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Par girding up for ‘War’

Spielberg, Cruise clear skeds to quick-start pic

Following 48 hours of frenzied negotiations, “War of the Worlds,” starring Tom Cruise and directed by Steven Spielberg, has been set on a crash pre-production schedule.

At the same time, two major productions have been put on the back burner.

Spielberg’s untitled project for Universal and DreamWorks about the aftermath of the 1972 Munich Olympics, with Tony Kushner rewriting Eric Roth’s script, has been pushed back to June at the earliest.

And Paramount’s “Mission: Impossible 3,” with newly hired J.J. Abrams set to direct based on his rewrite of Frank Darabont’s script, has been postponed until next summer.

Both “M:I3” and “War of the Worlds” represent risky adventures in high-budget filmmaking. The “Mission: Impossible” franchise is being committed to a first-time director in Abrams; “War of the Worlds,” a complex CGI production, has been put on a very fast track, with only 10 weeks of pre-production.

DreamWorks and Paramount are co-financing “War of the Worlds.” Par is financing “Mission” alone.

The studios were vague on budget, but sources speculate that both could be north of $100 million. The Spielberg and Cruise deals call for no fees against a substantial chunk of the gross, holding down upfront costs.

“War of the Worlds,” a contemporized adaptation of the H.G. Wells novel, will have to be rushed to make its November start date and a 2005 release. David Koepp wrote the script; Kathleen Kennedy and Paula Wagner will produce.

Spielberg’s sudden availability made the “M:I3” postponement painless for Cruise and C/W Prods. partner Wagner, as they are producing both films. Paramount also comes out OK, since the studio shares “War of the Worlds” with DreamWorks — a bargain struck in May when Spielberg joined the film.

Par chair Sherry Lansing gets Cruise to start work next summer on an unhurried third installment of “Mission: Impossible,” the studio’s most lucrative franchise.

Though “M:I2” grossed $545 million worldwide, “M:I3” was becoming a train wreck because it had no director but was locked into a mid-September start date and a June 29 release.

Though Darabont turned in his rewrite on time, the film’s problems began in July when Joe Carnahan ankled. While Cruise wanted to replace him with Abrams, the TV vet — who created “Felicity” and “Alias” — was unavailable because of his obligations to his newest ABC series creation, “Lost,” which premieres this fall.

Though helmers including Brett Ratner and “M:I2” director John Woo were rumored as potential replacements, no pay-or-play deals were made, partly because Cruise was busy promoting “Collateral.” It was beginning to look more and more like an impossible mission, and rumors circulated late last week that crew members in Berlin were issued their last paychecks and told to go home.

In a period during which several directors have been replaced on high-profile projects, Cruise’s decision to stick with Abrams offers a measure of redemption after Abrams’ experience at Warner Bros. on the “Superman” film.

It was Abrams’ script that once got WB brass excited enough to shelve “Batman vs. Superman” and hire Ratner to direct the Man of Steel film, because the studio wanted to get going right away. As Ratner left and McG came and went, Abrams lobbied for the chance to direct his script. Ultimately, Bryan Singer was hired; by all indications, most of what Abrams wrote will be tossed out. Now he will be directing a film just as big.

(Dana Harris contributed to this report.)

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