Universal passes on ‘Dark Tower’

Ultra-ambitious movies-and-TV project headed for turnaround

Universal has officially placed the ambitious multiplatform franchise “The Dark Tower” in turnaround.

Variety first reported that the studio had second thoughts about the film and TV project from Akiva Goldsman and helmer Ron Howard on May 5, when the studio began mulling a turnaround.

“Tower” involved a television show that would have continued the narrative in between three movies, all based on Steven King’s seven-novel series (King has completed an eighth, “The Wind Through the Keyhole,” set for publication in 2012).

Howard unveiled plans for “The Dark Tower” adaptation last September. Universal soon came on as a distributor, thanks to Imagine’s production deal with the studio; NBC (or an affiliated cable net) was expected carry the TV component.

By April, scribe Mark Verheiden was brought on board to write the TV show along with Goldsman.

No financier has officially signed on to the project, but Warner Bros. could be a likely option since the studio is home to Goldsman’s Weed Road Pictures shingle.

Imagine Entertainment’s Brian Grazer and Goldsman were set to produce while Javier Bardem was attached to star.

Howard is expected to still helm the project if the studio shops it elsewhere and it finds a new home.

“We know that this is an incredibly ambitious undertaking, but we continue to be excited about it,” Imagine’s Michael Rosenberg told Variety. “We’ll explore all avenues for financing to see if we can ultimately make this project.”

Though U declined to comment on the reasons behind the pass, sources said the franchise simply came at too high a price. The unprecedented package would have taken the franchise model to a new level, and sources said U’s issues were financial, not creative.

King’s “Dark Tower” epic has been long pursued for screen adaptation, but the series’ length and scope — rooted in a post-Apocalyptic realm resembling the Old West as well a parallel modern-day world — has been a tough nut to crack for scripting and production planning. Before Imagine announced its adaptation plans, J.J. Abrams and “Lost” co-creator exec producer Damon Lindelof had optioned rights from King for $19 (a key number in the “Tower” universe). But they weren’t able to find a take on the material that satisfied their ambitions.

Universal also has at least two other big-budget films in the works: the Keanu Reeves-toplined “47 Ronin” and “Battleship.”