Sony, Bing get Anglo on ‘Beowulf’

Shangri-La shingle coins classic

A correction was made to this article on Jan. 21, 2005.

Sony and Steve Bing are gambling north of $2 million on a “Beowulf” script, penned by Roger Avary and Neil Gaiman, for Robert Zemeckis to direct.

Like “The Polar Express,” for which Bing plunked down $80 million, pic will be a motion-capture film, produced by ImageMovers’ Zemeckis, Jack Rapke and Steve Starkey.

Martin Shafer will exec produce with Avary and Gaiman.

Pic will be financed by Bing’s Shangri-La shingle, with Sony likely coming aboard to co-finance.

“Beowulf” will be distributed by Sony, which is in the process of negotiating an exclusive distribution deal with Shangri-La (Jan. 18, Daily Variety). The shingle previously had a deal with Warner Bros. Pictures.

Sony insiders say the preliminary budget on the film is $70 million, though that number is likely to increase considering the film’s scope and technology.

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“Beowulf” is one of the oldest surviving pieces of Anglo-Saxon literature, penned sometime before the 10th century A.D. Almost a decade ago, Avary and novelist Gaiman wrote a bigscreen version of the epic poem about the adventures of a Scandinavian warrior in the sixth century who takes on the monster Grendel.

Script was optioned by ImageMovers in 1997 and set up at DreamWorks, where ImageMovers is based, with Avary slated to direct. But the project went into turnaround, and when the option expired, the rights reverted to the scribes. For the last year Avary has tried, unsuccessfully, to get the project going again.

More recently, Zemeckis decided he was hot to direct “Beowulf,” but Avary was unwilling to part with his script — until Bing stepped in.

A live-action version of “Beowulf,” directed by Sturla Gunnarsson, is in post-production. Gerard Butler (“Andrew Lloyd Webber’s The Phantom of the Opera”) stars in that Canada-Iceland-U.K. production.

Avary’s previous credits include “Pulp Fiction,” which he co-wrote with Quentin Tarantino, and “The Rules of Attraction,” which he wrote and directed. Gaiman’s best known for graphic novels and children’s books including “Coraline.” He also penned the English-language adaptation of “Princess Mononoke.”

ImageMovers is currently working with Sony Pictures Imageworks on its second performance capture film, “Monster House,” due for a summer 2006 release.