EXCLUSIVE: I’m told that Warner Bros is getting a new script from Akiva Goldsman for the first installment of Stephen King’s mammoth Western The Dark Tower, and that within two weeks, the studio will be making a decision on whether to green light the first leg of one of the most daring and ambitious projects to come along since The Lord Of The Rings. And here is a new wrinkle to add to the mix. Javier Bardem is no longer in the mix as gunslinger Roland Deschain. I’m told that director Ron Howard and producers Brian Grazer and Goldsman have been talking with their A Beautiful Mind star Russell Crowe about playing Deschain. While there is no deal with Crowe, that is the star that Warner Bros will be evaluating as the studio decides on whether to take a leap on an eight-volume book that has a huge following, with Howard, King and their partners planning a multi-platform presentation that could be unforgettable. The story will be told through three films and two limited run TV series.

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. When I last wrote about this, Universal had dropped out and Warner Bros had sparked to the idea of taking on this franchise, possibly with HBO handling the TV component that would bridge the the first and second feature films, with another limited run TV series to follow. Given HBO’s adventurous forays into fantasy with Game of Thrones, it seems like the ideal venue.

If Crowe stepped up as the gunslinger, it would certainly help the project. He has clearly gotten back into the leading man game where he was when making films like Gladiator and A Beautiful Mind. Crowe played a big role of Jor-El in Warner Bros’s Man of Steel relaunch of the Superman franchise, and he is currently playing the title Biblical hero in the Darren Aronofsky-directed Noah for New Regency and Paramount. We’ll know soon if that resurgence takes him into an Old West fantasy, courtesy of what King has called his answer to JRR Tolkien’s The Lord Of The Rings trilogy.

In a climate of fear and remakes–is Sony Pictures actually remaking Jumanji, a film that came out less than 20 years ago?–it would be grand to see Warner Bros have the stones to take the kind of daring risk that seems only to be taken by the likes of HBO, Showtime, AMC and other pay and cable networks. It’s that risk taking that has put those networks in a position of being at the center what will eventually be viewed as a golden age for daring quality TV series.