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Dueling 'Three Musketeers' projects sharpen their blades

February 24, 2010 |  6:27 pm

The Devil Wears Tunics? Mr. and Mrs. Milady ?

A pair of "Three Musketeers" projects are picking up momentum in Hollywood -- and attracting some rather unlikely elements.

MuskWith "Sherlock Holmes" fast turning into one of the most important properties in its stable, Warner Bros. is forging ahead on its adaptation of another pop-minded work of classic literature, "The Three Musketeers."

After confirming earlier this month that it was developing a new version with "Holmes" producer Lionel Wigram, the studio is making headway in hiring a director. It has compiled a wish list of those who it wants to get behind the camera to tell the swashbuckling story. But the names aren't necessarily the ones you'd expect. 

One filmmaker whom producers and studio executives are talking to: David Frankel, the director of "Marley & Me" and "The Devil Wears Prada." While the latter tells the story of a ruler colder and more villainous than Cardinal Richelieu, that pedigree may not be the kind one associates with high-stakes swordplay in period France.

But Frankel does have some genre experience -- and at Warners no less -- which last summer signed him to develop and potentially direct the adaptation of the children's series "Septimus Heap: Magyk." Not coincidentally, the series has been compared to Harry Potter, on which Wigram is also a driving force.

The second director in a top position to get the gig is Doug Liman, best known for "Mr. & Mrs. Smith" as well as the first movie in the Jason Bourne franchise. Liman's action pedigree gives him more credentials for "Musketeers" (though how he handled his last action film, "Jumper," may hurt those credentials).

Meanwhile, an independently-financed 3D project, based on the classic trilogy, from "Resident Evil" filmmaker Paul W.S. Anderson has over the last week stirred the talk that producers had wanted Taylor Lautner for a lead role, likely of D'Artagnan. But those with knowledge of the young actor's career said he would not star in the project.

Both scripts are being developed with an urgency -- "The Men Who Stare at Goats" writer Peter Straughan is a co-writer on the Warners one, while Anderson is co-writing the script with “The Tailor of Panama” screenwriter Andrew Davies.

Dumas' adventure book revolves around the adventures of D'Artagnan and the three musketeers, Athos, Porthos and Aramis, who fight off the villainous wards of Cardinal Richelieu. We could tell you more details from the book, but it's likely the story will be built into something else, just as screenwriters did with "Holmes." As for Anderson, well, we can only imagine what that one will look like.

The property has of course seen the big screen many times before, going back to the days of Lana Turner and Gene Kelly in the 1930s, or to the cheeseball days of 1993 with a movie arguably best known for that Sting-Rod Stewart-Bryan Adams song.

But that's not stopping Hollywood from pushing forward again. The property sits at the nexus of a number of recent trends: There's pre-awareness of the title, the rights are inexpensive (the book lies in the public domain) and it's perfect material to attract an elevated actor, a la Robert Downey Jr., who wants to do action with a literary gloss, even though it's anyone's guess who either of these films will actually land.

If all this can seem a little odd or even depressing, it may be worth keeping in mind that the 1993 version didn't exactly bring in the Oscar winners -- it starred Charlie Sheen.

-- Steven Zeitchik

Image: "The Three Musketeers." Credit: Oxford Classics