Javier Bardem Stephen King The Dark TowerEXCLUSIVE: When Universal Pictures said no to making three feature films and two limited-run TV series from Stephen King’s mammoth post-apocalyptic Western The Dark Tower, the partners in the film all pledged they were going to find a way to get a movie made. Well, I hear that Warner Bros is now very close to a deal that will give Ron Howard the chance to direct at least the first feature, potentially with Javier Bardem starring as gunslinger Roland Deschain. And Akiva Goldsman (who wrote the script) is producing with Brian Grazer and the author.

Basically the studio bought Goldsman’s script and are paying him to do a polish. Howard remains attached to direct, likely in first-quarter 2013. Pic is a co-production between Goldsman’s Weed Road and Howard and Grazer’s Imagine. Bardem’s participation would depend upon his availability, but he was firmly attached when the project was at Universal.

That is an amazing development for fans of the book and for a movie that has been searching for new backing since Universal let it go last July. Back then, Universal was deciding on three features and the two TV segments, which was perhaps the most ambitious movie project since Peter Jackson shot three installments of The Lord Of The Rings back to back.

Universal finally said no after telling the filmmakers two months earlier they were postponing the film for a summer shoot, ostensibly to trim the budget. I’m told the filmmakers did that anyway, before they shopped it. Universal at the time reviewed Goldsman’s script for the first film and the first leg of the TV series, and would only commit to a single film, which prompted the filmmakers to take it back and shop it. They had already hired comic book and Heroes and Battlestar Galactica writer-producer Mark Verheiden to co-write the TV component with Goldsman, which was to be made for NBC Universal Television (studio insiders deny the studio was only willing to make the movie and not the series). Subsequent to that, Grazer said in an interview the TV component would move to HBO. I’d heard Warner Bros has been interested for some time, and the arrangement with sister studio HBO makes a lot of sense. Goldsman also has his deal at Warner Bros, where he will soon make his directing debut on Winter’s Tale.

The Dark Tower is about the last living member of a knightly order of gunslingers, with Deschain becoming humanity’s last hope to save civilization as he hits the road to find the Dark Tower. Along the way, he encounters characters, good and bad, in a world that has an Old West feel. CAA reps Howard, Grazer and Goldsman, while Paradigm reps King and WME reps Bardem.