Spielberg's kidding again

Dark British tale could be D'Works topper's next directing gig

DreamWorks has acquired the dramatic rights to the science fiction novel "Chocky" from Pollinger Ltd., the U.K. agency that handles the literary estate of the late author John Wyndham.

Steven Spielberg is said to be keen to make the adaptation his next directing project.

"Chocky" tells the story of a boy who has a mysterious imaginary friend with whom he frequently argues. As the boy's father gets increasingly suspicious, it becomes clear that an alien entity has taken up residence in the boy's consciousness. With Spielberg's proclivity for exploring the darker aspects of childhood, the material is clearly in his wheelhouse.

But given Spielberg's recent exit from Paramount, here's a question: Who will actually produce the project — Par or the new independent DreamWorks?

For months, speculation has been rampant about what some call a potential "bloodbath" over DreamWorks-developed projects under the just-ended Par deal. What would Spielberg attempt to take with him when he left?

Ask Par execs that question and they reply that the Melrose studio owns all DreamWorks-developed properties outright. Unless Spielberg and departing DW chief Stacey Snider purchase one or more of the projects, they're all staying put at Par.

DW is believed to be within two weeks of a deal with a studio other than Par — probably Universal — to distribute its future films.

Should the famed director decide to bargain with Par, at least a handful of DreamWorks projects would seem ones that Spielberg and Snider might wish to take with them. In addition to "Chocky," those include "The Trial of the Chicago 7," which Spielberg was once planning to direct; an Abraham Lincoln/Civil War epic scripted by Tony Kushner; "Cowboys and Aliens," a comic book adaptation that has Robert Downey Jr. attached; and "The 39 Clues," a series of books that Spielberg has shown an interest in directing and which Jeff Nathanson is adapting.

One alternative to DreamWorks paying Par for the right to development projects would see Par, DW and Uni (or some other DreamWorks distribution partner) agreeing to co-finance select projects.

"Chocky" is a 1968 novel written by Wyndham (officially John Wyndham Parkes Lucas Beynon Harris), a British science fiction writer who wrote the well-known "The Day of the Triffids."

Although the first film in a "Tintin" trilogy has lately been a priority for the director, that project hit a snag when Paramount's potential financial partner, Universal, turned down a chance to put up half of the $130 million price tag.

Paramount has offered to foot the full bill, but that would be in exchange for certain undisclosed financial caveats that may be enough of a hitch to push Spielberg to another project. Of course, "Tintin" is motion-capture animation and "Chocky" would be live action, so Spielberg might try to do them simultaneously.

Carl DiOrio contributed to this report.