Studio backs adaptation of Miller's graphic novel
What do you get when you mix comic creator Frank Miller’s ultra-edgy style with a sword-and-sandals film, using CG technology?Warner Bros. is about to find out in a $60 million gamble. Studio is backing the bigscreen adaptation of Miller’s hyper-stylized graphic novel “300,” a ferocious, spear-splashed retelling of the Battle of Thermopylae, where King Leonidas and 300 Spartans fought to the death against an overwhelming force of invading Persians, sowing the seeds of democracy. But whether Warners can play the genre game is the question. It’s no surprise that studio honchos would want to lock up the hard-core comicbook crowd, whose reach spans the globe. Dimension Films’ “Sin City,” based on Miller’s graphic-novel series of the same name, pulled in $78 million overseas and $74 million Stateside. Bob Weinstein’s Dimension did everything right in marketing the film, which reportedly cost about $40 million to make, significantly less than the budget for “300.” Studio says it’s going to remain true to Miller’s dark and violent renderings in bringing the book to life, just as Dimension did with “Sin City”; that virtually guarantees an R rating. Relying on Miller’s graphic novel, director Zack Snyder, himself an artist on the side, drew the storyboards. When lensing begins Oct. 17 in Montreal, Snyder will shoot virtually the entire movie with star Scottish thesp Gerard Butler and other actors in front of a green screen, the same process Robert Rodriguez used on “Sin City.” (Warners was eager to give Butler the role of Leonidas, so he wouldn’t be typecast by domestic auds for his leading role in the studio’s “Phantom of the Opera.”) “Zack Snyder takes the sandals out of the movie completely, so to speak. It’s not going to feel like anything before,” says Atmosphere Pictures’ Mark Canton, who is producing the movie with Hollywood Gang Prods.’ Gianni Nunnari, along with Bernie Goldmann and Jeffrey Silver. Still, Canton and the producers are banking on the sweeping historical themes to grab a broader audience. Warners, the same studio that turned out “Alexander” and “Troy,” is sure to play down the historical-epic aspect in marketing the film — at least Stateside. U.S. auds have soured on such fare, perhaps explaining why two other projects regarding the battle of Thermopylae — one at Universal and one at Fox — are languishing on the shelf. But if domestic auds snubbed pics like “Alexander” and “Kingdom of Heaven,” auds overseas have a much healthier appetite for epics. “Alexander” took in a paltry $34 million domestically vs. its $134 million internationally, “Kingdom” took in $47 million in the U.S. and $157 overseas. “Troy” surprised with a whopping $364 million overseas compared with $133 million at the domestic box office. Still, it wasn’t easy getting Warner Bros. onboard for “300,” which sat around for several years. Then Canton and the other producers brought in Snyder, who was heralded for updating “Dawn of the Dead” with an energetic, modern sensibility. Warners, with its “Batman” and “Superman” franchises, is certainly no stranger to adapting graphic novels, but the Caped Crusader and the Man of Steel are worldwide brands, unlike the battle of Thermopylae. Finally, studio honchos pared the film’s budget down to $60 million. (No one will discuss what happens if the film goes over budget, a fairly common occurrence on CG projects.) The pressing question for Warners was “whether we could render this story in a way that would separate it from ‘Troy’ and ‘Alexander’ and link it with the graphic novel pedigree,” says one exec. Let the battle begin.