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Brave new ‘World’

Vidgame fires up pic at WB

“World of Warcraft” is heading to the world of film.

Warners-based Legendary Pictures has picked up film rights to adapt the hugely popular fantasy videogame franchise and will develop the project with game publisher Blizzard Entertainment, which is owned by Vivendi.

While the “Warcraft” franchise has been around for more than a decade, the most recent iteration, the megahit online title “World of Warcraft,” has transformed the vidgame industry.

Unlike most games, where players pay $50 once and play until they’re done, more than 6 million people around the world pay $14.99 per month to participate in the multiplayer “World of Warcraft” online. Within the game they not only team on quests, but often interact and form deep social relationships.

Financial details weren’t available, but the deal is surely a lucrative one. In the only other vidgame license of comparable value, Universal and Fox paid Microsoft $5 million against 10% of the gross for the rights to “Halo.”

Deal is sure to be the talk of the E3 videogame confab going on this week in downtown L.A.

In addition to co-financing a number of WB pics, Legendary has insisted since its inception last year that it would be developing certain projects that Warners would in turn likely co-produce and distribute.

Legendary put up half the money for Warners’ “Batman Begins” and the upcoming “Superman Returns.”

“The ‘Warcraft’ universe is possessed of such a rich mythology and, as such, serves as an ideal platform as we go about translating that universe into what we intend to be a major event film,” Legendary chair-CEO Thomas Tull said.

Blizzard Entertainment chief operating officer Paul Sams said the company “searched for a very long time for the right studio” to develop a movie based on the game. Blizzard considered hiring a scribe to adapt the game for the bigscreen, as Microsoft did with “Halo,” but ultimately decided to work with a partner.

“I’ve been with the company for 12 years. For half that time, we’ve been considering whether and how to adapt ‘Warcraft’ into a movie,” Sams said. “We immediately connected with the folks at Legendary, and we wouldn’t have gone with them if we weren’t confident this movie would get made.”

The only other videogames that rival “World of Warcraft” are the “Grand Theft Auto” and “Halo” franchises.

U and Fox are revising a script for Microsoft’s “Halo” with hopes to release the movie in the summer of 2007, though they may have to push back that date since the movie doesn’t even have a director yet.

“World of Warcraft” players are extremely passionate, even by vidgamer standards. While they provide Legendary with a core fan base that likely will turn out opening weekend, they’ll be on the lookout for any perceived slights in the development and production process.

Blizzard VP of creative development Chris Metzen is expected to be closely involved in development of the film.

Legendary chief creative exec Jon Jashni said that vidgames don’t always lend themselves to a film adaptation, but that “Warcraft” is not among those.

“We are intending to approach this as we would the adaptation of a bestselling novel: Respect the essence of all that it is, but also build upon that fertile base while translating it into a new medium,” Jashni said.

“Warcraft” has a richly developed fantasy mythology in its games and spinoff books, but it’s not clear yet which elements Blizzard and Legendary will use for the film.

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