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Fincher diving into '20,000 Leagues'

Scott Z. Burns in negotiations to write screenplay

Months after deep-sixing a McG-helmed version of "20,000 Leagues Under the Sea," Disney is in negotiations with David Fincher to direct, and hot "Bourne Ultimatum" scribe Scott Z. Burns to write, a new take on the classic Jules Verne story.

The project came together after Fincher approached Disney's new production head Sean Bailey a few weeks into his job this winter. The Oscar-nominated helmer wanted to tackle a four-quadrant tentpole movie, somewhat of a departure from the dark, R-rated dramas such as "Fight Club" and "Zodiac" (or even "Curious Case of Benjamin Button") that he's done in the past.

The project was being developed under the radar as Bailey settled into his position under new studio topper Rich Ross, then gained steam in the past few days with Fincher and Burns entering talks for deals.

First published in 1869, the classic science fiction novel is in the public domain. But ever since Disney's Kirk Douglas-starring version was released in 1954, the studio and the Verne story -- about a group of men who encounter a vengeful scientific genius and his warlike submarine -- have been linked in the public's mind.

Last year, Disney was fast-tracking a $150 million "Leagues" that would have served as an origin story for Nemo. But the project was the first of several to be sunk by Ross when he took over the studio from Dick Cook in the fall (ironically, given Fincher's involvement, the dark tone of the McG version was a concern for the new regime).

It's not surprising that Disney would revisit "Leagues." Ross has said his mandate is to make wide-appeal, pre-branded entertainment. And while plotlines are being kept submerged, the Fincher/Burns take on the material is described as being in the vein of "Star Wars" or "The Empire Strikes Back." It will aim to be visually dazzling.

Burns, who penned Steven Soderbergh's latest "Contagion" as well as "The Informant!,"will begin writing immediately. That should give Fincher, who is in post on "The Social Network" for Sony, time to direct another movie (possibly "The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo," also for Sony, but his name has surfaced in connection with a host of projects) before jumping into "Leagues."