Cartoon Network hit morphs into tentpole prospect

Joel Silver has signed on to develop a live-action feature film based on Cartoon Network’s “Ben 10″ sci-fi franchise, with an eye toward distribution through Warner Bros.

The show, popular with boys, has consistently logged high ratings in both cartoon series and live-action TV movie form on the Turner kidnet, nearing the 4 million viewer mark with telepic “Ben 10: Race Against Time.” Silver said he aims to make the bigscreen version a potential franchise starter.

The Warners-based Silver said his sons clued him in to the world of Ben Tennyson, a boy who can transform into 10 different alien creatures

with the help of a glovelike device called the Omnitrix.

“I think we have to try something fresh and go at it in a way that stays true to the original material,” Silver said. “I have a 5-year-old and a 9-year-old, so it’s somewhere between them.”

It’s not Silver’s first foray into kids’ action films, of course. “I tried to do (something similar) with ‘Speed Racer’ and failed miserably,” he said. “You always learn more from the ones that don’t work than the ones that do work.”

“Ben 10″ licensed goods have been notably successful for Cartoon, with several toy lines already established. The franchise also ranks No. 1 among the net’s properties in electronic sales (including several vidgames and on-demand replays of episodes and movies).

“I cannot think of anyone better suited than Joel Silver to develop a theatrical action-driven adventure based on our franchise Ben 10,” said Stu Snyder, chief operating officer of Turner’s animation, young adults and kids media division.

Dark Castle’s Steve Richards (who has signed on to produce with fellow shingle co-prexy Andrew Rona and Silver) said that the bigscreen version of “Ben 10″ would be completely recast from the character’s previous live-action incarnations, and that the producers want to go as big as possible with the project.

“We really see this as a large, big-budgeted tentpole movie,” Richards said.

Silver and Dark Castle are currently seeking writers for “Ben 10.” Meanwhile, Silver said he’s preparing to kick into high gear on “Project X,” which is slated for next year, and “Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows,” skedded for December.

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