Two '20,000 Leagues' films in the works


Captain Nemo and his Nautilus are surfacing at two studios.

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 "Bourne Ultimatum" scribe Scott Z. Burns to write, a new take on the classic Jules Verne story.

At the same time, Fox is prepping its own version of the submarine tale with an equally pedigreed filmmaking team. Producers Ridley and Tony Scott and their Scott Free Prods. are developing "Leagues" for the studio with a script by "Clash of the Titans" co-writer Travis Beacham. And they've been talking with director Timur Bekmambetov ("Wanted") about helming the big-budget adaptation, though Timur hasn't signed on.

Which "20,000 Leagues" will take its voyage first?

The Disney version doesn't have a script yet. The project came together after Fincher approached the studio'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 last week with Fincher and Burns entering talks for deals.

Fox's "Leagues" began life quietly after the writers strike. Beacham is said to have approached the Scotts with his take on the literary classic, which Fox then bought. Bekmambetov, notoriously picky about his projects (he hasn't directed a movie since 2008's "Wanted" but is producing the sci-fi actioner "The Darkest Hour" later this summer), is interested in directing the Fox "Leagues," which insiders say is set in the future and follows the novel's structure. But he hasn't committed.

First published in 1869, the classic science fiction novel is in the public domain. Disney memorably adapted the story -- about a group of men who encounter a vengeful scientific genius and his warlike submarine -- in 1954 with Kirk Douglas starring.

Last year, Disney was fast-tracking a $150 million "Leagues." 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 (ironic, 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" and the filmmakers will aim to create a visually dazzling movie.

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 been connected to a host of projects) before jumping into "Leagues."

The Fox project is not greenlit, and Bekmambetov's involvement is said to hinge in part on him approving a script.

Hollywood has a long history of doubling-teaming hot material. As an example, there are currently two versions of "The Three Musketeers" being prepped, one at Warner Bros. (with Doug Liman directing) and another at Summit (with Paul W.S. Anderson helming).