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OFF-CENTERPIECE : ‘Die Hard 3' Blown Out of the Water by ‘Siege’

The runaway success of “Under Siege,” the Steven Segal thriller about a hijacked Navy battleship, has persuaded the producers of the once-similarly plotted “Die Hard 3"--in which terrorists hijack a yuppie cruise ship, only to be foiled by Bruce Willis’ John McClane character--to weigh anchor and head for the nearest port.

“There’s a feeling that they were just too similar,” says a screenwriter familiar with both projects. “Willis, especially, didn’t want to be seen as following in Seagal’s footsteps.”

Not to mention following in the footsteps of the burgeoning “Die Hard” industry, the latest variation being Warner Bros.’ “Passenger 57" with Wesley Snipes (“Die Hard” on a plane), which opens Friday. Next comes Sylvester Stallone’s $60-million “Cliffhanger” (“Die Hard” on a mountain), which TriStar will open nationwide on Memorial Day.

As a result, Cinergi Prods. (“Medicine Man”), which last September entered into a co-producing venture on “Die Hard 3" with 20th Century Fox and Disney’s Hollywood Pictures, has hired writer-director John Milius and producer Barry Beckerman to write a new, non-nautical screenplay. “We’re off the boat,” Milius confirms.

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If the script is approved, the plan is to shoot the film sometime in mid-1993 and get it in theaters by summer, 1994. Willis is attached to star, but for considerably less money than what sources report was an earlier demand of $17 million. Even with this markdown, “Die Hard 3" “is going to cost $70 million,” says an independent producer familiar with the project.

Neither Cinergi chief Andrew Vajna, Willis nor their representatives would comment on this story.

Given the belief by many in the industry that “Under Siege’s” success is due largely to the fact that it’s the only big-time action film currently showing in theaters, it’s worth noting that “Die Hard 3" could have taken to the seas before the Seagal film. Both were in development in mid-1990 when, given the popularity of the first two “Die Hard” movies, “Die Hard 3" enjoyed a clear advantage.

But its progress was stalled by personal acrimony, first between original “Die Hard” producers Joel Silver and Larry Gordon but mainly between Silver and Willis, whose relationship soured after collaborating on the megabomb “Hudson Hawk” and the urban thriller “The Last Boy Scout.” (The Silver-Gordon feud, widely reported, was caused by Silver snatching Willis away from Gordon, who wanted him for “The Ticking Man,” to star in “Boy Scout.”) It was the Silver-Willis contretemps that prompted the Fox-Cinergi-Hollywood Pictures arrangement; once “Die Hard 3" goes into production, Silver and Gordon will receive buyouts of at least $750,000 each.

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The basis for the pleasure-cruise plot of “Die Hard 3" was “Troubleshooter,” a spec script by James Haggin bought by Gordon’s Largo Entertainment in March, 1990, when Gordon’s intention was to co-produce the film with Fox. Screenwriter W. Peter Iliff (“Patriot Games,” “Point Break”) was brought in to rewrite Haggin’s script in the summer of ’90. “I said I’d do it if they’d let me sink the boat,” Iliff recalls.

Not long after completing his “Troubleshooter” revision in the fall, Iliff was asked by New Regency Production if he was interested in rewriting “Dread Naught,” Jonathan Lawton’s script that eventually became “Under Siege.” (He passed.) As each camp was aware of each other’s existence, there was “a total race” at the time, Iliff says.

By the time Gordon asked Iliff to take a second crack at “Troubleshooter” in early ’92, the suggestion was that Iliff “should write it as a straight action script, rather than a ‘Die Hard’ movie,” the writer recalls. With “Under Siege” in pre-production, Willis demanding a $17-million salary and 20th Century Fox owner Rupert Murdoch balking about the $60-million-plus production budget, “things were starting to look bad,” he says. "(Gordon) was starting to think beyond Willis.” Iliff turned in his new draft in April, one month after “Under Siege” began shooting.

“Die Hard 3" was revived again when Fox chairman Joe Roth, who wanted to follow up on his “Die Hard 2" success of 1990, suggested a co-production deal last summer to Vajna, who in turn brought in Hollywood Pictures, his domestic distribution partner, with whom Fox worked out a split of theatrical revenues.

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Milius’ co-writing of “Die Hard 3" with Beckerman is part of a multi-picture deal he has with Cinergi. (Others were offered the job first, including “Lethal Weapon” author Shane Black, who turned it down.) Milius, whose screenwriting credits include “Apocalypse Now,” describes his collaboration with Beckerman (co-producer of “Red Dawn”) with a Vietnam metaphor. “I’m an American adviser on this script,” he says. “In fact, I’m really an American adviser in Laos.”

The Beckerman teaming was agreed upon to give Milius breathing room on other scripts he is now writing, including “Geronimo” for Columbia Pictures and “Texas Rangers,” which Milius will direct, for Savoy Pictures.


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