Lee may guide Hayter script about irradiated comic book character

HOLLYWOOD — On the heels of his current box office success with “Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon,” for Sony Pictures Classics, director Ang Lee is in early talks to direct “Hulk” for Universal Pictures.

Gale Anne Hurd and Marvel Studios president Avi Arad are producing the project.

David Hayter (“X-Men”) has repenned the script, which saw previous drafts by Michael Tolkin (“The Player,” “Deep Impact”) and Mike France (“Cliffhanger”). Story concerns research scientist Bruce Banner, who, after being caught in a nuclear explosion, finds that, when under stress, he transforms into the Hulk, a green-skinned personification of his repressed rage possessing superhuman strength. Banner is pursued by the military for a crime he did not commit.

Lee’s version of the film, to be set in Berkeley, will be a big-budgeted, f/x-driven tentpole feature for the studio in 2003. Universal exec VP of production Mary Parent is overseeing “Hulk” for the studio and has been instrumental in its development. No cast has been attached.

Lee’s producing partner and Good Machine co-founder James Schamus are expected to come on board to work alongside Hurd to develop the project.

“We are really thrilled,” said Hurd. “Ang will bring the characters and the drama to the foreground, and in addition to his visual storytelling ability, I can’t think of anyone today who is operating at a higher level across the board,” she added.

“The relationship that has always been neglected in the various screen versions of the Hulk is that (one) between the protagonist and his Hulk inner self,” Schamus said. “This will be an old-fashioned Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde type story that has character and depth and psychology and meaning as well as a lot of new twists.”

Project, long in the works, is expected to go through an extensive pre-production period. As yet no start date has been identified.

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