WB Pulls Plug on Tarzan — More Collateral Damage from Disney’s Botched Handling of John Carter?

Edgar Rice Burroughs, Tarzan of the Apes, The Tarzan Files, WB's Tarzan


Deadline Hollywood is reporting that Warner Brothers has pulled the plug on David Yates’ Tarzan, which was scheduled to go into production this summer. They’re mothballing it, and closing down the production office.   The official reason?  Well, there’s no official reason, because it’s not official yet.  But the avowed reason was a budget that would just not come down to a level that WB was comfortable with.

Damn.  Can’t catch a break, can we?

They are saying they might remount it for a 2014 production start, but don’ t hold your breath.  Turns out (and I had suspected this to be the case) they hadn’t done any pay or play contracts and hadn’t officially greenlit the production, so pulling the plug was easy.

I can’t help wonder — do we have Disney to thank for this as well?  What if Disney hadn’t botched John Carter, and that film had been a success?  Would WB have still pulled the plug on Tarzan?  It certainly would have been harder to walk away from it.  A John Carter Of Mars success would have everybody thinking that Edgar Rice Burroughs was the genius that we already know him to be and there would have been much more confidence about the prospects for Tarzan.

I’ll probably have more to say about this in the comments.  For now, here’s the summary and link to the article.

‘Tarzan’ Dying On The Vine At Warner Bros?

By MIKE FLEMING JR | Wednesday April 10, 2013 @ 1:02pm PDTTags: Alexander SkarsgardDavid YatesJessica ChastainTarzanWarner Bros
EXCLUSIVE: Things are not looking very good right now for Tarzan, the re-imagining of the Edgar Rice Burroughs tale that has Harry Potter helmerDavid Yates preparing to make it this year, with True Blood‘s Alexander Skarsgard playing the title character andZero Dark Thirty‘s Jessica Chastaincircling the female lead. I’m hearing they’ve shut down plans to make the film this year, and are shuttering the production office. Sounds like it had to do with a high budget they just couldn’t reduce to the level that made the studio comfortable. Casting and timing could also have been an issue, as word is the studio had been courting Jamie Foxx to play the film’s third lead but hadn’t made a deal. This is the film that Warner Bros has tried to get going for years, even hiring scribes Adam Cozad and Craig Brewer to separately script their own visions for the franchise.


  • Well …. for example, I think that the comments at Deadline about Tarzan having been done to death are the kind of comments that, if the movie were being made, would need to be addressed in the marketing. Tarzan enjoys huge familiarity . . . the potential moviegoer instantly knows who he is and what the basic framework of the story is. That’s the positive. But the negative is what you see on Deadline — it’s been done, who needs it in 2013? Overcoming that would be one of the main challenges in the marketing — not an overwhelming challenge, in my view. A few clips of a classy, urbane Tarzan — Queen Victoria’s James Bond, basically — with Tarzan uttering some sharp, articulate dialogue — then cut to an edgy, animalistic Tarzan in action in Africa with the flaming scar blazing on his forehead (both of which would be true to Burroughs’ original rendering of Tarzan and are “fresh” aspects of the character as far as Hollywood is concerned) would turn those negative expectations upside down. I truly think Yates and WB were headed in the right direction — but I think that the fearful suits don’t have the vision to see it. Oh well.

  • The comments at Deadline are like many other Internet comment sections – usually worthless and barely valid opinions. At least the comments here (even by the usual negative crowd) have at least a little thought involved.

    The money crowd is nervous these days with a shaky economy and some greedy investors only wanting the biggest profits for no effort on their part (Sorry, but gambling money with stocks and investments is not effort in my book… it’s gambling no matter how it’s categorized. They are just moving money around without creating or producing anything.. no sweat equity.).

    Johnny Depp is probably the only reason The Lone Ranger is still being made. WB probably figures they, too, need bigger names at least, besides a big budget, to pull off a hit. Too much nervousness and uncertainty is what’s shuttered the production IMHO.

  • I’m not sure that the “we’ll ignore the books altogether” attitude, which has been the case for just about every Tarzan adaptation, is better than “we’ll change some things in the book”, which was the case with John Carter.

    To be honest I was until very recently completely impervious to all things Tarzan. I saw the movies, read some comic strip, saw the Filmation cartoons, and I was always “what’s the big deal with this character? I see nothing special here”.

    Then I read Burroughs’ novel and literally fell from my chair. THAT was awesome. And then as I read further I realized why we will never see a faithful adaptation. Not only would it be R-rated, it would probably offense just about every advocacy group ever created on the surface of this planet, from women’s lib to Civil Right movements, protectors of animals and children, not to mention vegetarians, Arabs and Germans… Burroughs didn’t compromise.

    Even Arvid Nelson, who writes great Burroughs adaptations nowadays, thinks that Tarzan of the Apes is “drowning with racism” (as far as I know Burroughs didn’t make up cannibal black tribes. I find just as offensive, if not more, the need to replace them by unhuman half-apes humanoids when you know who they represent).

    I really don’t know if there’s any way today to represent Tarzan as Burroughs envisioned him. Too risky, and Tarzan movies can’t be made on the cheap. There’s still a lot to explore in this character, his animal side (which encompasses what could be to us cruelty and disgusting eating habits) vs his civilized side (chivalry of the highest kind), probably seen through other people’s eyes. But it runs the risk of making Tarzan somewhat unsympathetic and no studio would do that.

    In fact as I discovered Burroughs’ Tarzan it occurred to me that a very close character to Tarzan is Marvel’s Wolverine. Both have an animal side and a decent-human side to balance. And both seem very happy to be what they are. Wolverine is the star of X-Men and spawned solo movies, I think filmmakers should look to this side of Tarzan to make the character as awesome as he should be.

  • I have to agree with Michael here. ERB fans have gotten used to Tarzan films that bore no resemblance to Burroughs. The only difference was there was never any of the “we’re fans but we really hate the books” mentality Stanton and his cronies displayed.

    With this film it’s 50/50. On the one hand I was interested to see where David Yates took Tarzan and the casting choices indicated a higher caliber talent then usual for Tarzan. But it appears that Warners doesn’t know what it wanted to do with Tarzan since they’ve had it for so long and went through so many different writers and directors. I also get the feeling they’re too busy milking other more “profitable” franchises to really care (honestly Hangover III looks like the usual crap and a proposed prequel to The Shining? Really?) Because the comments I’ve seen that Tarzan’s time has come and gone and it’s a waste, I haven’t heard the same statements being made towards the upcoming Man of Steel reboot and that’s a character that’s been made into many countless TV shows and movies so what’s the deal there?

    Oh well, maybe next time Warners will actually stay course and make Tarzan. They can make him mopey and give him a previously unknown dead wife and whine about caves of gold (hey at least we might get to Opar). That would make him more “modern.”

  • Good points, Michael, and I apologize for any snark my comment had clinging to it – late night, off the cuff posting is perilous! I can appreciate why Stanton’s movie came in for a lot of scrutiny as a “first chance” situation. All the more reason, though, that I would think it’s (ostensible) failure to perform would be completely divorced from any future Tarzan project’s prospects. JC the movie “failed” for reasons completely unrelated to the source material, as I think your book proves. Even if Stanton didn’t trust the source material enough (as many here have argued, and as I think is even part of your conclusion), had the movie been marketed halfway competently, it would have been a hit.

  • Mike … judging from the comments here, the purists have a somewhat different view of the Tarzan situation than was the case with John Carter. Unlike JC which was a first time situation, there have been 80 Tarzan movies and the purists have gotten used to the fact that the adaptations are almost never on target vis-a-vis the original. Greystoke got the Act 1 origins story pretty close to right …. but went wildly off the rails in Acts 2 and 3. The rest of them rarely bear a lot of resemblance to the books.

    From what I can tell, there has been some enthusiasm for the fact that the Yates movie seemed to contemplate presenting us with a fully acculturated Tarzan who, like Burroughs Tarzan, could move easily in London society, speak multiple languages, etc . . . then launch into the jungle on whatever mission the story called for. My sense of it was that if WB would offer that Tarzan, many other deviations from the original would be happily accepted.

  • Disappointing news but hopefully it’s only delayed. The fact that they seem willing to keep David Yates in the fold is encouraging though. (does WB have to pay him something for the year to come, to keep him attached to the project?)

    I don’t think that the box-office failure of John Carter impacted the shutting down of the production. Currently WB’s priority is probably the Justice League movie, since they recently had to start anew from scratch after rejecting the first screenplay, and therefore calling Christopher Nolan and Zach Snyder to the rescue. It seems to me that WB would want to fully concentrate its resources on Justice League than on any other project right now.

    Let’s also hope Constantin Films’ Tarzan will turn out great, even if a Tarzan success is more likely to generate more Tarzan than activating any interest in other Burroughs properties. I wonder what Ka-Zar, Jungle Jim and Sheena are doing these days…

  • What Abraham said. I can’t imagine that JOHN CARTER the movie is *directly* responsible for this in any way. Tarzan is a brand name that people recognize. I am sure he could easily be brought up to 21st century sensibilities if need be (and no doubt the ERB purists would howl at that, too, rather than see another beloved character get a chance to be introduced to a new generation… anyway…)

    Besides, Disney may feel they already know how to do Tarzan – just hire Phil Collins to sing the theme song and you’re good to go.

  • Those comments do tell a story, but at the same time they sound like the usual internet chatter. Some folks like to put on a little cynicism and sarcastic dismissal in an effort to look cool. That being said, there is no doubt many people do have a “tough nut to crack” image of Tarzan because of the earlier films. Greystoke helped restore to the image some of its deserved gravitas, but was a half-measure at best.

    Now, how are audiences going to know that Tarzan can be engaging and dramatic and genuinely entertaining if no one in the film industry will present that Tarzan to them? Sooner or later, some project will need to step out and defy the jaded opinions. The project should seek to tell people what they should think of Tarzan, not defensively shy away because of a few loud cynics that do NOT represent the majority of the viewing public. Most people would go to a Tarzan movie without hesitation if it looked fresh and cool and had some familiar faces/names.

    Just a few years ago, people might have scoffed at the idea of a “cool” Sherlock Holmes. But the production design and slick trailers and great word of mouth helped make the film a big success for Warner Bros.. Chances are good that the studio would agree that Tarzan has similar potential, given the many years they pursued it. Let’s hope that this is a “Lone Ranger” type pause in the production process and that things get moving again soon.

    I’d be surprised if the decision was seriously influenced by the outcome with Disney’s John Carter. The name of Tarzan is way bigger than the name of Edgar Rice Burroughs, and the John Carter film barely made the association with ERB in the first place.

    Given the limited info that has been released about this Tarzan project, there isn’t much basis for speculation, but it seems to me that this decision to shut it down is a move toward defense, and misses out on a potentially very exciting project.

  • I really think they were on the right track with presenting, for what would have been pretty much the first time, as the fully acculturated Lord Greystoke able to move easily between London Society and “darkest Africa”. It would have been fresh …. but I’m afraid this really knocks it off the rails.

    Look at some of the comments from the Deadline article — I think it kind of identifies what the likely perceived problem was …..

    Do people really want to see a live-action Tarzan film in 2014/2015? I just don’t think it would have enough global (or even domestic) legs to justify what it will cost. It’s a tired premise best left behind in the 20th Century.

    Comment by Wannabe — Wednesday April 10, 2013 @ 1:48pm PDT REPLY TO THIS POST
    All for the best really. Skarsgard and Chastain should thank the heavens they don’t have to wear the loincloths and live to regret it.

    Comment by peter — Wednesday April 10, 2013 @ 2:19pm PDT REPLY TO THIS POST
    What isn’t dying on the vine over there?

    Comment by What’s going on over there? — Wednesday April 10, 2013 @ 2:20pm PDT REPLY TO THIS POST
    Greystoke was the last necessary Tarzan movie. The character has been fully explored.

    Comment by Rick — Wednesday April 10, 2013 @ 2:24pm PDT REPLY TO THIS POST
    I think Tarzan could hit big if done as a period piece in a Raiders of the Lost Ark kind of way. They’d also need to respect the source material and not go all politically correct with it.

    Comment by GMC — Wednesday April 10, 2013 @ 2:27pm PDT REPLY TO THIS POST
    I agree with what the car company said.

    Comment by Casey — Wednesday April 10, 2013 @ 2:40pm PDT REPLY TO THIS POST
    I totally agree with you but can you really see Tarzan done like it should be? I can’t. The PCs would tar it and hang it out to dry. It’s just not going to happen.

    Comment by mslewis — Wednesday April 10, 2013 @ 3:22pm PDT REPLY TO THIS POST
    It would work — but only if set in the era it was originally written in, and based upon the books, not earlier movies. “Me Tarzan You Jane” would not work in the 21st century, but a smart period piece with a touch of magic, and a Tarzan who was eventually capable of switching between his original, untamed persona, and that of the sophisticated British lord WOULD work — just the same as all the current crop of superhero movies.

    Comment by MaryAnn — Wednesday April 10, 2013 @ 3:29pm PDT REPLY TO THIS POST
    Isn’t WB television also dying on the vine? The Toni Colette vehicle, Hostages, was swiped right out of ny’s dinosaur casting director, Meg Simon. Now over at cbs. Time for a shake up there as well.

    Comment by Kevin — Wednesday April 10, 2013 @ 3:43pm PDT REPLY TO THIS POST
    Good for for Skasgard and Chastain.

    Comment by the seeker — Wednesday April 10, 2013 @ 3:44pm PDT REPLY TO THIS POST
    Let’s see, you need a jungle, Tarzan, Jane, Cheetah, the British guy looking for Jane, the evil elephant tusk smuggler and atmosphere playing warring tribesmen. $200 million.

    Comment by DougW — Wednesday April 10, 2013 @ 3:56pm PDT REPLY TO THIS POST
    I will not rest until I’ve feasted my eyes upon a “Tarzan at Earth’s Core” movie.

    Tarzan, dinosaurs, and exploding volcanos- what else could one ask for?

    It’s a automatic win at the box office.

    Let’s make it happen.



    Comment by Cary Coatney — Wednesday April 10, 2013 @ 4:20pm PDT REPLY TO THIS POST
    Won’t be crying poverty for the most successful studio in Hollywood. Dark knight Rising also did a billion box office…but for 100 years no one has yet to make a movie using the real tarzan of the novels…nor a story straight from the books. the public would love the real Tarzan. Lucas and Spielberg read them and were influenced by it in their making the raiders series. The Lord of the Jungle’s adventures ranged from exotic locals, sci-fi’sh stories, and hard core, deeply emotional stories in quests to preserve the lives of his loved ones. ….No one can be tired of a character they have yet to see…already disappointed by seeing that my favorite childhood hero, the Lone Ranger, is not wearing his iconic blue outfit but instead a dark sports jacket.What the hell???

  • That’s disappointing, but perhaps it isn’t the end of the story.

    The debacle at Disney “might” have had something to do with it – who knows? But at least ostensibly it appears that they wanted Jamie Foxx’s name on the project and since that didn’t work out or couldn’t be arranged in time, they couldn’t justify the budget. But that is mystifying as well, since the Tarzan name is globally famous (and could take off with gusto yet again if given the Sherlock Holmes treatment), Yates has cache from Harry Potter, Chastain is in the spotlight, and Skarsgard is well known from cable and films.

    I wonder if WB didn’t see things coalescing on the timetable they were hoping for, and have simply chosen to put the money toward a different, not yet announced project. That does still leave a window of opportunity for getting the necessary budget in the next year or two, when they might be looking for something new to greenlight. We shall see…

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