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It’s a jungle out there

Wow factor busting the budget of f/x pics like 'Kong'

Hollywood studio execs have long blamed stars like Tom Cruise and Julia Roberts for ballooning film budgets.

But those salaries seem like a bargain compared to the cost of special f/x.

Last week Universal acknowledged that “King Kong” costs shot up to $207 million when the studio agreed to add a half hour — at a cost of $32 million — to Peter Jackson‘s great-ape epic.

Most of that cost ($1 million per minute) is due to more f/x. Jackson has agreed to pick up the bulk of that overages tab on the now-three-hour pic.

If even Jackson, a filmmaker and owner of Weta Digital, can’t fight the f/x cost bloat, what hope is there for other filmmakers?

At Warner Bros., the f/x budget alone on “Superman Returns” is said to be running to $100 million.

Pic is being helmed by Bryan Singer, no stranger to dealing with CGI, as he directed the first two “X-Men” pics. Singer has stated that the film’s overall budget is around $250 million.

“Visual f/x are the single most misunderstood aspect of the business,” says an insider knowledgeable about paying for big f/x spectacles.

The notion that costs for CGI would come down just like the costs of other technology hasn’t panned out. And that, the insider says, is because of an arms race between studios and f/x houses to constantly replace software and hardware in order to blow away the competition.

“Studios are relying on people to come multiple times (to effects-heavy pics) and that falls on the visual f/x. The wow factor has to be extraordinary.”

Production of “Superman Returns” has also engaged in some late adjustments.

Last week, a Southern California clothing company announced that it had shipped out 1,000 sweatshirts for Warners as a wrap gift celebrating the end of principal photography on “Superman Returns,” which began shooting in Australia last spring.

The only hitch is, shooting isn’t over.

The production took a five-week hiatus in September to allow for script revisions, and Singer returned to Australia in mid-October for another month or so of lensing.

Studio is still on track to release the revival of the Man of Steel franchise on June 30, 2006.

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