Ron Howard answered that the project may be even more ambitious.

“The universe Steve King created is so dimensional and creative. It blends scope, sweep, and adventure with some very personal compelling stories. We could have tried to force all of it into one or two or three movies.
It became clear to me that the medium of TV has become so bold and cool, we could use it to our advantage creatively, and really fulfill the possibilities of this universe of characters King gave us to work with. We can use the intimacy of television when that’s appropriate, and the scope and scale of the big screen with the bigger fantasy ideas.
We discovered elements that would probably never have a home either on the big screen or on TV, but would make fantastic narrative gaming opportunities that won’t rehash the movies or TV, but have its own material borne out of the books and graphic novels. We’ve got gaming designers and there is enthusiasm for that. It’s a way to use all the mediums at our disposal to try to fulfill what’s possible. Universal sees this as an asset that can benefit the company in a lot of different ways.”

The site mentioned rumors that Universal might be getting cold feet about the undertaking, and the fact that the start of  production has been delayed until 2012.

A multi-media franchise?
A multi-media franchise?

Howard replied that the original start date was part of a “fast track” plan that in the end went back to a “more traditional timetable”.
Asked about the studio’s desire to reduce the budget, Brian Grazer replied that writer and co-producer Akiva Goldsman is is “sensitive to cost”  and re-writing the script to reduce the expense, insisting that “the cuts aren’t that deep or radical.”
Questioned if  Javier Bardem is signed to play the lead Roland Deschains, Ron Howard said that Bardem does want to play the role and that he hoped that would be the case, but implied no one is “pay or play” at this point.

Verne Langdon, Makeup Artist, R.I.P.

From his Website
From his Website

Verne Langdon was a multi-talented make-up artist, mask maker, musician, composer, record producer, writer, occasional actor, and even a wrestler in his time. He passed away Saturday, January 1st, at the age of 69.
Langdon was a familiar name and face to readers of Famous Monsters Of Filmland magazine in the 1960’s and 70’s. He wrote a few articles, but was also written about, as he was behind many of the famous masks of the Universal Studios monsters made by the Don Post Studios, and sold in the magazine.
He recorded a An Evening with Boris Karloff and His Friends for Decca Records, and composed and performed two albums of horror-oriented music, Vampire At The Harpsicord and Phantom of The Organ. Langdon also recorded a number of non-genre music albums, available on CD.
Verne_L_ZombieAdResponible for many of Don Post’s famous masks, he designed his own original, The Zombie, which is highly prized today by mask collectors.
Verne Langdon also  produced and designed live shows featuring monsters and make-up for Universal Studios.
Film & TV credits include THE HAUNTED PALACE, THE COMEDY OF TERRORS, the PAT PAULSON TV show, and the PLANET OF THE APES film series, working with designer John Chambers.
His official website can supply more details about his life, showing that  Verne Langdom was still active with a wide range of projects and horror/sci-fi fandom up until his death.
News via The Classic Horror Film Board.

SyFy and Universal Form Production Co.

From their Press Release:

“Syfy Ventures and Universal Pictures are joining forces toSyfy_LOGO create Syfy Films, a new film company that will develop and produce Syfy branded theatrical motion pictures to be distributed by Universal. The new entity will leverage Syfy’s genre expertise to produce human and relatable theatrical releases from the worlds of science fiction, fantasy, Supernatural and horror.
Beginning in 2012, Syfy Films will distribute one to two films a year through Universal Pictures.universal_studios_logo
The announcement was made today by Dave Howe, President Syfy and Chiller, Mark Stern, Executive Vice President of Original Programming, Syfy and Co-Head of Content for Universal Cable Productions, Universal Pictures Chairman Adam Fogelson and Co-Chairman Donna Langley.
“We know there is an incredible consumer appetite for genre content as proven by the top grossing box office films,” said Howe and Stern. “Partnering our brand with the theatrical talent of Universal Pictures, a premier motion picture company, will allow us to exploit our combined expertise and resources to create commercially successful quality films that have the potential to become great franchises for the whole company.”
“Syfy has been incredibly successful in finding ways to produce compelling entertainment for a specific audience,” said Fogelson and Langley. “Joining together to find moderately budgeted projects that we can develop using their expertise and their brand is a great opportunity for both of our companies.”
Mark Stern and Donna Langley will jointly oversee the operation. Universal and Syfy are currently looking for a production executive to run Syfy Films, which will be based on the Universal Lot.”

Universal and SyFy are already connected at the corporate level, with a number of the cable net’s series coming from Universal Media Studios and affiliated production companies.
The cable entity does offer “SyFy Original” features, but their role is usually limited to providing funding and sometimes general premise ideas to independent producers, such as with Roger Corman’s SHARKTOPUS.  It will be interesting to see if their features films aim a little higher.

'Cowboys and Aliens' – Trailer

Here’s the trailer to COWBOYS AND ALIENS, Universal Studios adaptation of the graphic novel by Scott Mitchell Rosenberg.
Screen 007 Daniel Craig stars as Zeke Jackson, a hunted gunfighter caught up into a strange extraterrestrial invasion of an Arizona town in the days of the old West.
Also starring Olivia Wilde, Harrison Ford, and Sam Rockwell.
Directed by IRON MAN’s Jon Favreau.
Due in theaters July 29th, 2011.
Via Box Office Spy

Saw: Game Over at Halloween Horror Nights – Video Flashback

For the past few years, Universal Studios in Hollywood has employed a strategy of building their annual Halloween Horror Nights attraction around established film franchises. Last year, they featured walk-through mazes based on SAW and HALLOWEEN, among others. The HALLOWEEN maze is gone for 2010, but SAW is back for another year of terrorizing eager fans. Although I am not a huge fan of the franchise, I must admit that its multiplicity of terror traps offers ample opportunity for memorable live-action scares, as recreated by the Universal team.
A larger version of the video is embedded below:

Universal's Halloween House of Horrors: Video Flashback

Ever since Knott’s Berry Farm began basing their annual Halloween Haunt mazes on titles like THE GRUDGE 2 and QUARANTINE, there has been a tendency for Halloween attractions to seek inspiration from horror and fantasy movies. No one has taken the concept further than Universal Studios in Hollywood, whose annual Halloween Horror Nights features, among other fearful entertainments, the House of Horrors, a year-round walk-through attraction loaded with many more monsters during the October season. House of Horrors is a bit like a trip through the history of the genre, starting with an older black-and-white style of horror, and moving through the generations toward more modern variations.
For 2008 (as seen in the video), the House of Horrors included characters from THE STRANGERS. A larger version of the video is embedded below.

Freddy, Jason & Jigsaw to haunt Universal for Halloween

Universal Studios has a long and honorable tradition of classic horror films and monster movies, so it is no surprise that when October rolls around, they look to film franchises to inspire attractions for their annual Halloween Horror Nights (which takes place at both the Hollywood and the Florida locations). Since the Hollywood version was resurrected in 2006, Jason, Freddy, and Leatherface have haunted the lot on two occasions (2007 & 2008); Michael Myers, Jigsaw, and the guy from MY BLOODY VALENTINE took over last year. The question is: Are there enough popular horror franchise to offer something new each year? Apparently not: 2010 sees the return of Jason, Freddy, and Jigsaw, each of whom will haunt his own walk-through maze. There will also be something called “Vampyre: Castle of the Undead” situated in the theme park’s year-round “House of Horrors” attraction. Plus, Rob Zombie is contributing a maze based on his film HOUSE OF A 1000 CORPSES.
Vampyre Image-thumb-540xauto-644Sadly, Universal’s own classic monsters (Frankenstein, Dracula, The Wolf Man, etc) are not being given the spotlight, although many of them do show up in the House of Horrors, and there are year-round rides inspired by Universal movies: JURASSIC PARK, REVENGE OF THE MUMMY, and KING KONG 360 3-D. You can also take a walk through the back lot, where Norman Bates can usually be found outside the PSYCHO house from Alfred Hitchcock’s 1960 classic; Chucky the Killer doll is also expected to be on view there.
Dates are September 24-25, October 1-2, 8-9, 15-17, 21-24, 28-31. This is a separate event that takes place every evening, after the Universal Studios theme park closes for regular business.
Tickets are $59 at the front gate. Advance online orders can save you from $5 to $25, depending on which night you attend (earlier in the season is cheaper). Of course, there are also more expensive Front of the Line Passes ($69).
Title: Halloween Horror Nights
Location: Universal Studios Hollywood
100 Universal City Plaza
Universal City, CA 91608
Link out: Click here

'Despicable Me' Premieres – Trailer 6

DESPICABLE ME opens today, July 9th, from Universal Studios.

“In a happy suburban neighborhood surrounded by white picket fences and flowering rose bushes sits a black house with a dead lawn. Unbeknownst to the neighbors, hidden deep beneath this home is a vast secret hideout.
Surrounded by an army of mischievous little minions, we discover Gru (Steve Carell) planning the biggest heist in the history of the world. He is going to steal the moon (Yes, the moon!) in Universal’s new 3-D CGI feature, DESPICABLE ME.
Gru delights in all things wicked. Armed with his arsenal of shrink rays, freeze rays and battle-ready vehicles for land and air, he vanquishes all who stand in his way. That is, until the day he encounters the immense will of three little orphaned girls who look at him and see something that no one else has ever seen: a potential Dad.
One of the world’s greatest super-villains has just met his greatest challenge: three little girls named Margo, Edith and Agnes.”

Also starring the voices of Jason Segel, Kristen Wiig, Will Arnett, Danny McBride, Russell Brand, Julie Andrews, and Jack McBrayer.
Screenplay by Ken Daurio and Cinco Paul
Directed by the team of Pierre Coffin, John Cohen, Chris Renaud, and Sergio Pablos.
Rated PG, full of comic sci-fi devices, probably good fun for the kids and easy on the adults.

Sense of Wonder: King Kong stomps onto Universal Studios

This Tuesday, wearing my other hat – as proprietor of Hollywood Gothique, the website of Fantasy Films, Mystery Movies, Halloween Horror and Sci-Fi Cinema Events in Los Angeles – I attended the press preview of the new “King Kong 360 3-D” attraction, which opens today at Universal Studios Hollywood. For those who don’t recall, Universal’s back lot was devastated by a fire two years ago that destroyed prints (but thankfully not negatives) of classic horror films, along with part of the tram tour. Among the casualties was the old King Kong, a life-size mechanical replica, seen from the chest up, pulling the wires of an elevated train. The replacement Kong is a combination of 3-D projection and motion simulation modeled after the 2005 remake of KING KONG directed by Peter Jackson, who is given a “created by” credit for the new attraction.

Peter Jackson appeared via 3-D video clip
Peter Jackson appeared via 3-D video clip

Universal rolled out King Kong 360 3-D with a press event that featured celebrities walking the red carpet, studio executives expressing their pride at getting Kong back on the tour, and a 3-D video clip of Jackson himself, who explained his involvement by saying, because the KING KONG film does not lend itself to a sequel, he “was just thrilled to have an excuse to go back and have a bit more fun with King Kong.”
Fun is the operative word. I was not a big fan of Jackson’s KING KONG (reviewed here), which was like watching a rough draft of a concept, in which each and every idea is included, whether or not they gel, and I found the special effects set pieces like the dinosaur stampede and especially the Kong-Tyrannosaurs battle (dangling from vines in a chasm) to be laughably absurd. Fortunately, this kind of excess, which works to the detriment of a narrative film, is perfectly tuned for a theme park ride, where visceral impact outweighs any credibility concerns. King Kong 360 3-D is one wild ride.
However, potential visitors should consider that, unlike Universal’s TERMINATOR 2 3-D, or any of the motion-simulation rides that have graced the theme park of the years (including BACK TO THE FUTURE and, currently, THE SIMPSONS), King Kong 360 3-D is not a stand-alone attraction; it is one of many sights seen the tour through the back lot. Situated near the old rickety bridge (which used to sag on cue as the tram rolled over it), the new Kong attraction takes you inside a darkened tunnel, leading you to Skull Island, which is visualized on two colossal digital screens, one on either side of the tram.
The crushed tram does not bode well for your chances on Skull Island.
The crushed tram does not bode well for your chances on Skull Island.

After passing a smashed and smoking tram – a sign of the dangers to come – you enter a tunnel leading to Skull Island. Inside, images of dense foliage give way to raptors that appear to chase the tram – until they are interrupted by hungry T-Rexes, bring the tour to a stop. Just when all seems lost, Kong appears to battle the carnivorous dinosaurs. The action runs continuously on both screens as if happening in real time, synchronized so that when Kong tosses a T-Rex from one side of the tram, it appears to land on the other. The visual impact is heightened by motion simulation, creating the illusion that the tram is being buffeted by the battling creatures. As if that we’re not enough, you get sprayed by dinosaur saliva (actually water) as the reptiles shakes their heads at you.
The highlight is the convincingly realized illusion that a T-Rex has grabbed the last car of the tram, pulling it around until it is visible on the left – and then dragging it over the edge of a cliff, leading to what feels like a 100-foot free fall, arrested only by some convenient vines. Will Kong arrive in time to prevent you from plunging to the bottom of the abyss?
The tram takes visitors into the jungles of Skull Island.
The tram takes visitors into the jungles of Skull Island.

The computer-generated visual effects are well rendered, and the 3-D is also nicely done. (You are told when to put on the requisite 3-D glasses, handed out as you board the tram.) The imagery is especially effective when you consider that, essentially, you are seeing two long, continuous takes, uninterrupted by editing, in order to create the illusion that you are viewing live-action on both sides of the tram.
The slight downside is that the large screens (the size is necessary to fill your entire field of vision) are not quite perfectly bright and clear. Also, the 3-D illusion is ever so slightly marred by the fact that, depending on your seat in the tram, you are often not watching the action at a 90-degree angle to the screen. (It feels as if you should be able to see around and behind objects, but actually viewing them at an oblique angle undermines the illusion.) On the plus side, the initial glimpse of the Skull Island forest effectively conveys the sense that you are travelling past real objects.
The old King Kong, destroyed in the 2008 fire
The old King Kong, destroyed in the 2008 fire

The experience is visually impressive, but is King Kong 360 3-D worth a special visit to Universal Studios Hollywood? At a minute-and-a-half in length, probably not, but it is great to have Kong back in action on the back lot. Just remember that, despite the ballyhoo, this is not a stand-alone attraction. However, if you are considering a trip to Universal’s’ theme park, it is definitely worth the wait in line to take the back lot tour. You will not be disappointed.
Celebrities who attended the debut included Christopher Lloyd (BACK TO THE FUTURE), Mark Pelligrino (LOST), and Thomas Kretschmann (the 2005 KING KONG) and Jack O’Halloran (the 1976 KING KONG).
Christopher Lloyd Mark Pelligrino (LOST) Thomas Kretschmann (from KING KONG 2005) and Jack O'Halloran (from KING KONG 1976)