Universal halts Verbinski’s ‘Bioshock’

Studio, director to work out budget concerns

Universal Pictures has put the brakes on “Bioshock,” the Gore Verbinski-directed live-action adaptation of the bestselling Take-Two Interactive vidgame.

The picture was in pre-production, but the studio has halted that effort — and let some production staff go — as Universal and Verbinski figure out a way to make the film on a less costly budget.

The John Logan-scripted picture was gearing up to shoot in Los Angeles, but that changed when the budget rose to about $160 million. U and Verbinski are looking at alternatives, such as shooting in London, as a way to pare costs.

Story takes place in the underwater city Rapture, where a pilot crash-lands near a secret entrance and becomes involved in a power struggle.

“We were asked by Universal to move the film outside the U.S. to take advantage of a tax credit,” Verbinski said. “We are evaluating whether this is something we want to do. In the meantime, the film is in a holding pattern.”

Verbinski and sources at the studio say they are determined to make the pic. Indeed, Verbinski (who has also been directing the Paramount animated film “Rango”) bowed out of directing a fourth installment of “Pirates of the Caribbean” so he could direct “Bioshock” and produce under his Blind Wink banner.

Studio sources said that the budget simply became untenable, but U sources said the situation is no different than when the studio delayed the start of the untitled Robin Hood pic that Ridley Scott is now directing with Russell Crowe starring. U is making that picture for $130 million, a much smaller budget than in its first incarnation. For a number of reasons that included the need for extra script work, that picture temporarily halted, which enabled Crowe to star in “State of Play” when Brad Pitt fell out.

All parties vow that “Bioshock” will not become another “Halo,” the would-be live-action adaptation of the Microsoft game that was cancelled when U and Fox got cold feet over budget fears.

Universal acquired “Bioshock” in a multimillion-dollar deal against gross points with Take-Two (Daily Variety, May 8).