Peter Jackson and hisWingNut Films have revealed plans to make a new film based on the book TheDam Busters by Paul Brickhill andthe classic 1954 British war film of the same name.
Jackson will produce andChristian Rivers, who has worked with Jackson for over 17 years most recentlyas animation director on King Kong,will make his directorial debut on the film, which has been redubbed Dambusters.
Universal Pictures andStudioCanal are co-financing the project; Universal will have worldwidedistribution rights excluding France which will be handled by StudioCanal.
Dambusters is the true story of Operation Chastise, one of themost daring Royal Air Force (RAF) missions in World War II.
In March 1943, WingCommander Guy Gibson assembled a hand-picked squadron of pilots from the UK,Canada, Australia, New Zealand and the USA to conduct a top secret assignment- the destruction of three dams in the heart of Germany which werecrucial to the Nazi steel industry. The specially modified Lancaster bombers beingflown by RAF Squadron 617 were attempting to destroythe dams using a revolutionary "bouncing" bomb developed by scientist BarnesWallis which had to be dropped at close range and low altitude in order to beeffective.
Rivers (left) and Jacksonare pictured here in the cockpit of a Lancaster.
Also producing with Jacksonare Jan Blenkin and Carolynne Cunningham while Sir David Frost, who bought therights to Brickhill's book in 2005, and Jackson's manager Ken Kamins areexecutive producers. StudioCanal owns rights to the original film produced byAssociated British Picture Corporation which starred Michael Redgrave as Wallisand Richard Todd as Gibson.
In an exclusive interviewwith Screen Daily from New Zealand yesterday, Jackson said that he expects thefilm to be shooting by mid-2007 on locations in the UK and New Zealand, withstudio and post-production work at his Weta facility in New Zealand. He said heplans to make it in the $30m-$40m budget range.
"I want to keep it asauthentic as possible and as close to the spirit of the original as possible,"he explained. "There's that wonderful mentality of the British during the war,that heads-down, persevering, keep-on-plugging-away mentality which is thespirit of Dambusters."
He said that he and Riversare currently in the process of finding a screenwriter for the project and"would favour" a UK writer.
Jackson has long harbouredplans to remake The Dam Busters,having originally seen it on a big screen when he was a child,
"I saw it in the cinema whenI was 10 or 11 when they used to have a Sunday double feature in New Zealand,"he recalls. "They had an eclectic mix of movies and one particular time, I saw TheDam Busters and Dr No together. I really loved it. I came from a householdwhere World War II was a discussion point. My parents were both English whoemigrated to New Zealand in 1949, having lived through the war. I used to lovereading World War II books and became hooked on those British war films of the50s like Ice Cold In Alex, The Colditz Story and The Wooden Horse."
Jackson read Brickhill'sbook when he was a teenager and bought every other book on the mission that wasavailable. "There were quite a few," he says.
Around the time that he wastying up rights to The Lord Of The Rings, Jackson asked Kamins, his then agent at ICM, to find out what theposition was with remake rights to The Dam Busters. "He came back and said that Icon had the rights andthat Mel Gibson was going to direct and possibly act in it. Obviously that didn'thappen. A year or two ago, Ken came to me and asked if I was still interested.Canal Plus was apparently looking for somebody to remake it."
Rivers was, chucklesJackson, "one of my first fans." "Back in the old days, when I had just made BadTaste, no-one was writing any fanmail to me, but one day a package showed up in the mail from a New Zealandschoolboy who had seen Bad Tasteand sent me some of his artwork which was basically doodles and science fictiondrawings. I happily wrote back, and he kept on sending me drawings and itbecame clear that he was very talented."
When Jackson startedprepping Brain Dead, he wanted tostoryboard the film and asked Rivers, who has just leaving school, to do thejob. Since then, he has storyboarded all Jackson's films as well as working inprosthetics, as an animator and second unit director. He created computersequences in the Lord Of The Ringsfilms and King Kong as well asdirecting Andy Serkis in the latter on the motion-capture stage for "quite afew days when I couldn't be there."
Rivers won an Oscar as partof the visual effects team for King Kong.
"I grew up with the DamBusters mythology as part of myheritage," said Rivers. "I remember seeing it for the first time on televisionin England with my grandfather. I'll never forget marveling at the image of thebouncing bomb punching across the water."
Jackson says that, as aproducer on the film, he will be heavily involved and has already workedintensively with Rivers in what he calls "the fun stuff" - the researchand development of the film.
"We traveled to the UK andmet the five surviving pilots of the 144 on the original mission," he said. "Wewent to Canada and had a flight in one of the two Lancaster aircraft which arestill being flown [see picture above]. We went to Germany to visit the damswhich were rebuilt as they originally were after the war."
The project will alsoutilize information and details of the mission which were still classified atthe time the original film was made by director Michael Anderson. "So much ofit was still secret," explains Jackson. "They weren't even allowed to show thebomb itself and had to create a fictionalized bomb. We also want to include alot more about the development of the bomb. Barnes Wallis had to overcome incrediblebureaucratic hurdles to get the bomb taken seriously. It was seen as a crackpot,vaguely nutty idea. The RAF, as were all defense departments at the time, wasalways being approached by eccentrics claiming they had the weapon to end thewar. But he persevered.
"The film was made in 1954so a lot of the people involved were still alive and they had to be polite, butin reality he was up against a lot more stringent opposition than was shown."
He also points to thecourage and resilience of Guy Gibson who had to put the squadron together andtrain it for the mission in just seven weeks. "Gibson learned about the truenature of the mission three or four weeks beforehand, but the squadron wereonly told about what they had to do at 2pm on the day itself. They took offthat night at 8.30pm."
Weta Digital and WetaWorkshop will create the visual effects and miniatures for the film, andJackson says that Rivers wants to bring the experience of flying in a Lancasterto the screen. "He wants to put an audience in those planes and for them tofeel what it's like in those planes. When we flew in the Lancaster, my legswere trembling afterwards because it's such a visceral, vibrating, rattling,loud experience. And that was on a sunny day. The squadron flew at treetoplevel at night with no lights and thousands of flak guns shooting at them alongthe way. 19 planes went out, and eight didn't return. Some were shot down andsome hit power lines and crashed."
Meanwhile Jackson and hisscreenwriting partners Fran Walsh and Fran Walsh and Philippa Boyens are closeto finishing the first draft for The Lovely Bones, the adaptation of Alice Sebold's bestselling novelwhich Jackson will make his next film as director.
"We are literally a weekaway from finishing the first draft on that," he says. "I'm not reallyprioritizing between Dambustersand The Lovely Bones. It's all todo with the script. I don't know what draft of Lovely Bones we'll end up shooting. I assume on Dambusters, once we find a writer, we will have a script in sixmonths' time. We don't want to change it too much because the structure of theoriginal film is superb."