U has ‘Hulk’ take a seat

Budget forces hiatus of comic book adaptation

Forget kryptonite, gamma ray-ed mutants and other sinister elements, the key to stopping superheroes is a big budget. In the latest example of a budget felling a comic book project, Universal Pictures has halted “Hulk,” its bigscreen adaptation of the Marvel Comics series.

Faced with a $100 million budget, a first-time director and production looming just over a month away, last week Universal put a stop to the film, which is written and directed by Jonathan Hensleigh and produced by Gale Anne Hurd.

A studio spokesman said Universal had not given up on the project, “but we’ve just put it on the back-burner for awhile.” Universal is understood already to have spent $20 million on development, computer special effects and prosthetics work.

Hensleigh — who has shown his acumen for scripting big-budget actioners with “The Rock” and “Armageddon” — still is eyeing the pic as his directorial debut; and is at work re-writing and restructuring the script in order to bring the cost down.

While the film’s title role — that of mild-mannered Dr. Bruce Banner and his mutated alter ego — had not yet been cast, actors Gregory Sporleder and Lynn Red Williams were cast last fall as two key villains.

Though they attract high-profile producers, directors and talent, studios have had problems bringing comic book properties to the bigscreen. This has been a factor behind such hot Marvel properties as Fox’s “Fantastic Four” and “X-Men,” whose inherent CGI demands and subsequent costs have slowed their way to production. In fact, “Fantastic Four” at one time was to be helmed by Chris Columbus (and produced by his 1492 Prods.), but Columbus called it to a halt more than a year ago because the script he wrote with Mike France looked to cost $165 million. Columbus now is attached to produce and Pete Segal is attached to direct the film.