Studios to divide pic's cost on a 50/50 basis

Don’t tell the Covenant, but the enigmatic “Halo” protag Master Chief may soon be arriving in theaters, thanks to a deal taking shape at Universal Pictures and 20th Century Fox.

Microsoft had gone out with a draft of “Halo” penned by Alex Garland (“28 Days Later), but its slavish devotion to the software giant’s rigid story-and-character criteria met with a lukewarm, underwhelming response from DreamWorks, New Line, Warner Bros. and most other studios that read it.

But U and Fox hung in and believe in the game franchise, which has grossed $600 million. People familiar with the talks say Universal is leading the way on a deal that would divide the pic’s cost on a 50/50 basis between Fox and U: The former would take international and the latter would handle domestic distribution.

Financial details were still being wrangled; Microsoft’s demands for a rich $10 million upfront payment and 15% of the gross are known to have been whittled down to $5 million. The Redmond, Wash.-based juggernaut’s insistence to be in production by January also may be jettisoned and replaced with a promise simply to get the pic into theaters by 2007 at the latest.

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