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Spirit seeks out King Kong story

Film unit picks up rights to 'King of Skull Island'

Spirit Pictures is looking to breathe new life into King Kong and a project initially developed by effects legend Ray Harryhausen.

Producers at the shingle have picked up the rights to the book “Kong: King of Skull Island,” a prequel to the well-known tale of the big ape.

Penned by Joe DeVito and Brad Strickland, book focuses on the backstory of Skull Island and how the giant gorilla became king there. It introduces other giant gorillas and dinosaurs only hinted at in the previous films.

The book was published in 2004, before Peter Jackson’s remake of “King Kong” bowed.

Rights to make the movie were brokered with the Merian C. Cooper family; considering Cooper co-directed the original “Kong,” released in 1933.

“We’re very concerned with honoring Merian C. Cooper’s legacy in Hollywood. We want to make sure that whatever we deliver will honor his memory,” said Spirit’s Steve Iles, who worked on videogames for the “Star Wars” and “Pirates of the Caribbean” franchises through his Pocket Studios game company.

The plan is to produce the film using motion-capture technology such as Robert Zemeckis used to make “The Polar Express,” “Beowulf” and the upcoming “A Christmas Carol.” Spirit’s own facility would produce the CG work.

Spirit also is developing “War Eagles,” a project Cooper and visual effects collaborator Willis O’Brien developed together in the 1930s and were nearly set to produce before the outbreak of WWII. The duo paired up with Harryhausen on the project in the 1940s when they hired the effects vet to animated “Mighty Joe Young.” The period actioner is set in 1939 and revolves around an ace fighter-pilot who tests a new jet and winds up crash-landing in the arctic, where he encounters a lost civilization that’s been thriving there for centuries.

“It’s one of those films that a certain level of the industry is aware of,” said Arnold Kunert, producer on both “Kong” and “Eagles.” “It’s a combination of all the things that have worked in adventure films for the last 70 or 80 years.”

Andy Briggs is working on the scripts for both films, with Spirit also developing offshoots like graphic novels, videogames and toys.

Iles and Kunert will produce both pics through Spirit, which is still seeking production partners on the projects.

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