Pic now slated for March 2012 release

In the chess match to debut the first Snow White project, Relativity has moved to checkmate Universal.

Last week, U shrewdly moved “Snow White and the Huntsman” up to June 1, 2012, leapfrogging it ahead of Relativity’s untitled Snow White pic by a month. Then on Tuesday, Ryan Kavanaugh & co. countered by bumping the Tarsem Singh-helmed pic up from June 29 to March 16, 2012, putting it more than two months into the lead.

The one-upping between the financing partners would seem to end there, as U has virtually no possible recourse for moving ahead now.

“Huntsman” isn’t scheduled to lens until the end of summer; to push ahead of Relativity’s Snow White, U would be facing a virtually impossible seven- to eight-month turnaround time. And there’s little chance Universal could push up production, as recently signed star Chris Hemsworth is commited to spend his summer playing Thor in “Marvel’s The Avengers,” among other factors.

To get into the lead position, Relativity put itself in a squeeze as it is: Shooting starts next month, giving Relativity less than 10 months to get from lens to screen. But the fledgling studio’s project is CEO Kavanaugh’s first big bet since receiving a new round of financing — and a priority.

Universal can take some solace from the fact that the two projects remain distinct. Directed by commercials helmer Rupert Sanders, U’s “Snow White and the Huntsman” will be a darker take on the fairy tale, starring Kristen Stewart as Snow White and Hemsworth as the huntsman. In it, the huntsman becomes a protector and mentor to the heroine as they try to escape the queen, played by Charlize Theron.

Relativity’s version, a more family-friendly romp, stars Lily Collins as Snow White and Armie Hammer as the prince. It more closely mirrors the Disney version of the fairy tale in which Snow White and the seven dwarfs set out to reclaim their destroyed kingdom from the evil queen, to be played by Julia Roberts.

Hollywood history is littered with cases where films with similar characters or plotlines have bumped into one another, with varying results.

Some projects have been scrapped when a rival gets off the starting line faster (Baz Luhrmann’s “Alexander the Great” was canned after Oliver Stone’s “Alexander” came together first). In some cases, they play second fiddle (“Infamous” was overshadowed by “Capote”). Occasionally, rival projects have both had some success, as with DreamWorks’ “Deep Impact” and Disney’s “Armageddon” in 1998.

The battle for “Snow White” supremacy seems to have spread to the rest of the 2012 release calendar as well.

Relativity is pitting two notable releases against two of U’s high-profile pics, as Relativity on Tuesday slotted Phillip Noyce’s “Hunter Killer” for Dec. 21, 2012, competing for the male audience at the box office with Universal’s next Judd Apatow laffer, “This Is 40.”

In a more pointed move, Relativity also skedded its adaptation of Nicholas Sparks’ bestselling novel “Safe Haven” for June 1, 2012, putting the female-aud oriented drama up against — you guessed it — “Snow White and the Huntsman.”

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