D'Works will co-finance U epic

A new battalion of financiers has rallied behind Baz Luhrmann’s “Alexander the Great.”

Twentieth Century Fox, which was planning to co-finance the epic with Universal Pictures, has withdrawn from the project.

DreamWorks has rushed into the breach, replacing Fox as U’s partner and shouldering an equal share of the budget in return for international distrib rights to the massive production.

U will distribute the pic domestically.

Dino De Laurentiis is producing and Leonardo DiCaprio will topline the feature, a panoramic biopic of the Macedonian conqueror, adapted by “Red Dragon” screenwriter Ted Talley from a trilogy of novels by Valerio Manfredi. Martha De Laurentiis and Luhrmann also will serve as producers.

The studios said the production, which was originally scheduled to begin next month, will still have a 2003 start date. But cameras aren’t likely to roll until late 2003 at the earliest.

DiCaprio’s next film is expected to be “The Aviator,” a biopic of Howard Hughes directed by Martin Scorsese.

U and DreamWorks are eager to send Luhrmann’s pic into production before a rival Alexander the Great project lays claim to the territory. Oliver Stone and Mel Gibson have been developing their own Alexander epics, but thus far, Luhrmann appears to have beaten back the competition.

“Like so many,” Luhrmann said in a statement, “I have been drawn to the story of a 20-year-old Macedonian boy who, seeking the love and approval of his dead father, ends up conquering more of the world’s surface than any man to have come before or after.”

At a time when ambitious period epics are gaining popularity around town — from “Troy” at Warner Bros. to “Gladiator 2″ at DreamWorks and U — “Alexander” is one of the grandest.

While Fox didn’t officially divulge its reasons for backing out of the “Alexander” deal, the studio likely felt the sharp financial pinch of a project whose preliminary budget hovers well north of $100 million. Talent deals haven’t closed, but aggregate gross points for players like De Laurentiis and DiCaprio could be steep.

Fox is committed to a number of $100 million pics, including “Master and Commander” and “Tripoli.”

The DreamWorks and Universal partnership is also a natural one for the pic. The studios have partnered on scores of major releases, including another sword-and-sandal spectacular, “Gladiator,” which won the best picture Oscar two years ago.

Spielberg instrumental

U is running point on production on “Alexander,” but DreamWorks partner Steven Spielberg could play an instrumental role in the shoot. Spielberg, known for his nuts-and-bolts approach to film budgets, has taken a keen interest in the epic, and may help keep costs in check.

Pic also has a powerful advocate in Morocco’s King Mohammed VI, who has pledged to support the production with an army of extras.

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