Downsizing an epic ‘Fountain’

Darren Aronofsky, director of critically acclaimed indie hits “Pi” and “Requiem For a Dream,” wanted to try something new. Rather than tying himself down to another small-budget, character-driven drama, he wanted action and adventure, larger-than-life battles and awe-inspiring effects. So he did what any director with blockbuster ambitions would — he enlisted the services of Brad Pitt.

For two and a half years, Aronofsky and Pitt worked together on “The Fountain,” an epic love story about eternal life set simultaneously in the past, present and future over the course of 1,000 years. Then, just before filming was scheduled to begin, Aronofsky was forced to confront every director’s worst nightmare.

“We were about four weeks away from shooting, with $18 million already spent, and Brad Pittleft,” he says. “He had his reasons. But when he left, the film shut down. So for six months I tried to revive it, because I couldn’t get it out of my system. I was like a samurai, just honing his blade. One night I couldn’t sleep, and I came to a realization. I’m a no-budget filmmaker, and I asked myself, ‘What is the no-budget version of this film?’ That, I think, is when ‘The Fountain’ became more of a poem than a movie.

“I had to be very persistent. It was a tough sell, getting the studio to recommit to this movie after Brad left, but we got people behind the project and kept pushing forward. What it taught me is that if you put your mind to it and refuse to back down, you can make anything.”

Now, “The Fountain” has been scaled back from an $80 million blockbuster featuring one of the biggest stars on the planet to a more modest $35 million production starring Hugh Jackman and Aronofsky’s fiancée, Rachel Weisz. And that suits the director just fine.

“It didn’t turn out to be a no-budget film, but in order to make it the right way, I had to be very aware of what things cost,” he explains. “I had to find the essence of the story and capture that essence. At its core, this is a love story, and Rachel’s character is facing an ultimately tragic death while Hugh is trying to save her. That is the heart of the film, and everything else just expands from that premise.”

For those curious to explore Aronofsky’s original take on “The Fountain,” it’s available — in the form of a 2005 graphic novel. The stripped-down cinematic treatment arrived in theaters nationwide on Wednesday, and despite six years of headaches, recasting and rigorous editing, the director is satisfied.

“I’ve always believed in this project,” he says. “That’s why I couldn’t bring myself to quit. Now that it’s finished, I’m very happy with it. After all is said and done, this is the film I wanted to make. And it’s a better film than the one I originally conceived.”

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