Remember the creation scene in “The Tree of Life?” The one where amoebas, stars, jellyfish, volcanoes, dinosaurs and swirling lights collide for a lengthy exploration of our origins? All that and more — in IMAX proportions, no less — is expected in “Voyage of Time,” another Terrence Malick opus (this time in documentary format) being produced by Brad Pitt’s Plan B Entertainment.
True, esoteric pondering about the cosmos isn’t exactly up everyone’s alley, but it has Plan B written all over it. Pitt has never been afraid to headline a big studio project as an actor (see Paramount’s “World War Z” coming in June, or several billion dollars-worth of other tentpole fare), but as a producer he has almost exclusively put his weight behind indie-minded projects such as “Voyage of Time,” “Tree of Life,” and, most recently, “Killing Them Softly,” the chatty, bloody crime drama that opened this weekend to a disappointing $7 million domestic gross.
Despite the frequent anemic returns on his producing efforts, Plan A for Plan B remains the literary, the obscure and the challenging. As Pitt told the Associated Press, he specifically goes out on a limb with these projects because “there’s such an investment of time and thought, I wanted to find stories that were more personal to me and that I believed I could add something to that was unique.” So while we should expect to see him in more movie-star roles — the Ridley Scott-Cormac McCarthy thriller “The Counselor” is set for a November 2013 release through Fox — Pitt is equally committed to the fringier tastes of Plan B.
Below, how 10 past and future projects stack up on the Pitt/Plan B timeline:
“A Mighty Heart,” 2007
Topical and tense, “A Mighty Heart” centered on the disappearance and murder of Wall Street Journal reporter Daniel Pearl in Pakistan. Angelina Jolie starred as Pearl’s wife Mariane, who fought to get her husband back and wrote the memoir upon which the film is based. It grossed nearly $19 million worldwide and earned the film three Independent Spirit nominations.
“The Tree of Life,” 2011
Pitt also starred in this Best Picture Oscar nominee, which competed against Plan B’s more commercial “Moneyball,” as well as “Midnight in Paris,” “Hugo” and eventual prize winner, “The Artist,” for the Academy honor. “Tree of Life” captured the Cannes Film Festival Palme D’Or but didn’t catch fire Stateside, making only 25% of its total grosses in North America. No matter: it’s Malick the artiste whom Pitt admires. “Someone called Terry a perfectionist, and I said no, he’s an imperfectionist; he’s trying to mess it up,” the actor-producer told Time.
“The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford,” 2007
Ouch. Andrew Dominik’s period meditation on celebrity and the outlaw’s demise grossed only $3.9 million in the U.S., but it did score two Oscar nominations. More importantly, it cemented the “Killing Them Softly” writer-director’s relationship with his A-list backer. Dominik told Yahoo Movies’ Thelmas Adams, “We became very close through the whole ‘Jesse James’ situation because it was difficult. It wasn’t what the studio was expecting. We had to fight for it. We were like a couple of soldiers in a foxhole. When you find people that you trust, you want to keep going with them if you can.”
“The Private Lives of Pippa Lee,” 2009
Robin Wright starred in writer-director Rebecca Miller’s look at the increasingly irrational actions of a fortysomething woman married to a much older man in suburban Connecticut. Blake Lively, Keanu Reeves, Alan Arkin and Winona Ryder co-starred in the effort, which film critic Peter Rainer dismissed as “unconvincing — emotionally, dramatically, and filmically.”
“Running With Scissors,” 2006
Augusten Burroughs’ best-selling 2002 memoir received a big-screen treatment from writer-director Ryan Murphy in the midst of his “Nip/Tuck” heyday. Annette Bening took on the thankless role of the novelist’s unhinged mother, who ships him off to live with her psychiatrist. The film registered neither with filmgoers nor critics and lasted only five weeks in theaters for its $7 million domestic take.
Click through for 5 of the most interesting Plan B projects in development…
“Voyage of Time”
The good news about “Voyage of Time” is that you have a pretty good idea of what you’re getting into. Pitt will narrate the doc, which promises to trace the “whole of time, from the birth of the universe to its final collapse,” according to the Los Angeles Times. Let’s hope the film’s running time isn’t just as long.
“12 Years a Slave”
“Shame” writer-director Steve McQueen takes the reins of the fascinating story of Solomon Northup, a free man of color who was kidnapped and sold into slavery in 1841. British actor Chiwetel Ejiofor (“Dirty Pretty Things,” “Children of Men”) stars along with Michael Fassbender, Paul Dano, Pitt and Michael Kenneth Williams (Omar from “The Wire”). The film was shot earlier this year in and around New Orleans, and it’s expected to land in theaters in Fall 2013.
Dominik’s third film for Plan B is based on Joyce Carol Oates’ 2000 historical novel about Marilyn Monroe. The film was in the works before “Killing Me Softly” with Naomi Watts attached to star, but now it returns to the front burner with Plan B on board. Dominik recently told IW blog The Playlist that “Blonde” is “sort of a Polanski descent-into-madness-type movie” that starts with the actress as a girl and “ends when she dies.” Aware of his unimpressive box office record even before the $15-million “Killing Me Softly” opened small, Dominik told the L.A. Times, “I’d like to keep working with Brad and I’d like us to have more expensive playdates than the last one. I would like to make someone some money.”
Development is underway on “The Operators,” an adaptation of Michael Hastings’ book about the fallout from U.S. Army General Stanley McChrystal’s boozy, uncensored European campaign to gather support for the war in Afghanistan. Too loose-lipped for the Obama Administration, McChrystal was stripped of his command in the aftermath of “Runaway General,” the Rolling Stone article upon which “Operators” was based. Actions and opinions of the major players in the war effort, from President Obama and Vice President Joe Biden to Colin Powell and General David Petraeus, are also covered in “The Operators.” Our choice to play McChrystal? “Mad Men’s” Christopher Stanley, aka Betty Draper’s second husband (it’s all in the nose and the ears).
“Shattered Glass” meets bizarro reality in “True Story,” which chronicles the real-life relationship between disgraced New York Times Magazine writer Michael Finkel and Christian Longo, a man who murdered his wife and three children in 2001 and stole Finkel’s identity while on the run. James Franco and Jonah Hill are slated to star in this Plan B/New Regency co-production.