‘Legend’ rekindled by Arnold

Recast Smith starrer adds to studio's strong lineup

The post-apocalyptic drama “I Am Legend” has re-emerged on a fast track at Warner Bros.

Arnold Schwarzenegger has become the film’s producer, and WB and Schwarzenegger are commencing negotiations with Oscar nominee Will Smith to star and Michael Bay (“Pearl Harbor”) to direct.

Latest addition bolsters what is already perhaps the studio’s strongest lineup of big-ticket films in years. Tentpoles include WB’s “Matrix” and “Harry Potter” sequels on the way as well as a “Catwoman” pic with Ashley Judd; the studio is also creating buzz with ancient epic “The Trojan War,” a rewrite of which has just been turned in by “Stay” scribe David Benioff, catching the fancy of “The Perfect Storm” director Wolfgang Petersen. Petersen has already been working on a franchise-extending Batman and Superman film scripted by Andrew Kevin Walker at WB.

Schwarzenegger had long been attached to star in “Legend,” which once had Ridley Scott set to direct. Scripted by Mark Protosevich, the film is an adaptation of the Richard Matheson novel that takes place in L.A. after a biological war and pits the last man on Earth against the populace of nocturnal mutants bent on rendering him extinct. The project halted in late 1997 because of WB concerns over a budget that hovered around $125 million, which seemed like a lot of money back then. But the story, which was done twice before as “The Last Man on Earth” and Charlton Heston starrer “The Omega Man,” has always been a passion of WB prexy Lorenzo di Bonaventura.

An attempt was made to redraft the drama to be a bit less pricey, and it attracted Bay and Smith, whose CAA reps are also negotiating for them to reteam with Martin Lawrence in “Bad Boys 2” at Columbia, with Ron Shelton doing a rewrite. Nothing happened until Schwarzenegger, who has been as passionate about the project as di Bonaventura, agreed to change his role in the production. He’s unavailable anyway, already driving three WB tentpole vehicles, with the Jonathan Mostow-directed “Terminator 3: Rise of the Machines,” and then, in deals made last week, a remake of “Westworld” as well as the new “Conan the Barbarian” film being scripted by John Milius.

While Schwarzenegger’s past few films haven’t grossed as well as those of previous years, that trio of pics play to his strengths but have broader stories that won’t force him to carry the load himself.

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