Director to tackle biggest project yet

Roman Polanski’s next directing effort will be his biggest undertaking yet in terms of scale, subject and budget.

“Pompeii” is a dramatic thriller set against the backdrop of Mt. Vesuvius just before and during its eruption. The budget is projected to be $130 million, the director said.

It is based on the bestseller of the same name by “Fatherland” novelist Robert Harris, who is writing the script. Filming will begin in Italy this summer.

“Pompeii” will be produced by Polanski and Robert Benmussa of RP Productions, along with Alain Sarde. It will draw on private funding sources, as was the case with many of the director’s previous projects.

“It will be handled like our last two films,” Polanski said, “as an independent European production.” No studio or distribution partners as yet have been approached, he said.

Pic’s protagonist is a young engineer who has to repair an enormous aqueduct whose destruction threatens the Roman Empire. He finds himself enmeshed in politics and romance. The film takes place over three days and the final act is the volcanic eruption and the destruction of the aqueduct, which stretched 60 miles and served hundreds of thousands of people.

“I got seduced by the writing,” Polanski told Daily Variety. “In general terms, when someone tells me to make a movie set in ancient times, I say it’s not my cup of tea. But I liked that it was a thriller and I have read all of his books and there is such minute detail. He goes very far into the research.”

Plus, the “Chinatown” helmer added, “There is corruption in connection with water.”

Polanski, who won an Oscar for “The Pianist,” last directed “Oliver Twist.” He also played a supporting role in the Brett Ratner-directed “Rush Hour 3″ for New Line.

Telling a period story of a volcano’s eruption will take Polanski into event movie territory. Though “Rosemary’s Baby” and “Chinatown” were certainly landmarks, they were before the term “tentpole” came into use, and Polanski’s top-grossing release in the years since has been $32 million for “The Pianist.”

“It will be very dependent on visual effects,” he noted. “I don’t like to brandish effects, but the truth is that there have been a lot. ‘Pianist’ had about 200 CGI effects and ‘Oliver Twist’ had at least 400. It’s always a challenge to do something a little different, but that’s what keeps me going.”

Polanski is repped by ICM.

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