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Fox embarks on Crusades

Epic 'Heaven' shoots in Africa

Ridley Scott and 20th Century Fox are mobilizing the Crusades-era epic “Kingdom of Heaven” for a January production start in Morocco.

The film will be Scott’s next directorial effort and the first since he and brother Tony set their Scott Free banner to an overall Fox deal. Scott will also produce the William Monahan-scripted film.

Pic is as ambitious as Scott’s Oscar-winning Roman epic “Gladiator.” Set in the 12th century, the drama focuses on a young blacksmith who becomes a knight and helps defend Jerusalem against the Crusaders. There is also a love story, as the young knight falls in love with a princess. Scott is actively casting and word is that “Lord of the Rings” and “Pirates of the Caribbean” star Orlando Bloom is atop the list.

After Scott expressed the desire to make a film set around the Crusades last year, Scott Free prexy Lisa Ellzey engaged Monahan because she and Scott were so impressed by his script for “Tripoli,” the story of how U.S. soldier William Eaton joined forces with an exiled king to overthrow the corrupt ruler of what is now Libya.

Scott planned to direct that pic but it got temporarily shelved, partly because he wanted to reteam with “Gladiator” star Russell Crowe, who had a scheduling conflict. The pic was slated to shoot in Morocco, but the timing wasn’t good because of the U.S. invasion of Iraq.

“Kingdom of Heaven” will be exec produced by Branko Lustig, Ellzey and Perry Needham. A budget north of $100 million has just about been signed off on and 20th prexy Hutch Parker will oversee the pic. The WMA-repped Scott will begin casting immediately.

Landing the production is a major coup for the Moroccan government, which has been courting Hollywood epics following a wave of suicide attacks that killed 41 people in Casablanca last June. The first major project to shoot there since that tragedy is the Intermedia-financed “Alexander the Great” that Warner Bros. will distribute domestically. Oliver Stone began shooting last week with Colin Farrell, Angelina Jolie, Val Kilmer and Anthony Hopkins starring.

Since then, producer Dino De Laurentiis has said that he is reconsidering shooting part of his “Alexander” film with director Baz Luhrmann. The producer, whose film is being financed by Universal and DreamWorks, had previously announced he would not shoot in Morocco because of insurance costs and security risks.

Morocco’s unspoiled landscape lends itself to historical fare — it offers deserts, a coastline and mountains all in close proximity.

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