Warner Bros. has acquired North American distrib rights to “Terminator Salvation: The Future Begins,” triggering an early 2008 production start for a film that seeks to reinvent the cyborg saga with a storyline to be told over a three-pic span.

WB plans to distribute “Terminator Salvation” in summer 2009.

The Warner deal dashes MGM’s hopes of corralling distribution rights to the film. The Lion planned to pepper its slate with tentpoles such as “The Hobbit” and “Terminator,” but neither project has worked out for the distributor.

Halcyon sued MGM in July in Los Angeles Superior Court, claming the distrib was interfering with its distribution plans on the fourth “Terminator” film on the basis of an MGM claim that it had acquired an exclusive 30-day negotiating window.

The “Terminator” pic franchise got a new lease on life in spring, when privately funded Halcyon and its co-CEOs Victor Kubicek and Derek Anderson teamed with “Terminator 3” exec producer Moritz Borman to acquire film, merchandising and licensing rights from ex-Carolco partners Andy Vajna and Mario Kassar. Kubicek, Anderson and Borman are producing the new film, with Peter D. Graves as exec producer.

WB had first right of negotiation for domestic theatrical and TV distribution rights because the studio played the same role on 2003’s Jonathan Mostow-directed “Terminator 3: Rise of the Machines.” That pic posted a domestic gross of $150 million and a worldwide total of $427 million.

The producers said that the new film will carry the size and scale of “Terminator 3,” and will have an event-sized budget. It will likely be less than the $200 million pricetag of “Terminator 3,” which was saddled with extravagant costs that included above the line payouts, rights payments and heavy fees incurred through a complex financial structure.

Warner Bros. is also producing a smallscreen “Terminator” adaptation, “The Sarah Connor Chronicles,” for Fox’s midseason sked.

WB’s commitment solidified the pic’s financing structure and ensured a start date, producers said. They will now zero in on overseas distribution. Sony Pictures Entertainment, which distributed “T3” in most overseas territories, is expected to get first crack at a reprise. Several other territories are spoken for, including Japan, where Toho-Towa is expected to distribute once again.

A screenplay has been completed by “Terminator 3” scribes John Brancato and Michael Ferris, and the financiers and studio are close to locking a director. While industry buzz has “Charlie’s Angels” director McG as the odds-on favorite for the assignment, the producers said no final decision had yet been made.

The first two “Terminator” films, directed by James Cameron, used contemporary settings to pit Sarah and John Connor against indestructible cyborgs. “T3” was also set in the present day and ended just as the machines initiated a nuclear apocalypse. “Terminator Salvation” was deliberately not given a number after its title, because Halcyon is eager to make it clear that the fourth film heads into an entirely different setting.

“This is set in the future, in a full-scale war between Skynet and humankind,” Anderson told Daily Variety.

Borman said: “The third film was really the conclusion of what happened in the ‘now.’ You will find the most-loved characters, but the intention here is to present a fresh new world and have this be the first of a trilogy.”

The producers said it wasn’t yet clear whether Arnold Schwarzenegger will be back for his fourth appearance in the franchise that launched his movie career. “T3” was the last film in which he starred before becoming governor of California.

“We’ve left it open for him to maybe do a cameo,” Borman said. “He has an important job, as we know, and the final decision will be based on his desire and availability, along with what the director wants.”

The move on “Terminator” comes after Halcyon secured first-look rights to the literary works of sci-fi master Philip K. Dick.