Universal bringing videogame to bigscreen

Universal and Gore Verbinski are going into “Bioshock.”

Studio has signed a deal to turn last year’s hit videogame, which won numerous awards and sold more than 2 million units worldwide, into a film.

The “Pirates of the Caribbean” helmer is attached to direct and produce. “Aviator” scribe John Logan is in talks to pen the screenplay.

“Bioshock” publisher Take-Two Interactive is getting a multimillion-dollar advance against gross points on the pic. It’s believed to be the biggest videogame-to-movie deal since 2005, when U and Fox signed onto the since aborted “Halo” pic, for which Microsoft got $5 million against 10%.

Take-Two executive chairman Strauss Zelnick said the “state of the art” deal is structured so that “Bioshock” won’t end up in turnaround like “Halo,” which is back with Microsoft.

“The reason I structured it the way I did is to make sure it gets made,” he emphasized.

“Bioshock” takes place in an underwater city based on the free market principles of Ayn Rand, but things have gone disastrously wrong. Players control a pilot who crash-lands at a secret entrance to the city, called Rapture, and is drawn into a power struggle during which he discovers that his will is not as free as he’d thought.

“I think the whole utopia-gone-wrong story that’s cleverly unveiled to players is just brimming with cinematic potential,” said Verbinski. “Of all the games I’ve played, this is one that I felt has a really strong narrative.”

Take-Two has been approached by a number of producers and studios since the game came out in August but waited until it had swept most of the end-of-year industry awards and racked up impressive holiday sales before working with CAA to package the project. Universal got a first look and made a preemptive bid.

Zelnick, who was president of Fox in the early ’90s, led the dealmaking for his company, rather than set the project up with a producer.

“One of the things we decided early on is that we didn’t want to go through a producer,” he commented. “It’s terribly important to us to have a meaningful influence on how this project is produced. We didn’t want any insulation between us.”

Verbinski noted that Rapture’s art deco design and visually arresting characters, such as the mechanical Big Daddys who protect genetically mutated girls called Little Sisters, particularly inspired him to see the game as a film.

Though no release date is even being targeted, Verbinski said he plans to start pre-production as soon as Logan’s script is finished and approved by all involved.

Helmer has been regularly consulting with Ken Levine, the game’s creative director, though it’s not yet clear if the game developer will have a formal role in the film.

For Universal, project marks a return to the videogame space after the disastrous “Halo” experience. After more than a year of development, during which Peter Jackson was signed to exec produce and Neil Blomkamp to direct the “Halo” feature, U and Fox shut down the project over cost concerns.

“This deal gives Universal the opportunity to have the immersive, addictive universe of ‘Bioshock’ interpreted by a filmmaker with unrivaled abilities to convey story, action and large-scale, fantastical visuals,” said U co-chairman David Linde.

Take-Two is developing a “Bioshock” sequel that will be released in 2009, almost certainly before the film comes out.

Though numerous videogames have been turned into movies and others are in the works, very few have been commercial or critical successes. Take-Two itself has turned down numerous attempts by Hollywood to option its Rockstar label’s hit franchise “Grand Theft Auto.” “Bioshock” marks the first movie deal ever for the publisher.

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