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Bond in battle royale

007 team mulls major shakeup in franchise

With the announcement last week that Paul Haggis will write the next James Bond film, the question arises: What film?

Eon Prods. — along with producers Barbara Broccoli and Michael Wilson — and MGM/UA have been touting an imminent start for “Casino Royale” since 2004.

But with the new scribe starting over, it’s dubious how realistic evenNovember 2006 is.

And the bigger questions: Whether Bond will stay the same or head in a new direction — and what influence a new studio (Sony) will have on the venerable franchise. The original “Casino” was a spoof on Bond, unlike the new version.

The vitality of actioners like Universal’s two “Bourne” films as well as the mockery of pics like “Austin Powers,” are forcing the Bond group to mull a rethinking of the format. One possible scenario would borrow from “Batman Begins,” by going back to Bond’s origins.

“Casino Royale” is meant to be far more than an update of Bond; it’s the revelation of the ur Bond — one going on his first mission, without any baggage.

Haggis’ rewrite is expected in a few months time, and Martin Campbell is firmed as director. But that tight production schedule brings up the question of casting.

Speculation on the Internet and British press has centered on sexy, charismatic leading men like Gerard Butler, Hugh Jackman, Daniel Craig and Julian McMahon.

But others suggest it will be a black Bond, played by Colin Salmon! Or it will be a downy-cheeked Bond, played by 22-year-old Henry Cavill! Or a fresh-from-TV Slavic Bond, played by “ER” star Gorin Visnjic!

A nasty bridge-burning spat with the previous 007, Pierce Brosnan, became public last month, with the thesp telling Entertainment Weekly he was dumped from the role and that he was glad to be free of its “cheesy” jokes.

Brosnan apparently had been seeking $25 million plus 5% of the gross, as well as certain bonuses — demands that led to the Broccolis’ rethinking of the role and the franchise.

The Broccolis’ restrictions on compensation are turning off some stars (no gross points, thank you) and the three-pic commitment has young thesps a little edgy. (Playing Commander Bond hardly guarantees a launch into stardom, viz George Lazenby.)

And then there’s the question of a new studio.

Aside from “Spider-Man,” Sony hasn’t had much luck with sequels lately (“Bad Boys 2,” “Stuart Little 2,” “Charlie’s Angels 2,” “XXX: State of the Union”). It would love a new franchise.

The Broccolis are famously protective and cautious about Bond, but Sony execs are sure to have their own ideas about the series. Haggis is a bold choice, given his “Million Dollar Baby” adaptation and original “Crash” (which he also directed). But how bold do the Broccolis want to get?

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