Alex Proyas' fantasy epic suffers a setback on the eve of production in Sydney.
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14 Dec 2011 - 11:32 AM  UPDATED 26 Feb 2014 - 4:10 PM

Producers have put the brakes on Alex Proyas' adaptation John Milton's 17th poem 'Paradise Lost', which was set to shoot in January in Sydney and its surrounds, citing budget escalations of as much as 15 percent beyond its US$120million budget.

In light of the decision by producer Vincent New and the executives at Legendary Pictures, Proyas has scaled back pre-production, to rework the elements of the script that were proving the most costly.

The postponement of Paradise Lost is the latest production hiccup to befall ambitious, mega-budgeted Hollywood projects. Earlier this week, Warner Bros pulled the pin on David Dobkin's US$100million reworking of the Camelot legend, Arthur and Lancelot, going so far as to inform the writer/director he could take the film elsewhere. Disney bailed on its adaptation of The Lone Ranger when budget estimates passed US$250million, despite having Johnny Depp on board as 'Tonto'; the project has re-started with major cuts to upfront salaries for Depp and director Gore Verbinski and the excision of expensive set-pieces. Dr George Miller has seen two expensive projects close down with cameras set to roll – Mad Max: Fury Road has suffered budget fluctuations due to a volatile world economy, leaving investors wary about committing to a production start date; and, in 2008, the Australian-based shoot for the ultra-pricey Justice League comic adaptation was shuttered well into pre-production at Fox Studios, never to resurface.

Paradise Lost was set to star Bradley Cooper as Satan, the central anti-hero of Milton's epic vision about the struggle between the Devil and God, and its impact upon the creation of the human race. Cooper, one of Hollywood's hottest properties thanks to The Hangover films and the sleeper success of his thriller Limitless, is at risk of dropping out of the role given the tight schedule and script choices afforded A-listers. Keeping co-stars Benjamin Walker, Camilla Belle, Casey Affleck and Djimon Hounsou will be easier, but should Cooper depart, the budget will again be reconsidered given the project would now lack the pull of a big star in career ascension.

Should Paradise Lost not proceed, the local production sector will feel the impact. Proyas' last film Knowing, an apocalyptic thriller starring Nicholas Cage, shot in Victoria in 2008 on an estimated budget of US$50million of which a large percentage went directly into the local sector. Given that Proyas was reportedly preparing to shoot utilising motion-capture technology and 3D cameras, the array of production staff required would have been vast. The shoot would have employed many of the top-tier below-the-line talents just wrapping their duties on Baz Luhrman's The Great Gatsby, providing a rich period of high-profile employment for potentially hundreds of local crew members.

Legendary Pictures has been particularly vocal that the decision to postpone Proyas' long-in-development vision is just that and should not be interpreted as the first step in the cancellation of the project. The decision is merely a frugal measure by which to keep a project that all involved knew would be costly within pre-ordained guidelines.

Screen NSW declined to comment and directed SBS enquiries to the production office for the film; calls were unreturned prior to deadline.