The Fountain, Darren Aronofsky's 2006 sci-fi epic, mixes magical realism with fictional accounts of historical events, ultimately relaying the story of a man searching for the secret to immortality. It's often considered one of the most confusing movies ever made or one of the worst movies of all time, but is The Fountain underrated? The film has developed a bad rap among audiences, but with the film's prolonged trip from script to screen, some consider it a wonder that the movie got made at all.
The Fountain began its life in 2000 following the release of the director's indie hit Requiem for a Dream. At the time, Aronofsky managed to get a big budget and Brad Pitt on board for the film, but that’s when things fell apart. The production for The Fountain was a mess and, even if you dislike the movie, you'll be riveted by this tale of Hollywood hubris and a director's struggle to put his vision on screen.
Prior to filming, Aronofsky took his crew to Central America so they could learn from Moises Morales Marquez - a scholar of the Mesoamerican culture - before telling the story of a conquistador on the search for the tree of life. With Marquez's guidance, the crew toured the ruins of Palenque before they flew to the Mayan ruins of Tikal in Guatemala - the same location where George Lucas filmed the Yavin scenes in Star Wars: A New Hope.
After instilling his crew with Mayan culture and history, Aronofsky took off for Australia where the initial version of The Fountain was slated to film. Following the substantial production costs accumulated from travel and research, Aronofsky elected to film in Australia - rather than Guatemala - with mock-up sets that made it appear as if they were on location.
The initial budget for The Fountain was $70 million, but to raise such a large budget for an unconventional film, Aronofsky had to collect money from multiple sources. One of the production companies, Village Roadshow, backed out during pre-production in Australia, meaning that Aronofsky had to lay off the entire crew to make ends meet.
When production company New Regency stepped up to co-fund the film, Aronofsky was able to re-hire the crew and begin production, which at the time included constructing a giant pyramid similar to those Aronofsky saw in Central America. New Regency's assistance had everyone involved with the film in high spirits. Producer Eric Watson told Wired, "We had cleared every hurdle you can imagine. There was a sense that now, finally, we were going to make this movie. The momentum was there."
According to Aronofsky, he was aware he needed a big name to get funding for The Fountain, so he sent a draft of the script to Brad Pitt. Fifty pages into it, Pitt - incredibly moved by what he read - called Aronofsky in tears. After reading the full script, Pitt signed onto the film, which then got fast-tracked by Warner Bros. with Cate Blanchett as the second lead.
However, shortly after pre-production was underway, Pitt insisted that Aronofsky rewrite the script. By 2002, one of the film's production companies, Village Roadshow, backed out due to script-related issues. Many believe this is one of the reasons Pitt left the movie.
The primary reason Aronofsky was able to go forward with The Fountain's initial version: Pitt's involvement. Pitt's a huge movie star who can make or break a production and, in the case of The Fountain, he broke it, almost irreparably. In 2002, Pitt dropped out to star in Troy, a decision that didn't sit well with the crew of The Fountain.
When Pitt left, the crew wrote an open letter to the actor, stating he threw the lives of hundreds of below-the-line crew members into disarray when he exited the role, thus bringing the film to a halt. The letter read:
What amazes us is that it appears Brad Pitt has no real understanding of the impact of his decision, now only seven weeks from shooting. We estimate there [are] over 1500 people here in Australia, including family and children, who are now displaced and unemployed.
Warner Bros. apparently floated the possibility of docking a portion of Pitt's $17 million paycheck for Troy to cover their losses on The Fountain.