According to Michael Fleming, Steven Spielberg has notified 20th Century Fox that he won’t be using the soundstages they’ve had reserved for him in the spring of 2010, as he is no longer interested in making “Harvey,” based on the Pulitzer Prize winning play by Mary Chase.
The play was famously filmed once before with Jimmy Stewart in the lead role of Elwood P. Dowd, a small-town laughing stock who carries on conversations with a six-foot-tall invisible rabbit named Harvey. And while I admire the play and the earlier film, I sincerely hope this scuttles this remake altogether. It wouldn’t be the first project that Spielberg torpedoed simply by expressing some interest in it. In this case, he’s been working with Jonathan Tropper, a novelist who is still an unproven quantity as a screenwriter.
Fleming’s article says that after Spielberg approached, and was turned down by, the obvious first choice of Tom Hanks, the director then started conversations with Robert Downey Jr. And while I am a huge fan of Downey, and a big supporter of his recent explosion as a movie star, I think this role would be treading water for him. I can already picture the entire film… the Janusz Kaminski look, the performance by Downey, and even the uplifting late-career John Williams score. It’s one of those movies that doesn’t need to exist because the minute you say what it is, you can picture the entire thing. It’s too obvious. It’s too easy.
And, frankly, “Harvey” doesn’t work anymore. Like “Arthur,” it’s from an earlier era of charming drunks and lovable eccentrics instead of damaged addicts and the mentally ill. I’m guessing that the more Spielberg played with the material, the more it just plain didn’t work as something new, something different. And why chase something that’s been done so conclusively? The original “Harvey” features a truly magical performance, and chasing it, trying to make that same magic happen again… it’s just a waste of time for a filmmaker like Spielberg.
So that’s “Harvey” and “Old Boy” down. We dodged two Spielberg remakes. As long as he doesn’t go back to “Chicago 7,” we’re in good shape. I hope whatever he does next, if it’s “Lincoln” or another thing, it ends up being something original. Something that’s his. I don’t need to see Spielberg doing riffs on pop culture that already exists. His voice is too big for that.
Surely there’s something out there that someone can put in his hands. I’ll bet he’s got nothing but scripts under the Christmas tree this year from every A-list writer in town. Here’s hoping one of those presents turns out to be a gift for us as well.
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