Fox eyes ‘WW3.com’ as tentpole for 1999

Cyberspace hosts new kind of terrorist

Invaders from outerspace proved boffo for 20th Century Fox in “Independence Day,” and now the studio hopes to recreate that success with “WW3.com,” a project based on a new threat to the world’s survival: cyberspace.

Wanting to fast-track the project about World War III, Tom Rothman’s Fox film division has acquired the rights to John Carlin’s May, 1997 Wired magazine article, “A Farewell to Arms,” as source material for a tentpole event pic about information warfare. Carlin is Washington correspondent for the Independent newspaper of London.

The studio also has struck a deal with writer David Marconi — whose credits include Touchstone Picture’s upcoming “Enemy of the State” and Paramount’s sequel to “Mission: Impossible” — to pen the script.

The project is understood to blend the tensions of a Cold War thriller with a high concept, special effects-laden storyline involving cyber-terrorists who have declared war on the United States.

Peter Rice, Fox senior vice president of production, brought the project into the studio and is supervising its development.

Carlin’s story details “The Day After” strategy game — which was “played in the depths of the Cold War … (to) shake loose some bright ideas for a U.S. response to nuclear attack” — played by U.S. government and armed services officials who are faced with hypothetical cyber-threats to the nation’s well-being, such as the collapsing of air traffic control systems; the poisoning of water supplies; and the shut-down of satellite systems.

Fox is understood to be approaching the project with the premise that the cyber-threat is no longer hypothetical, but is being put into action by a cabal of computer-based terrorists.

In mounting the project, Fox may have declared “WW3.com” vs. “WWIII” in a battle royale for the nation’s box office during summer 1999. Last October, Columbia Pictures purchased Jason Hightman’s “World War III,” a script dealing with contemporary nuclear warfare, which the studio is developing as its 1999 tentpole pic.

Marconi was repped by Steve White of Warden, White and Associates.