Three for the Road

Vet producer De Laurentiis brings trio of pix to Cannes

Making three movies back to back with a combined budget of $140 million in the space of 12 months would test the stamina of any producer, but for 86-year-old Dino De Laurentiis it’s just another chapter in a remarkable career.

As if to prove that he’s still one step ahead of the competition, De Laurentiis breezed into Cannes a day before the fest opened to premiere all three pics — “Hannibal: Behind the Mask,” “The Last Legion” and “Angels and Virgins” — in a seven-hour Dino-thon.

The audience of 450 foreign distribs included those who have already ponied up $130 million to buy the movies and those in unsold territories such as the U.K. and Japan that have yet to make up their minds. But with more than 40% of the budget coming from equity and tax deals with Brit financier Ingenious Media, the pics are already well into the black.

De Laurentiis was joined by Tarak Ben Ammar, the Paris-based Tunisian financier who bankrolled the pics with Ingenious. North American rights are held by the Weinstein Co., whose backers include Ben Ammar. It will release all three via MGM in the space of five weeks, starting Jan. 5.

Word from foreign distribs is that “Hannibal” is the best of the bunch, with the $60 million budget right up on the screen. But De Laurentiis didn’t get where he is today by undervaluing his movies, and U.K. buyers were getting nosebleeds at the asking price.

“Last Legion” drew a more lukewarm response, described by one as an “old-fashioned Hallmark movie”; while “Angels and Virgins” (aka “The Decameron”) was dubbed by one wag ” ‘Porky’s’ in a toga.” It’s not clear whether or not that was supposed to be a recommendation.

But whatever the reaction, don’t expect it to put De Laurentiis off his stride. He’s got three more scripts in advanced development, though for now he’s keeping them under wraps, and he still harbors dreams to mount Baz Luhrmann‘s reportedly extraordinary script about Alexander the Great, which was derailed a couple of years back by Oliver Stone‘s rival project.

That would be an achievement to crown an exceptional career.

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