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Spielberg must fight ‘War’ fast

Quick turnaround expect for pic with 500 f/x shots, 75-day shoot

Can Martian invaders destroy New Jersey and New York on schedule and within budget? Hollywood’s about to find out.

In the latest risky adventure in high-budget filmmaking, Steven Spielberg has started shooting “The War of the Worlds,” starring Tom Cruise, in New Jersey locales including Bayonne, Howell, Newark and upstate New York.

In the first weeks of shooting, production included action sequences with alien forces bombing streets, ripping up sidewalks and blasting apart buildings in industrial-type areas.

The problem is simple — Spielberg’s contempo version of a Martian invasion is supposed to be in theaters on June 29, less than eight months after the Nov. 7 start of lensing. That’s a fast turnaround for any production, much less a summer tentpole containing 500 f/x shots.

Spielberg’s plan for the 75-day shoot is to shoot the big action segments first, such as a segment in early December with 1,000 extras in Athens, N.Y.

He began submitting sequences to special effects giant ILM during the second week; by the time production wraps, ILM will either have finished or be working on at least half the f/x shots.

If anyone’s nervous yet, they’re not showing it. Producer Kathleen Kennedy, a longtime Spielberg associate who’s producing with Paula Wagner, notes that Spielberg usually shoots in 70 days — or less.

She notes that 2002’s “Catch Me if You Can” — which had 140 setups across Los Angeles, New York, Montreal and Quebec City, was completed in just 56 days.

She also points out that Spielberg’s brought in frequent collaborators such as cinematographer Janusz Kaminski, production designer Rick Carter, editor Michael Kahn and ILM’s visual effects supervisor Dennis Muren.

“If anyone can do this, it’s Steven,” Kennedy asserts. “He’s probably the only director who could.”

Paramount and DreamWorks are co-financing what’s been announced as a $128 million budget, but the Spielberg and Cruise deals call for no fees against a substantial chunk of the gross.

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