EXCLUSIVE: Brad Peyton is making a deal to direct the Journey to the Center of the Earth sequel, as Brendan Fraser is withdrawing as the film’s star.
New Line and Walden Media will move the picture right into pre-production, but they are preparing to redraw the film to make Josh Hutcherson the lead character. Fraser played Prof. Trevor Anderson in the original, and Hutcherson played his nephew, Sean.
Sources caution that Fraser could still possibly make another trip to the earth’s core, but it is looking unlikely. Fraser felt strongly about making the movie with Eric Brevig, who directed him in the original. Trouble is, Warner Bros wants the picture for fall, 2011 release and Brevig is up to his eyeballs on another film for the studio, Yogi Bear. Warners brass is high on Peyton because of Cats & Dogs: The Revenge of Kitty Galore, the Peyton-directed film which Warner Bros opens July 30. Peyton shot that film in 2D and it was converted to 3D. The Journey sequel is being shot in 3D, like the original.
It looks like a game of chicken between Fraser and New Line/Walden Media execs and there are risks on each side. Fraser is prepared to give up a fat sequel salary, after recently starring in the flop Furry Vengeance. New Line/Walden faces the prospect of making a pricey 3D film and opening it without a proven star in Hutcherson. The original grossed $242 million worldwide. Fraser went through a similar situation on the third installment of The Mummy, but ultimately returned as the studio met his demands and the film did over $400 million, without Rachel Weisz. That global crowd still likes to see its stars reprise in sequels. New Line execs are in New York for tonight’s Sex and the City 2 premiere, and didn’t return calls. Verve is making the deal for Peyton, who, I’m told, also just met on the James Franco-starrer Ricky Stanicky, the Jeff Bushell-scripted comedy acquired last week by Summit Entertainment.