Soderbergh visits ‘Solaris’; ‘Core’ shores up

A sci-fi thriller titled “Solaris,” to be directed by Steven Soderbergh, is shaping up as the first project of the new director’s company, which joins Soderbergh with such other high profile filmmakers as Spike Jonze, Alexander Payne, David Fincher and Possibly Sam Mendes. “Solaris,” an adaptation of the Russian sci-fi novel by Stanislaw Lem, was first shot in 1972 as a Russian production directed by Andrei Tarkovsky.

Project was berthed at Fox with James Cameron’s Lightstorm Entertainment, but the Soderbergh-scripted film looms as his first project under the fast-forming directors company. Fox would likely take foreign distribution rights on the pic, with domestic landing at USA Films if the deal to locate the directors company is completed there.

“Solaris” revolves around an astronaut sent to rescue scientists on a space station who finds the commander dead and the two survivors driven mad by visions that soon appear to him as well. That film joins recent sci-fi greenlights such as Paramount’s “The Core” and “Star Trek” and Castle Rock’s alien invasion tale “The Dreamcatcher.”

Meanwhile, Glen Morgan and Jim Wong, who on Friday bow the Jet Li sci-fi actioner “The One” for Revolution, have just agreed to the John Kessel science fiction short story “Hearts Do Not in Eye’s Shine” into a feature film they’ll write for Wong to direct. The duo will produce with Ralph Vicinanza and Vince Gerardis of Created By, a management production company specializing in sci-fi. The project will be sold by their Endeavor reps in a spec package much the way Morgan and Wong did for a remake of “Willard,” which brought them a huge gross participation deal from New Line.

“Hearts Do Not in Eye’s Shine” tells the story of a couple on the verge of a breakup. After a fruitless therapy session, the man proposes a desperate remedy, a radical program that erases painful memories. She agrees, but then begins to grow paranoid over what was wiped from her memory and whether it was the same as what was omitted from the grey matter of her mate. Morgan and Wong were brought the material by Gerardis and, despite the futuristic elements, he saw parallels to his own life.

“The kind of sci-fi we love is the stuff we can relate to,” Wong said. There’s relevance in the nature of relationships, how you hear she did this to me, he did that to me, gives you the potential for the kind of paranoia that worked so well in movies like “Vertigo.'” Wong said they’ll shoot it after completing “Willard” and a redo of “Don’t Be Afraid of the Dark.”

Created By’s Vicinanza is a Hollywood newcomer, but a Gotham-based fixture in lit agenting. His clients include the Dalai Lama and Stephen King and the estates of Isaac Asimov and Robert Heinlein, but he’s specialized in sci-fi for 25 years. While making it clear he wasn’t trivializing tragedy, he said that, historically, national crises have spurred creators of sci-fi fiction and films.

“Science fiction had its golden age in terms of what was written during the war years, and it went beyond just providing the heroes craved by the public,” Vicinanza said. “Most people in history lived in times of trouble, whether it was war, famine or plague, and that anxiety is what sends science fiction writers asking what if, and figuring out scenarios and how to deal with them. You respond because of what is going on in the world, even if you might not realize that’s why you’re responding that way.”

QUALLS A “CORE”-MAN: DJ Qualls is going the sci-fi route and joining Aaron Eckhart and Hilary Swank in the Jon Amiel-directed Paramount pic “The Core.” Qualls was in Tennessee plotting a law school stint when, because of his party trick of being able to cry on cue, he was put in a local play and discovered. Qualls has worked nonstop since debuting in “Road Trip,” completing lead roles in five films during the past year. He’s the title character in the Revolution comedy “The New Guy,” stars in the Barry Sonnenfeld-directed “Big Trouble,” as well “Chasing Holden” and “Comic Book Villains,” both of which will be distribbed by Lions Gate. Yesterday he wrapped “Lone Star State of Mind” for Screen Gems. It has understandably been a blur.

“When I got ‘The New Guy,’ I was in Texas when I got my first check,” he said. “It was for $120,000, and I just stood there and cried. I grew up poor, my father was a casketmaker in a factory, that was my reality. I didn’t know, do you put it in a savings account or a checking account? When you don’t start out in L.A., there’s nobody to tell you these things.” Qualls, who’s recognized everywhere because of “Road Trip,” still pays dues. “I’ll meet with the head of a major studio who tells me they’re buying material to develop for me, and then I’ll meet a producer I never heard of who wants me to audition for 12 lines, and that clarifies things for me.” Qualls is riding out his streak, though he still doesn’t sound convinced his movie run will last forever. “When this started, I made a list of three goals and they were to be in People Magazine, get a lead role in a movie and be on the front page of my hometown newspaper. I’ve done all three, so if this ends, you won’t see me at 3 in the morning selling a breadmaker. I’ll go home.”

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