‘War’ meets its maker

Spielberg, Cruise may start pic in late 2005

Steven Spielberg and Tom Cruise will bring “The War of the Worlds” to the bigscreen, with Cruise expected to star.

Depending on how quickly the two get a “War of the Worlds” script they like, the sci-fi epic could start in late 2005. Spielberg is now completing work on “The Terminal” with Tom Hanks and Catherine Zeta-Jones.

David Koepp will rewrite a Josh Friedman-penned first-draft script based on “War,” the classic H.G. Wells alien-invasion novel.

Cruise and his C/W Prods. partner Paula Wagner set up the pic at Paramount in May 2002. DreamWorks will come aboard as a partner, now that Spielberg is involved.

Cruise and Wagner will produce, and it is likely Spielberg and DreamWorks Pictures co-heads Walter Parkes and Laurie MacDonald will be involved in that capacity as well.

“War” became permanently etched in American culture when Orson Welles’ Mercury Theater performed the story on radio in 1938 and ignited a nationwide panic when listeners didn’t realize it was fiction.

H.G. Wells wrote “The War of the Worlds” in 1898. In addition to the Mercury Theater radio production, the book inspired a 1953 film starring Gene Barry and Les Tremayne.

Producers have been toying with “War” for many years. David Brown persuaded Paramount to commission a script by Anthony Burgess during the Barry Diller regime, but the project didn’t gel. Years later, Brown pitched it to Spielberg, resulting ultimately in the development of a related story, “Deep Impact.” But, the Wells story was again sidetracked.

Spielberg’s plans for a fourth installment of the Indiana Jones series for Paramount have stalled, and he’s now interested in “The Rivals,” the Robin Swicord-scripted drama centered on 19th-century legit stars Sarah Bernhardt and Eleonora Duse. That pic, produced by “American Beauty” duo Dan Jinks and Bruce Cohen along with Carl Rumbaugh and Susan Batson, seems likely for a winter start at DreamWorks.

The emergence of a Spielberg-Cruise pairing gives Paramount another opportunity to alter its image as the town’s most cautious studio, and instead show it will step up for occasional swing-for-the-fences projects. Studio recently engaged Robert Rodriguez to write and direct another sci-fi classic, Edgar Rice Burroughs’ 1912 novel “A Princess of Mars,” which is being prepped by Alphaville’s Jim Jacks and Sean Daniel. Par’s also signed Charlize Theron for sci-fi fantasy “Aeon Flux” and Adam Sandler for “The Longest Yard” in a Sony co-production.

C/W is prepping the third installment of its “Mission: Impossible” series for Par, to be helmed by “Narc” director Joe Carnahan. Pic is expected to go into production this summer, with Cruise to star.

Paramount and DreamWorks have become frequent dance partners. They teamed on “Paycheck” and are paired on three films due out this year: “Lemony Snicket’s A Series of Unfortunate Events,” starring Jim Carrey; “Collateral” with Cruise; and the comic remake of “The Stepford Wives,” which stars Nicole Kidman.

DreamWorks did, however, recently drop out of co-financing Cameron Crowe’s “Elizabethtown” with Par.

As a scribe, Koepp was the go-to guy for Spielberg on the first two “Jurassic Park” films. He also proved adept at large-canvas fare with “Spider-Man” and its sequel, and he most recently scripted and directed the Johnny Depp starrer “Secret Window.”