In two separate Q&As in New York this past weekend (that Playlist members attended), Australian director Peter Weir (“Witness,” “The Year of Living Dangerously” among many others) mentioned three failed projects he was working on in-between “Master and Commander” (2003) and “The Way Back” (2011). However, the cagey filmmaker wouldn’t wouldn’t go into further details, saying, “I think they rightly didn’t stand up, and a particular one is still current with a star attached so it would be wrong for me to talk about it.”
Unlike him, the prospect of three projects he would not mention by name certainly intrigued us — we certainly never take a close-to-the-vest challenge lightly — and since the information was likely somewhere on the Internet, we started digging. Here’s four guesses to what they might be.
“War Magician” circa 2003
Synopsis: Stage magician Jasper Maskelyne uses his tricks for the British army in World War II, helping to defeat the Nazi war machine during the Africa campaign. Based on the book by David Fisher, who took from the real life of Maskelyne.
Star Power: Years before the ’03 signing, Tom Cruise set up the book with producer Paula Wagner as a starring vehicle for himself at Paramount. When Weir came on board, Cruise had already shifted to producing only. Peter Buchman (“Jurassic Park 3,” “Che“) was scribing the first draft.
What Happened: Because the book was released as non-fiction, there was a small uproar on how much of Maskelyne’s story had been fabricated by Fisher. Weir, thinking he was doing a biopic, interviewed the subject’s son, Alistair, to get the real story in 2004. Comparing that to the material sent by Paramount, the director opted to drop out, saying “I’ve avoided biographical material so far, and if I was to break my own rule I had to proceed from a solid factual base. That was not possible for reasons well known to you.”
Where Is It Now: Word’s been quiet. Paramount still owns the rights so anything can happen, though allegations against the story’s truthfulness are probably holding it back.
“Shadow Divers” circa 2006
Synopsis: Two deep-sea wreck divers discover a sunken U-Boat near New Jersey and risk their lives to uncover more about it, based on the book by Robert Kurson.
Star Power: Fox 2000 had set the project up with Weir, alongside a script by William Broyles Jr. (“Flags of Our Fathers“).
What Happened: In 2007, an industry source close to the director claimed he was off, and the project was absent on a list of movies being made during the writer’s strike. The impeding strike is the likely culprit as Weir won’t dive into any project until it’s completely ready.
Where Is It Now: At one point lined-up for Ridley Scott to direct, he’s now doing the producing. Robert Schwentke (“Red,” “Flightplan“) was once considering the director’s chair, with “Unstoppable” scribe Mark Bomback hired to produce a new draft. But Schwentke took “R.I.P.D.” with Ryan Reynolds instead, and the project is now without a director and looks to still be in development via the Scott brothers.
“Shantaram” circa 2005
Synopsis: Influenced by the life of Gregory David Roberts, a heroin addict who escaped a 19-year prison sentence in broad daylight, the story takes place post-break out and follows protagonist Lin in Mumbai. Lin goes from starting a free clinic in the slums to drug/weapon trading via the capital’s underworld.
Star Power: Russell Crowe was initially interested in the project, but Warner Bros. handed it over to Johnny Depp instead, whom author Roberts favored. An initial script was written by Roberts but Academy Award-winning Eric Roth (“Forrest Gump“) was brought on to rewrite. It was then that Weir was hired to develop the script with a 2006 start date.
What Happened: In June 2006, the filmmaker had left the project citing creative differences with the studio and producers.
Where Is It Now: “Monsoon Wedding” helmer Mira Nair took over in 2007, but some complications involving rewrites to lower the budget and the ever-so-tricky scheduling of Depp lead the shoot to be pushed further and further. Depending who you ask, the picture is either indefinitely stalled due to security concerns or on track for 2011. Truth is that while Depp and Graham King were once producers, the picture appears to have gone into turnaround with no one picking it up yet.
“Pattern Recognition” circa 2005
Synopsis: First in a trilogy by William Gibson, Cayce Pollard makes a living evaluating advertising campaigns. She is commissioned to investigate the origin of a mysterious, popular viral video, but finds herself in danger when she discovers that someone broke in and hacked her computer while she was away. Her journey leads her to Russia and Tokyo and she becomes increasingly paranoid, with a tone akin to Thomas Pynchon‘s brilliant “The Crying of Lot 49.”
Star Power: David Arata, writer of acclaimed sci-fi “Children of Men,” was developing with Weir.
What Happened: In a 2005 interview with DVD Talk Radio, Weir mentioned that development was going to be a “long haul” and that it was “frustrating, it’s basically a film-within-a-film.” In 2007, Gibson posted on his blog “I *do* believe, though, that Peter Weir will not be going forward with Pattern Recognition.”
Where Is It Now: Limbo-ish. It’s still in development at Warner Bros. with no director but Arata still attached.
So which one of these is still developing with a star attached to it? Frankly, none of them sound like the one, possibly “War Magician,” but that doesn’t sound like it either. Regardless, welcome back Peter Weir. “The Way Back” won’t be the most commercial film of his career, that’s for sure, but it a very respectable piece of cinema worth checking out when it comes to your town. The film hits proper limited release on January 21.