Jackson’s remake of The Dam Busters running out of time

Today, once more, a UK TV channel is upholding the Boxing Day tradition of showing Michael Anderson’s 1955 film, The Dam Busters on free-to-air television. This year it’s the turn of More4.

If past experience is any guide, the showing will prompt a number of searches on Google from people wanting to find out what is happening to the remake which was promised by the New Zealand film mogul Peter Jackson almost thirteen years ago, when he and the late Sir David Frost purchased the film rights.

There was a flurry of excitement on this subject a year or so ago, when Jackson was widely reported as saying that he was once more pressing ahead with the project. “It’s always been a great story,” he was quoted as saying, adding that he only had the rights for “another year or two”, so he would have to make a positive move soon.

This was followed in April 2019 by more speculation, which would appear to have come from a briefing by Jackson associate Christian Rivers, that Rivers was “trying to convince Jackson to produce the piece as a ten-part mini-series rather than in a straight movie format.”

Since then, in a scenario which will be familiar to readers of this blog, there has been silence. The failure of Jackson and Rivers’ Mortal Engines film project with a loss of almost $175 million (nominated as one of 2018’s “biggest box office bombs” by Deadline.com) may have focussed their minds.

Michael Anderson died last year at the age of 98. It is fair to say that The Dam Busters was widely regarded as one of his best films, and one which will probably maintain its position in any future list of great war movies. In 2018, the hardnosed film production company StudioCanal spent a lot of money making a new high definition print of the original, and released it nationwide. It would not have done this if it did not think that it remains a commercial proposition. As I have said before, whether Peter Jackson can manage to deliver something as good by today’s standards will be a big test. But a film-maker of his talents is presumably relishing the challenge. And he has a limited time left in which he can make his move.

(If you missed today’s showing, don’t worry. It’s being screened again soon on More4, on New Years’s Day at 5.25pm!)

Dambusters remake shoved to back of the queue, again

slice_mortal_engines_peter_jackson_01Pic: collider.com

The good news: once again, Peter Jackson has indicated that his remake of the classic 1955 film, The Dam Busters, is still an ongoing project. The bad news: it has been shunted to the back of the production queue by what sounds like another interminable series of fantasy fiction films.

WingNut Films [will] be producing a feature film based on Philip Reeve’s book Mortal Engines, to be directed by Christian Rivers. The script has been written by Fran Walsh, Philippa Boyens and myself.
Some of you may recall that Christian was going to direct the Dambusters a few years back. Since then he’s kept himself busy, making short films, and directing Second Units on The Hobbit and Pete’s Dragon.
Our involvement in Mortal Engines actually pre-dates Dambusters (which is still happening) – Christian actually worked on Mortal Engines previs [sic] way back in 2009. It’s very exciting to finally get it underway!

This is obviously great news for the writer of Mortal Engines, Philip Reeves. There are four books in this series, and adapting and filming them will keep much of the New Zealand movie industry busy for years to come. But it does mean that the chance of the Dambusters remake hitting the screens anytime in this decade becomes more and more remote.
Jackson obviously included the four words in parentheses above in his statement (‘which is still happening’) to forestall the questions he would inevitably be asked by Dambuster enthusiasts. But if it is ‘still happening’, would he like to give us an update? A comment below would be appreciated.
[Hat tip: Graeme Stevenson]
UPDATE: More about this from the Waikato Times in New Zealand.

Jackson speaks: Dambusters a ‘wonderful story’ which I will have to do.

Peter Jackson has been giving interviews to mark the end of the process of making The Hobbit trilogy, which combined with the Lord of the Rings make up a series of six films that have taken his company almost fifteen years to complete. Already the films have grossed $4.89 billion in worldwide box office takings and by the time The Battle Of The Five Armies, the finale to The Hobbit trilogy, plays out, the total may reach $6 billion. 

Now, in an interview posted on the Deadline blog, Jackson has admitted that he probably would have started on the remake of The Dam Busters four or five years ago, having handed over directorial duties on The Hobbit to Guillermo del Toro. But del Toro left this project in May 2010 and Jackson stepped back behind the camera, saying that it was important to protect Warner Bros’ investment. He admits that all the time since there has been pressure on him to say what he will be doing next:

I’ve had so many people the last five years come and ask, ‘When are you going to make The Dam Busters? When are you going to make The Dam Busters?’ Honestly, you ask me what I got out of five years of making The Hobbit? It was me feeling like I have to make The Dam Busters, because of the endless people asking, ‘When are you going to make The Dam Busters?… 
[W]e still have the rights, and it’s one in a little pot of movies. We don’t have a next movie nailed down, but certainly The Dam Busters is one of them. There is only a limited span I can abide, of people driving me nuts asking me when I’m going to do that project. So I’ll have to do it. I want to, actually, it’s one of the truly great true stories of the Second World War, a wonderful, wonderful story.

I reckon that’s as near as we have come to a real commitment from Jackson to make the film. But when will it happen? He has a pretty busy schedule: Hobbit 3 is due for worldwide release in December 2014, and then there is the small matter of the second Tintin movie, scheduled for release in 2016, which he is also due to direct. (He did a deal with Steven Spielberg.) He won’t be directing The Dam Busters, but it will surely take up quite a bit of his time so it could fit into his schedule here – before a third Tintin movie, so far untitled.
If The Dam Busters is ever going to get to the clapperboard stage, the next thing to expect would be news that the difficulties with the screenplay have been ironed out, that the director is confirmed (a role earmarked eight years ago for Jackson protegé, Christian Rivers) and, most important of all, that Universal Pictures and Studio Canal are still behind the project. 

Watch this space.

Script issues still holding up Dambusters remake

Rivers LOR

Maybe it’s a mark of how far this subject has dropped off the radar, but I have only just caught up with a four-month-old snippet of news from Down Under. New Zealand Herald film critic Dominic Corry met Christian Rivers at the premiere of The Hobbit last December (yes really!), and asked him what was the situation with the remake of everyone’s favourite 1955 war film.

In 2008, it was announced that Jackson would produce a remake of 1955 World War II classic The Dam Busters, which was to be directed by Weta staple Christian Rivers (who won a special effects Oscar for his work on King Kong). The project seemed a natural fit for a war plane-obsessed ‘wingnut’ like Peter Jackson, but nothing has come to pass as yet, despite a bunch of replica planes having apparently already been built for the project.

I spoke to Rivers briefly on the red carpet at the Wellington premiere of The Hobbit, and he told me they are still planning to make the film but that it’s on hold at the moment due to script issues. I hope it happens eventually – there’s such a wealth of creativity at Weta, it seems crazy that we haven’t seen a film come out of that talent pool yet.

‘Script issues’ eh? To me, the problem is time. Jackson and his cohorts are getting a whole lot of moolah for spinning out The Hobbit over three films. Then there’s the small matter of a sequel to Tintin, and various other fantasy film projects. A remake of The Dam Busters, however much it might appeal to readers of this blog and a few million other war film buffs, would never make as much money as these high profile movies. That’s the way the economics of the film industry works.
On the other hand, we can’t discount the fact that Jackson is a self-confessed aero nut, and is probably still personally committed to the project. And so is Christian Rivers, despite the rumour a year or so ago that he was off doing something else.
Jackson’s involvement in the Dambusters remake was originally announced in 2006. Will we see it completed by the tenth anniversary of this historic day? I wouldn’t bet on it.

[Hat tip: Wings over New Zealand Forum.]

Cold wind of Wellywood may blow over Dambusters remake

There were whispers a few weeks ago that all was not well in Peter Jackson’s Wingnut Films studio, but no formal statement ever emerged from the famously secretive setup. However, it now seems that at least some of these rumours were true. In a long piece in today’s Dominion Post, which is mainly concerned with how the film industry in Wellington appears to be losing business to its rival, Auckland, a couple of hundred miles further north, journalist Kimberley Rothwell confirms that Christian Rivers, although still contracted to direct the remake of The Dam Busters, has sold his Wellington house and headed off to the USA.
A dozen or so years ago, Wellington was booming, says Rothwell:
In 1999, production started on The Lord of the Rings, and the label “Wellywood” was born.
The massive two-year production drew Hollywood right to Wellington’s door and brought hundreds of millions of dollars – some put the estimate at $1 billion – into the local economy.
But at the same time, advertising agencies moved a lot of their TV work to Auckland, and production houses such as Silverscreen and Flying Fish, powerhouse producers of TV commercials, closed their Wellington offices.
The slump hasn’t all been caused by Jackson or Wingnut, or their well-documented problems getting The Hobbit into production. A massive project about the life of Christ, called Kingdom Come, has been put on hold for the moment as its production company South Vineyard tries to avoid collapse. All this means that local freelances are struggling, although they are hoping that things will look up in the future. Jackson himself gets kudos for being incredibly ‘loyal and dedicated’ to his crew members but the simple fact is that there doesn’t seem to be the work there at the moment.
The irony is that Wellington’s biggest film model building and digital company, Weta, is ‘humming’, but with post-production work. The Dominion Post couldn’t find a single shoot currently going on in the Wellington area.
To those of us outside New Zealand, this might seem a parochial matter. The country’s total population, after all, is under four million, less than a third of that of greater Los Angeles, the most important city in the English language film industry. If work on the Dambusters remake was transferred to Auckland it would hardly cause a flicker on the radar of the average enthusiast.
But to those on the ground – the technicians, scene painters, caterers, drivers and all the rest of the cast of thousands whose names scroll down the screen as you rush out of the cinema to get to the bar more quickly – it means a lot. These are their jobs after all, daily work which pays their mortgages and supermarket bills. If the cold wind of recession bites further into the Wellington economy there will be fewer presents round the Christmas tree this year. Even if the temperature is a comfy 20 degrees.

Dambusters not affected by MGM woes

The news that Mexican film director Guillermo del Toro is no longer to direct The Hobbit, which was to be produced by Peter Jackson, does not at first glance have any repercussions on Jackson’s projected Dambusters film. However, it is obviously a distraction for the great man, when the last we heard was that he was working on revisions to Stephen Fry’s script.
The fate of The Hobbit is closely bound up with the current state of flux with mega-production company MGM, which is up for sale. This is having a severe knock on effect further down the food chain — even to the extent that box office biggies like the new James Bond film are now on hold.
The Dambusters remake, however, will be distributed by Universal and Studio Canal so, in theory, MGM’s woes are irrelevant. And it is to be directed by Christian Rivers, who doesn’t appear to have any other projects on the go at the moment.
Jackson has said that if necessary he will direct The Hobbit himself. That, obviously, would eat into the time he has available for other work. But if he can delegate his work on the Dambusters to his co-producers then this could be minimised.
Whatever happens, we can expect very few public announcements until there is real news to report. Wingnut Films is a secretive outfit (it doesn’t even have a website) tucked away in a small country thousands of miles from anywhere. Even though its films since the Lord of the Rings saga have had mixed responses, it is still a wealthy company which can put substantial resources into movie-making. There is no reason at present to be worried about the Dambusters project.
However, our speculation eighteen months ago that 2011 would be the earliest it would appear now seems less likely to be true. It surely won’t hit the screens until 2012.

Recession? ‘Stand by to pull me out of the seat if I get hit.’

There’s no real way of knowing if you will be working on the Dambusters remake, but if you are a Matte Dept. Supervisor, a Matte Painter, a Senior Water TD, a Shader Writer, an FX TD, a Lighting TD or a Water TD then you might want to consider relocating to downtown Wellington in New Zealand. In the last month, Weta Digital has advertised for people to fill all these jobs. Please don’t ask me what the work entails, as I have no idea. Perhaps the ‘Water TDs” will be involved in producing the new CGI versions of the mines exploding against the dams, which are probably the most laughably amateur bits of the 1955 film. 
However, you could just end up working on The Hobbit, Halo or Lucifer, all of which Weta also has in the pipeline.