Confirming Italy's current enthusiasm for multi-million dollar sword-and-sandal epics, legendary producer Dino De Laurentiis has announced that he is lining up a picture about Alexander The Great that will be directed by Gladiator director Ridley Scott and is expected to feature UK actor Anthony Hopkins in a key role.

De Laurentiis, Scott and Hopkins all worked together on blockbuster hit thriller Hannibal which was released earlier this year. And, during this year's Academy Awards ceremony, Hopkins presented De Laurentiis with the Irving Thalberg Award (see picture).

"I would like to have big stars in the secondary roles, and get an unknown actor to play the part of Alexander the Great, a unique human being who, like Christ, died at the age of 33 and had already conquered the world by the age of 22," the octogenarian De Laurentiis was quoted by Rome daily La Repubblica as saying at press conference at Italy's Giffoni Film Festival.

The Alexander project is being written by Ted Tally (Oscar-winning writer of Hannibal predecessor The Silence Of The Lambs) from a trilogy of historical novels by Valerio Massimo Manfredi. It competes with another Alexander film being prepared by director Christopher McQuarrie at Mark Canton's Warner/Senator-based The Canton Co.

De Laurentiis, who produced John Huston's 1966 epic The Bible, is also currently preparing another Ancient Rome-set film, to be directed by Italian director Carlo Carlei and produced in collaboration with Rai Cinema. Entitled The Last Legion, the picture will focus on the last Roman emperor, Augustus, and the supporters who freed him and led him to Britanny. The movie is expected to start shooting by the end of 2001, and is also based on a story by Manfredi.

"Both films could be European movies, if there was a [single] European law for cinema whose aim would be to get rid of protective national laws and free producers from all the red tape. Europe has 450 million spectators. Isn't it time we started thinking about them'" the US-based producer, who last year produced actioner U-571, was quoted as saying.

Last week, Italian producer Leo Pescarolo announced that he is lining up a major English-language remake of The Last Days of Pompeii, making it the ninth version of the sword-and-sandal spectacular which last came to the big screen in 1958.

And Rome producer Antonio Ferraro of Film 3 is preparing a 6-part TV whodunnit about a Senator who plays detective in Ancient Rome. The $10.3 million story is adapted from a bestselling series by Italian author Danila Comastri Montanari, and follows the Senator's investigations during the reign of Emperor Claudius.