After ”A Beautiful Mind,” you’d think studios would jump at the chance to work with Oscar-winning directing-producing team Ron Howard and Brian Grazer and their star, Russell Crowe. Think again. For the last few months, the trio had been developing ”The Alamo” for Disney, with Howard planning to direct the tale of the memorable 1836 siege and Crowe planning to star as Texas hero Sam Houston. It would have been the kind of epic that makes Oscar voters drool. Disney’s accountants, however, were less enthusiastic, and after much wrangling over budgets and fees, and a month of will-they-won’t-they rumors, Variety reports that Howard is definitely not going to direct the movie, and the film will probably lose Crowe along with him.
Howard reportedly wanted to shoot the film on a budget of $125 million, nearly what Disney spent on ”Pearl Harbor,” and he wanted to make the battles realistically violent enough to merit an R rating. Plus, he and Grazer and Crowe all wanted salaries and percentage points that could have cost $30 million up front, plus a quarter of the gross. Such a film would have to gross nearly $400 million worldwide for Disney to break even, according to independent estimates — an unlikely prospect for a movie with an R rating and a distinctly American subject. Disney balked at those terms, even though it had already spent $12 million on sets and screenplay drafts (including one by ”Traffic” Oscar winner Stephen Gaghan).
Instead, Disney will hand the reins over to John Lee Hancock, who directed this spring’s Disney hit ”The Rookie.” Hancock is a Texan who knows the territory (his ”Rookie” and ”A Perfect World” were set in the Lone Star state), he pleases critics, he makes family-friendly movies, he doesn’t command a huge salary (Variety reports he was paid less than $1 million for ”Rookie”), and perhaps most important, he can make hits on a budget (”Rookie” cost $20 million and grossed four times that in the U.S.). Disney expects Hancock to bring ”Alamo” in for just $75 million, and with a less restrictive PG-13 rating.
Howard and Grazer are still expected to produce the film, but without Howard behind the camera, Crowe is expected to high-tail it out of the picture. It’s not clear whether Disney and Hancock will be able to hold on to the other names who have been mentioned for possible roles, including Billy Bob Thornton (as Davy Crockett) and Texan Ethan Hawke.
The only other film Disney is developing in the nine-figure price range is ”The Pirates of the Caribbean,” which, like the studio’s current ”The Country Bears,” is based on a Disneyland attraction. Unlike Howard’s proposed ”Alamo,” it should have appeal among kids and overseas viewers, all kinds of merchandising possibilities, no back-end participants, and the potential for sequels. It won’t win any Oscars, but then, Oscars don’t boost the stock price.