Paramount, Dreamworks expect Bay to return

Paramount and DreamWorks are holding the date of June 26, 2009, for “Transformers 2,” with Michael Bay expected to return to direct the sequel.

Despite the tensions between them, DreamWorks and Par have plenty of incentive to move forward with the next installment in the budding franchise. “Transformers,” starring Shia LaBeouf and based on the toy robot line, has grossed nearly $700 million worldwide, giving DreamWorks its first live-action franchise.

Still, the high-profile project isn’t guaranteed total immunity from the ongoing battle of wills between DreamWorks’ David Geffen and Steven Spielberg and leadership at Paramount conglom Viacom.

The studios stressed that they are targeting the June 26 date, but that it isn’t ironclad.

Even if Spielberg and Geffen exit their deal at Par, as they have threatened to do, the “Transformers” property stays at the Melrose lot, as do all other DreamWorks projects.

“Transformers” was a passion project for Spielberg, with DreamWorks developing the project and taking the creative lead after partnering with Paramount (that was before Par bought DreamWorks).

Spielberg, who took an exec producer credit on “Transformers,” was closely involved with the film, including bringing Bay aboard to direct and LaBeouf to star. He’s expected to be involved in the sequel.

Bay has not yet inked a deal to helm the follow-up but is in the final stages of negotiation. With Bay’s involvement, LaBeouf is expected to return as well.

LaBeouf stars alongside Harrison Ford in Spielberg’s upcoming “Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull,” which opens May 22.

DreamWorks and Par are hoping to at least begin production on the “Transformers” sequel before a possible strike even if they have to finish after it.

Meanwhile, the “Transformers 2″ date wasn’t the only noteworthy tweak to the release calendar.

Fox Searchlight has decided to move up the upcoming release of “The Savages,” starring Philip Seymour Hoffman and Laura Linney, from Dec. 26 to Nov. 30. In its old date, the film would have gone up against Paul Thomas Anderson’s “There Will Be Blood,” starring Daniel Day-Lewis.

In its new slot, “Savages” will open in its limited run against Woody Allen’s “Cassandra’s Dream,” among other titles.

Looking to 2008, 20th Century Fox has decided to make sci-fi actioner “The Day the Earth Stood Still” a Christmas release and open the Keanu Reeves starrer on Dec. 12 instead of during the summer. Fox had dated the pic for May 9, but the movie, which hasn’t yet begun lensing, wouldn’t have been ready. In addition, Fox has three other summer pics.

(Tatiana Siegel contributed to this report.)

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