By Anne Thompson | Thompson on Hollywood April 28, 2010 at 2:42AM
Remember The Life of Pi? It's been seven years since Fox 2000's Elizabeth Gabler acquired the rights to Canadian Yann Martel's Booker prize-winning 2001 global bestseller about a boy adrift in a lifeboat in the Pacific with a Bengal tiger. What's taking so long? Well, this kind of lyrical literary material is tricky to get right. M. Night Shyamalan fell out. So did Alfonso Cuaron and Jean-Pierre Jeunet. Finally, it may get made thanks to Ang Lee--and 3-D.
Gil Netter, producer of The Blind Side, brought the project to Gabler and is scouting locations in Taiwan and Pondicherry, the French-settled city in southern India. Lee is producing and directing, marking a departure from making movies produced and/or written by frequent collaborator, Focus Features chief James Schamus. While Focus released Oscar contender Brokeback Mountain, Lee and Schamus's collaborations Hulk and Taking Woodstock were disappointments. Lee could use a quality hit--something very hard to come by in Hollywood these days.
Gabler and the filmmakers are lining up a big budget well north of $70 million for a 3-D magical fantasy adventure crammed with visual effects. There's a shipwreck, the ship sinks, and a teenage boy is launched overboard and climbs into a life raft with a zebra, hyena and a tiger. There are many CG animals (whales, fish, meercats) plus ocean and atmosphere. "It has a gigantic visual effects component," says Gabler. "You can't put a live tiger in a boat with a child. It has elements of Castaway, when the kid is alone in the boat. You don't need language to convey what's on the screen. We need to make the movie for the whole world."
David Magee (Finding Neverland) has delivered the screenplay, but while Gabler is eager to proceed for an August start and a 2012 release, no casting has begun (a 16-year-old Indian boy would star amid a cast of unknowns) and Fox has yet to green-light the picture. Fox co-chairmen Tom Rothman and Jim Gianopulos should make the final decision within the month. UPDATE: Looks like the project is facing budget concerns, reports the LAT.