Movie Limbo: New Jack Ryan and ‘Cabin In The Woods’ creep towards theaters

04.30.11 6 years ago 5 Comments

AP Photo/Peter Kramer

Hollywood is a strange town, and film culture is a strange culture.

There seem to be only two speeds to the way things work here, and they can be represented by our freeways.  There are times when I find myself on an LA freeway, windows down, hauling ass over the Mulholland pass or racing along the 101 towards Santa Barbara, enjoying that feeling of unfettered freedom, but more often than not, I find myself trapped in my car like it’s a tomb, sitting motionless while surrounded by thousands of other cars, also motionless, all of us needing to be somewhere, and none of us moving.

That’s the way it is with the film business, too.  Sometimes things happen at this crazy sort of lightspeed, so fast that it’s almost dizzying.  But most of the time, development takes forever and things move at a glacial pace, and complications can shelve some films, even after they’re done, for years at a time.

Two stories this week highlight that whole “hurry up and wait” phenomenon, that “trapped on the 405 during rush hour” feeling.  Thankfully, at least one of them has what appears to be a happy ending, and I’m guessing the increasingly good buzz on “Thor” helped make that happen.

First, there’s the long strange saga of trying to make a Jack Ryan reboot, which seems to me to be a story about how you can waste millions of dollars chasing a movie nobody wants to see.  While I like a few of the Jack Ryan books and films, it’s the stories, not the character himself.  Ryan, especially as he’s been portrayed on film, is a bit of a bland everyman, which is sort of the point.  He’s not a superhero, and he’s not the world’s greatest assassin, and he’s not some oversized spy who can automatically operate every exotic vehicle and weapon ever created.  He’s a family man, an analyst, the modern equivalent of the “little grey man” archetype in spy fiction.  On his own, Ryan is not especially interesting, and expending all of this energy chasing a prequel, which is already the most annoying and unnecessary form of revisiting a franchise, really does sound like an awful idea.  I mean, if people are complaining about a movie set in the “Bourne Identity” world without Jason Bourne in it, then I assume they are equally as skeptical of this one?

So of course, throw another million or so dollars at David Koepp now, since Steve Zallian, the last writer on the film, is such a hack.

The script actually started life as a spec script called “Dubai” by Adam Cozad.  Anthony Peckham and Cozad both worked to turn the script into a Jack Ryan origin story, which would be… what?  A job interview?  One of the main points of “The Hunt For Red October” was that Ryan was not a guy who worked in the field.  Evidently, there’s an incident mentioned in “Red October” that they’re using to reverse engineer this thing under the supervision of producers Lorenzo di Bonaventura, Mace Neufeld, and David Ellison.

Look, I think Koepp is a perfectly fine choice for doing this job, and Jack Bender is a good director who I’m excited to see moving into big event movies.  But I’m not surprised Steve Zallian walked away before even writing a draft on this one.  This is one of those cases where I can practically guarantee that by the time people are actually sitting in a theater, watching Chris Pine play Jack Ryan, it’s going to be after way, way, way too much money’s been spent making it happen, no matter what the final film is.

On the other hand, I have a feeling that people are going to be very pleased when “Cabin In The Woods” finally gets its release this year thanks to Lionsgate, who are getting very close to picking the film up from MGM.  I have no idea how the film turned out, but the script was intriguing and smart and different, and the cast, which includes Chris Hemsworth, Jesse Williams, Kristen Connolly, Amy Acker, and Richard Jenkins and Bradley Whitford as two men who have the strangest jobs in the whole world.  The film is a complete deconstruction of the tropes of the horror genre, and a smart way at tying together all sorts of crazy, varied ideas.

The film’s been looking for a distributor for a while, and I get the feeling Lionsgate is looking for something to fill that annual spot where the “Saw” movies normally go in October.  This is a great fit, and I hope Lionsgate gets really inventive with the way they sell it.  They could cut five totally different trailers for the film and really make the audience wonder what they’re in for.  Having Drew Goddard and Joss Whedon attached as the creators of the thing helps in terms of getting the message out to fandom, and I’m hoping they’ll do a major push at Comic-Con this year, since you know Whedon’s going to be there with “The Avengers,” as will Hemsworth.  And if audiences fall for him in “Thor,” he could be a real draw this fall.

One thing that’s for sure:  that long-rumored post-conversion to 3D never happened.  “Cabin In The Woods” is still in glorious 2D, and that seems to be the way it’ll stay.

Whatever the case, these films are both examples of how slow things can be in Hollywood until they’re suddenly not slow, and how you’ve got to sometimes simply wait out a moment so that your film or your script can find its way in front of an audience.  Only time will determine if it’s worth it in these cases.

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