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Darabont stokes flames for ‘451’

HOPE FOR THE LONG-AWAITED adaptation of the Ray Bradbury classic “Fahrenheit 451” has reignited as Frank Darabont is negotiating to rewrite the Terry Hayes script and direct the film, with Castle Rock stepping in to make the film, which will be distributed domestically by Warner Bros.

Castle Rock launched Darabont’s directing career with “The Shawshank Redemption,” and has reaped the dividends with “The Green Mile” and his current Jim Carrey starrer “The Majestic” (formerly “The Bijou”). The studio will finance and produce “Fahrenheit 451” with Icon’s Mel Gibson and Bruce Davey, and Storyline’s Craig Zadan and Neil Meron. Icon and Storyline set it up originally and developed it as a directing vehicle for Gibson.

The title refers to the temperature required to ignite paper, and the story is a futuristic look at a totalitarian society where a fireman’s job is to start fires, using books and their incendiary content as kindling. The Gibson momentum faded, partly because the film was expensive and Warner Bros. wanted him to star in it as well. Gibson felt he was a bit old to play the young fireman Guy Montag, who begins to question what he is doing. He also refused to act in order to direct a film, especially after winning the Oscar for direction the last time that happened, on “Braveheart.”

Attempts to ignite deals with Tom Cruise and then Brad Pitt never took hold.

The project got jump-started again when the WMA-repped Darabont sparked to the premise.

INSOMNIA’ GATHERS MOMENTUM:The Alcon-produced Warner Bros. drama “Insomnia” is gathering steam again, partly because of the acclaim given director Chris Nolan’s new film “Memento,” but also because of the fast-growing possibility that Al Pacino will star in the remake of the 1997 Norwegian film that was scripted by Hillary Seitz.

The film’s about a police investigator who accidentally kills his partner during a murder investigation in a tiny town in Alaska. He’s then blackmailed by the killer, and pressed to pin the murders on an innocent person.

The pic’s produced by Paul Witt and Ed McDonnell, with Alcon’s Andrew Kosove and Broderick Johnson, with Steven Soderbergh and George Clooney jumping aboard recently as exec producers. The film’s the latest forward progress for Alcon, which signed a deal to finance and produce 10 pictures over five years for WB. Kosove and Johnson, two Princeton classmates, got in business by wowing Federal Express founder and chairman Fred Smith with their business plan and he’s been bankrolling the venture since. They began with “Lost and Found,” did “My Dog Skip” and just completed the Charles Shyer-directed “The Affair of the Necklace” with Hilary Swank for WB, while also doing the comedy “Dude, Where’s My Car” for Fox. Pacino, just honored at the Golden Globes for his career as an actor, is doing “People I Know,” the Dan Algrant-directed and Jon Robin Baitz-scripted pic about a Gotham publicist, which also stars Tea Leoni and Kim Basinger. Pacino’s made no firm commitment to “Insomnia,” but the studio’s hopeful to start before any possible strikes.

PANIC OVER?: Oscar-winner Jodie Foster has emerged as front-runner to replace Nicole Kidman in the David Fincher-directed Columbia drama “The Panic Room,” Dish hears. Kidman ankled because of a knee injury two weeks into production. Foster’s been available since her directing project “Flora Plum” got derailed by star Russell Crowe’s shoulder injury. All this is subject to coming to terms on a deal.

McT’S MOMENTUM: Fresh from directing the “Rollerball” remake, John McTiernan is suddenly in high demand for star-studded projects. Aside from the possibility that he might step in and replace David Cronenberg at the helm of “Basic Instinct 2” with Sharon Stone and possibly “Thirteen Days” star Bruce Greenwood, McTiernan is also being courted to enlist in “Smoke and Mirrors,” the fact-based script by Lee and Janet Batchler (“Batman Forever”) about 19th century illusionist Jean Robert Houdin, who was sent with a young female sidekick to Algeria by the French government to expose a sorcerer who was inciting an anti-colonial revolution.

The film, once expected to star Sean Connery, has been put back together by IEG, which hopes to get “Traffic” tandem Michael Douglas and Catherine Zeta-Jones to play the leads. As for “Basic Instinct 2,” the film has a ticking clock in that its fate must be decided quickly to shoot before possible summer strikes. McTiernan favors shooting the whole film in New York, and he’s also a well-compensated helmer believed to have gotten over $8 million to direct “Rollerball.” MGM, Intermedia and C-2 partners Mario Kassar and Andy Vajna are trying to swallow those budget increases, but the alternative is to scrap the film and probably be on the hook for $15 million to reprising star Stone. The deal made last year seemed a smart one (it’s believed to be a straight salary, no backend deal), but not if the movie doesn’t happen and the star gets paid anyway.

GREENWOOD’S ATOM DESTINY:The critical acclaim given Beacon/New Line’s “Thirteen Days” has given a major career boost to Bruce Greenwood, who, after portraying President Kennedy, has a deal in place to star for Atom Egoyan in “Ararat,” in which Greenwood would once again play a real person, this time Dr. Clarence Ussher, a Canadian doctor who for 15 years ran a mission in Turkey. Greenwood will be playing two roles: the doctor and an actor who’s playing the role of the doctor in a film about his work. The pic, which co-stars Charles Aznavour, will shoot in June in Canada, pending the outcome of Screen Actors Guild negotiations. Greenwood will most certainly take another part before then.

TANDEM TAKING A ‘WHIRLIGIG’:Director Kevin Lima and producer Bonnie Arnold, who teamed on the toon hit “Tarzan,” are joining forces with producer and former Gotham film commissioner Richard Brick on “Whirligig,” an adaptation of the novel by Newberry-winning author Paul Fleischman. It’s the story of a 17-year-old who makes a journey of penance and self-discovery across the U.S. after a thoughtless act leads to the death of a teen girl.

Lima, who most recently directed the live-action “102 Dalmatians,” is looking to direct the adaptation. “What’s most appealing are the book’s themes of redemption and forgiveness, life lessons for people of all ages,” Lima said. Brick, who most recently produced a trio of Woody Allen films, will work with Arnold to get financing.

FROM ONE WAR PIC TO ANOTHER:Brian Van Holt, the young thesp who got a strong role in the John Woo-directed MGM film “Windtalkers” with Nicolas Cage, has just been tapped by director Ridley Scott for “Black Hawk Down” at Revolution.

Van Holt will join Josh Hartnett, Tom Sizemore and others in the Jerry Bruckheimer-produced film. Van Holt plays a ranger who leads a convoy of Humvees to rescue a downed Black Hawk pilot in Mogadishu, Somalia.

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