Joel Schumacher had only two words to say about the sudden cancellation of "Dreamgirls," the movie version of the 1981 Broadway musical.
"I'm devastated," said Schumacher, the director of "A Time to Kill" and "Batman."The cancellation, or postponement, as studio executives call it, of the high-profile film is in some ways a case study of the jittery way Hollywood operates today. A Warner Brothers project to be produced by David Geffen, it was to cost about $35 million. The film, based on the show directed and choreographed by Michael Bennett, was about a singing group similar to the Supremes, who rose from the Detroit projects to national fame in the 1960s.
For years, between work on other films, Schumacher had been shaping "Dreamgirls" with a production designer, costume designer and choreographer. He had discussed roles in the film with Don Cheadle and Andre Braugher as well as the fast-rising singer Lauryn Hill, who was to play Deena Jones, the Diana Ross-like lead.
But Warners, a studio that seemed to dominate Hollywood in the 1980s and early '90s, has been in a slump the past two years, with some expensive mishaps like "Father's Day" and "The Postman." This summer, "The Avengers" proved disastrous.
Known in the past for its lavish spending and deals, Warners has backed off in recent months from some planned projects, including an Arnold Schwarzenegger action film and Tim Burton's version of "Superman" with Nicolas Cage. ("Superman" may fly again, but at a lower price.)
Warners is banking on the success of several projects to be released in the next few months, including Nora Ephron's "You've Got Mail," with Tom Hanks and Meg Ryan, and Luis Mandoki's "Message in a Bottle," with Kevin Costner, Paul Newman and Robin Wright Penn.
What led to the cancellation of "Dreamgirls" was the poor box office showing this summer of "Why Do Fools Fall in Love."