U mad for ‘Max’

Producer/helmer Miller inks for 4th in franchise

“Mad Max” is revving up his motorcycle at Universal Pictures.

The Seagram-owned studio has inked a deal with Australian producer/director George Miller, the filmmaker behind its “Babe” franchise, for him to produce and direct a fourth installment of the action-adventure series.

U sources said that “Mad Max IV” would be Miller’s next film as director, following “Babe: Pig in the City,” which the studio is releasing in November.

While no firm dates are set, U wants to lense the pic, potentially as a major event film, in time for a summer release in either 2001 or 2002.

The first three “Max” pics — “Mad Max” (1979), “The Road Warrior” (1981) and “Mad Max Beyond Thunderdome” (1985) — starred Mel Gibson as a post-apocalyptic gunslinger battling violent car and motorcycle gangs.

The style and subject matter of “Mad Max” was hugely influential in Hollywood, inspiring U’s own stab at the genre, “Waterworld,” along with numerous other entries.

The “Max” pics, which were shot in Australia on relatively low budgets, turned Gibson into a major international star, and established Miller as a top director in the U.S.

Whether Gibson will return for “Mad Max IV” is another matter. The actor, who earned a $15,000 fee for the first “Max,” now commands $20 million per pic, plus a sizable portion of the backend.

Gibson, who nonetheless appeared this summer in a fourth “Lethal Weapon,” has no deal to star in the next “Max.” Reps for the actor said that he had not been approached.

Miller, whose Kennedy/Miller Prods. banner produced each film, licensed North American rights to the first three to Warner Bros.

It was unclear Wednesday why Warner had given up its rights to the franchise.

While the first pic was made for under $1 million, and the second for around $4 million, the third, which co-starred Tina Turner, cost about $12 million. It grossed $36.2 million in the U.S.

Sources indicated that Miller, who also will produce the fourth “Max” via Kennedy/Miller, expects to film it, like the earlier pics, in Australia.

The helmer has written a story for the pic and will oversee development of a script, but will not necessarily write it himself.

Miller co-wrote “Mad Max” with James McCausland, “Warrior” with Terry Hayes and Brian Hannant, and “Thunderdome” with Hayes. He directed the first two pics and co-directed “Thunderdome” with George Ogilvie.

Together with collaborators George Miller and Doug Mitchell, Miller produced “Babe,” which Chris Noonan directed. However, he is producing and directing the sequel. His one other pic for Universal is the 1992 drama “Lorenzo’s Oil,” which starred Nick Nolte and Susan Sarandon.

Neither Miller, Universal nor Warner Bros. would comment.

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