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Pierre Morel Leaves ‘Dune’; Paramount To Put Project In Turnaround By Spring 2011 Unless…

Pierre Morel Leaves 'Dune'; Paramount To Put Project In Turnaround By Spring 2011 Unless...

… The Project Is Put Into Production By Then; Studio Is Reaching Out To Directors Now

From hotly anticipated project to a potentially stalled one in limbo; things are not going too well for Paramount‘s planned adaptation of Frank Herbert‘s heady sci-fi novel, “Dune” — you know the one, the picture David Lynch inexplicably made in 1984 (ironically he passed up “Return Of The Jedi” the year before).

Director Peter Berg was once attached and his brand of brawny filmmaking (“Hancock,” “The Kingdom“) brought on a lot of geek buzz. But he couldn’t mount two hefty tentpoles at once, at least not under Paramount’s timeframe so he left for Universal‘s Mattel boardgame adaptation of “Battleship” (budgeted at $200 million and possibly cementing Berg’s ascent as the new Michael Bay if all goes well with it in 2012). When Berg jumped ship, hot helmer of the moment (or that moment, anyhow) B-thriller helmer Pierre Morel — who had singlehandedly revived February as a viable release month thanks to the success of “Taken” — took over. But “Dune” has been in development for around four years now and time is evidently running out. And perhaps more importantly, Pierre Morel (who also directed “From Paris with Love“) has apparently moved on from the project as well.

According to Deadline report, Paramount will be putting “Dune” into turnaround — an arrangement in which the rights to a project are sold by one studio to another — if the production film isn’t in production by Spring 2011. Why? Rights holders, many of who get a cut of the gross, are evidently becoming tired of the sandworm-like movement of the project and apparently won’t grant another option extension on the books (part of that delay could have been because Morel threw out the script Berg had been developing and started over from scratch).

In February 2010, Chase Palmer (“Spirit House,” “Number 13“) was announced as the new screenwriter (Josh Zetumer, who wrote an unproduced “Bourne 4” script intended for Paul Greengrass before he left, apparently penned an epic 175 page script at one point) and apparently things were all set to go, but apparently Morel has stepped-off the project and will remain as an executive producer (Palmer’s script was written under his guidance.

Apparently producers Kevin Misher and Richard P. Rubinstein and the studio are sending out the latest version of the scrip to directors today to try and make something of the 1965 book and get it into production before the spring. But Paramount can’t rush forward either because a project of this scope is expensive and will ultimately land much higher than $100 million. As Deadline notes, the studio will have to be super confident in their choice — and the rights holders apparently get director approval as well — otherwise they will forfeit the six figures they have already paid in option and risk development costs. Though if Paramount does put the project into turnaround and another studio bites, they’ll likely be able to recoup those costs. Ah, moviemaking, so creative.

“We don’t want to extend an option and watch the studio take seven years,” producer Rubinstein, who is the liaison to the estate that holds the rights, said of Paramount with a warning. “This is on a short tether. It’s a major book franchise, you can’t walk into a store and not see a shelf full of Dune books.” When Morel first discussed “Dune,” he was certain it was to be a 3D project, and that’s probably still the idea, but we guess it’ll depend on what director they find and if his or her vision jives with the already-completed script. They’re not about to tinker with it too much again, so if they find someone who is interested, but wants to develop it, chances are Paramount is going to pass. Expect to hear a few names in talks for this project in the next few days, and expect to hear a lot of the usual suspect names, Tony Scott, Matt Reeves, etc. Remember a meeting is just a meeting and sometimes as a filmmaker you’re gonna wanna be polite and a least give your ear to everyone. You never know when you’re gonna go out to the studio hand in hat looking for financing. Hey, Paramount, think of it this way. It can’t be any worse than a misguided David Lynch film scored to Toto, right?

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