EXCLUSIVE: Things are not looking very good right now for Tarzan, the re-imagining of the Edgar Rice Burroughs tale that has Harry Potter helmer David Yates preparing to make it this year, with True Blood‘s Alexander Skarsgard playing the title character and Zero Dark Thirty‘s Jessica Chastain circling the female lead. I’m hearing they’ve shut down plans to make the film this year, and are shuttering the production office. Sounds like it had to do with a high budget they just couldn’t reduce to the level that made the studio comfortable. Casting and timing could also have been an issue, as word is the studio had been courting Jamie Foxx to play the film’s third lead but hadn’t made a deal. This is the film that Warner Bros has tried to get going for years, even hiring scribes Adam Cozad and Craig Brewer to separately script their own visions for the franchise.
Nobody was commenting officially, but insiders at the studio tell me they are trying again for 2014 and that Yates is still in the fold. The studio hadn’t greenlit the film and did not have pay or play deals, so it wasn’t that hard to apply the brakes. Warner Bros is always voracious for franchises that can play on a global stage, but the studio also has been pretty bold about unplugging films that cost too much or don’t get the starpower. Recent examples include the David Dobkin-directed Arthur & Lancelot, scrapped because the film was going to cost at least $130 million, and Warner Bros didn’t want to spend a dime more than $110 million on a film to star newcomers Joel Kinnaman and Kit Harington. The studio also slowed the pace of Akira by shuttering the Vancouver production office, and letting lapse the test options deals it had with Dane DeHaan and Michael Pitt. Both actors had been competing for the lead role of Tetsuo, to star alongside Garrett Hedlund, Kristin Stewart, and potentially Ken Watanabe and Helena Bonham Carter. Neither of those films were greenlit, but they were close and so was Tarzan. Warner Bros is hardly alone among studios doing this. Legendary scrapped Paradise Lost, and Disney unplugged The Lone Ranger–until the $250 million budget was trimmed to around $215 million. That film regained its footing and is Disney’s big offering for July 3. We’ll see if Tarzan is able to come back together like The Lone Ranger or whether it’s the latest casualty in the struggle between creative ambition and fiscal discipline.