Paramount sets summer 2009 release date

Paramount Pictures has set Stephen Sommers to direct “G.I. Joe,” the live-action feature based on Hasbro’s line of action figures.

The studio is hiring a writer immediately, and has set a February production start for a summer 2009 release.

The accelerated production schedule began right after Sommers pitched his version of the film to Par chairman-CEO Brad Grey and production prexy Brad Weston on Wednesday evening. He was hired in the room.

Lorenzo di Bonaventura will produce with Hasbro chief operating officer Brian Goldner. Sommers and his Sommers Co. partner Bob Ducsay will also be involved as producers.

While “G.I. Joe” served several futile tours of duty as a movie property, its momentum has been helped by “Transformers,” the movie transfer of another Hasbro brand. That di Bonaventura-produced film has grossed $667 million worldwide for studio partners DreamWorks and Paramount.

Hasbro’s Goldner said that the mythology of G.I Joe was fleshed out during the 1980s through 155 issues of Marvel Comics, as well as an animated TV series. There are about 30 core characters, good and evil, that can be exploited in films.

“Marrying Steve’s vision with 25 years of this brand mythology feels like a great way to go forward,” Goldner said.

While some remember the character from its gung-ho fighting man ’60s incarnation, he’s evolved. G.I. Joe is now a Brussels-based outfit that stands for Global Integrated Joint Operating Entity, an international co-ed force of operatives who use hi-tech equipment to battle Cobra, an evil organization headed by a double-crossing Scottish arms dealer. The property is closer in tone to “X-Men” and James Bond than a war film.

“Our vision (for “The Mummy”) was clear the time the first trailer played during the Super Bowl, and by the time this one plays a Super Bowl, you’ll see the coolest characters and visuals you can imagine, and beyond-state-of-the-art equipment,” Sommers said. “I wouldn’t have jumped into this just because of the Hasbro-Transformers tie. Remember, ‘Pirates of the Caribbean was a big hit, but ‘Haunted Mansion’ not so much.”

Di Bonaventura said the film has some of the elements that made “Transformers” work as a film.

“My experience with beloved properties is that characters, attitude and tone are even more important than plot,” di Bonaventura said. “Paramount showed a great deal of confidence in Stephen’s take, and our ability as producers to get this up and running for a February start. His passion for the characters and the world convinced the studio this was something they couldn’t resist.”

WMA plugged its client Sommers into Hasbro, which left CAA to become a WMA client earlier this summer. Sommers haunted Hasbro’s Pawtucket headquarters to steep himself in the lore.

WMA is also helping Hasbro with possible movies based on such properties as the board games “Monopoly” and “Battleship.”

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