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Friday 14th August, 2004
Steven Spielberg and Tom Cruise are going to War a little earlier than expected.
The high-octane duo has inked a deal with Paramount Pictures to move up production on their update of H.G. Wells' classic sci-fi tale, "The War of the Worlds."

With the Martian invasion flick on the fast track--Cruise and Spielberg want to begin Shooting in November for a summer 2005 release--both have shelved other high-profile Projects: Cruise's Mission: Impossible 3 and Spielberg's untitled big-screen drama about the 1972 Munich Summer Olympics.

The last-minute scheduling change comes just weeks after M: I-3 lost another director, putting that film's future in jeopardy.

"These things don't usually happen with a happy ending," Paramount boss Sherry Lansing told the Hollywood Reporter. "I feel overjoyed. The script for War is nothing short of brilliant, and this way Tom will finish War first and get his number-one choice for M: I-3."

Paramount's third installment in its Mission Impossible series, costarring Scarlett Johansson, Kenneth Branagh, Ving Rhames and Carrie-Anne Moss, has been problem-plagued from the start.

Original director David Fincher dropped out early on to do another movie, and indie filmmaker Joe Carnahan (Narc) came aboard. Paramount, aching for a big hit, scheduled M: I-3's release for May 6, 2005, then pushed it back to June 29 to give the filmmakers more time. But Carnahan bowed out last month citing creative differences with producers. Suddenly, the film's mid-September start date was in jeopardy.

Cruise and his producing partner, Paula Wagner, who had been knee-deep in preproduction and had scouted several locations in Europe, started scrambling for replacements and eventually settled on JJ Abrams, the creator of Felicity and Alias.

Abrams, who is also rewriting Frank Darabont's script, was psyched to make his feature-film directorial debut on the high-profile sequel, but he couldn't commit to a September start because he is busy with his new ABC series Lost.

Paramount and Cruise agreed to put the Mission off until next summer and stick with Abrams after being impressed with his work on the new Superman movie for Warner Bros. Cruise then called Spielberg and asked if they could move up War, which had been slotted to begin production next year.

Spielberg, who directed Cruise in Minority Report, agreed, figuring the delay would give Pulitzer Prize-winning writer Tony Kushner more time to polish Eric Roth's script on the Munich film, which is now targeting a June 2005 start.

"It is exciting and fortuitous that this all worked out so beautifully, and to reunite these two incredible men [Spielberg and Cruise] is thrilling," Wagner told the Reporter. "I am very excited about JJ Abrams. It was just an opportunity that arose when we delayed, and it just presented the perfect moment. We have known JJ for a while, and it's great that it all works out."

Paramount and DreamWorks will cofinance War of the Worlds, whose budget should easily top $100 million. As part of their deal, Spielberg and Cruise will reportedly forgo large upfront in exchange for a substantial chunk of the gross.

War of the Worlds was written by David Koepp (Jurassic Park, Spider-Man) and is being produced by Wagner and Kathleen Kennedy. Cruise, who's currently on the big screen playing a villain in Michael Mann's thriller Collateral, also plans to reenlist with Spielberg to coproduce and star in Ghost Soldiers, a WWII drama about the Bataan Death March. At this point, that film remains in the pipeline and doesn't have a firm start date.

"This means war!"

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