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Mel’s big Max attack

Gibson, Miller back for 'Road' warrior

Mel Gibson, who toplined the 1979 cult hit “Mad Max,” is returning to the franchise once again, this time at Twentieth Century Fox.

He’ll be paid a salary approaching $25 million under the helm of the original “Mad Max” director, George Miller, toplining a script that Miller has been crafting the last three years. Pic is entitled “Fury Road” and will once again feature Mad Max in the lawless, post-apocalpytic Australian outback.

Fox insiders say plans call for the $104 million megapic to begin lensing in Australia, with next May as the targeted start date.

“This is the most exhaustively prepared movie I have ever been associated with,” said Hutch Parker, the prexy of production at Twentieth Century Fox. “The script is as ready as they come.”

Miller got the rights to the Mad Max franchise back from Warner Bros. as part of a settlement with the studio in 1997. Warners, which released both “Mad Max: The Road Warrior” in 1981 and “Mad Max: Beyond Thunderdome” in 1985, gave him the rights after Miller — who’d directed and co-written all three movies — agreed to detach himself from Warner Bros.’ Jodie Foster-starrer “Contact” and allow Robert Zemeckis to helm.

Pic will be produced by Miller and longtime producing partner Doug Mitchell, and by Gibson’s producing partner Bruce Davey at Icon, which is also handling select foreign territories. Insiders familiar with the deal say Icon will sell the rights to Australia, England and one other unnamed European territory.

Talks started in earnest about 10 months ago, shortly after Icon signed a two-year first-look production deal with 20th Century Fox, ending a long-term association with Paramount. Then, at the start of the summer, secret script readings began in Bruce Davey’s kitchen.

Says Parker: “The script’s been so tightly controlled, it would have been easier to get into the NSA (National Security Administration).”

Deal marks both the first pic that Miller will direct since the 1998 sequel to his 1995 script “Babe,” and the first pic that he’s ever directed for Fox, which has been courting him for years.

The trilogy of “Mad Max” pics, for all their iconic value, amounted to a rather slender B.O., grossing only $69 million in total domestically. That’s partly because the 1979 original, released by Village Roadshow, Orion Pictures and AIP, was hardly seen Stateside at all. Franchise only grew significant with “Mad Max: The Road Warrior.”

But, says Parker, “there are so few roles that define ‘big screen action hero’ and this is one of them. This is an event movie, and we know how to market event movies. It’s Max the way you want to see him.”

In October, Gibson’s Icon deal at Fox yielded a greenlit picture in “Paparazzi,” a pic that starts lensing in February, with Cole Hauser toplining.

In September, the ICM-repped Gibson committed to return to the director’s chair with “The Passion,” starring James Caviezel in a chronicle of the final 12 hours in the life of Jesus Christ.

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