EXCLUSIVE: Sony Pictures has acquired a big package that gives the studio a potential franchise. Robert Rodriguez will direct a live-action version of the 1983 animated film Fire And Ice. The film is Rodriguez’s homage to his friend, the late legendary animator Frank Frazetta, on whose works Frazetta and Ralph Bakshi based that original film. It’s a big buy for Sony Pictures at a rough time for that studio, and a deal that reunites it with Rodriguez; Columbia Pictures acquired the Sundance breakout El Mariachi, Rodriguez’s memorable debut. The intention is for Fire And Ice to be the birth of a fantasy adventure franchise, informed by the dreamlike worlds Frazetta poured into his paintings. The script was written by Tom Donnelly & Josh Oppenheimer.

frazIn the original film, a small village is destroyed by a surging glacier domain for the evil Ice Lord, Nekron. Sole survivor is a young warrior who vows vengeance, and when Nekron’s subhuman, apelike creatures kidnap a king’s daughter, the warrior becomes determined to track down and free her. Bold Films’ Gary Michael Walters, Matthew Rhodes and Michel Litvak funded development of drafts with Rodriguez, and they’ll be squarely involved. Bold, which has Whiplash and Nightcrawler in the Oscar hunt, plans to enlist studios earlier in the process as the ambition and budgets of its films grow bolder.

For Rodriguez, the project is as much an homage to Frazetta as Sin City was to the graphic artistry of Frank Miller. Frazetta made his mark illustrating works like Conan The Barbarian and Princess Of Mars, and he came to Hollywood and first worked on movie posters that are considered the standard. Fire And Ice was his sole film. Rodriguez was a longtime friend of the late artist who routinely tours Frazetta’s artwork to be sure his legend lives on.

“I’m a lifelong Frazetta fan who was inspired by his work, like so many people,” Rodriguez said. “It was my dream to work with him, and the first thing I did when I got to Hollywood was call him. I got him to do a From Dusk Till Dawn poster for me, and I got to work with him and know him over the years. When I’d visit him at his museum and see his artwork, I tried to figure what would the ultimate Frazetta movie be. I remembered the movie he did, Fire And Ice, back when I was a kid. I thought, ‘I wish they could have made it look more like the paintings, but I guess they’d have had to paint each frame.’ Now, you could do that. You could make it look like you were in his imagination. He didn’t use models, he didn’t use swipes. He painted purely from his imagination, and the characters and the colors made you feel like you were in a dream, and a fully realized and completely imagined world. It was so visual and arresting.”

robert rodRodriguez said that while so many have “borrowed” Frazetta’s signatures (“My kids show me video games and you can just see how many just try to ape his style,” Rodriguez said), the filmmaker saw a way to pay proper homage by using the old Fire aAnd Ice as the template for what’s intended to be multiple installments set in a brutal and primitive world.

“I started developing it independently with Bold Films,” Rodriguez said. “The more we started putting it together, we realized it could be something much bigger and it started attracting A-list talent. I thought, ‘Let’s partner with a studio,’ but which would give it the rocket fuel it deserves? I’d heard Mike De Luca was looking for franchises, and I thought this could fit the bill because of the subject matter and the talent that was interested, people who’d seen the presentation I had and wanted to. Turned out Mike was a big Frazetta fan, and the studio was the perfect place. I’d started out with them with El Mariachi, and I had a long relationship with the studio and it seemed like the perfect rocket fuel for this. We’re actively interviewing to hire A-list writers to do another pass to get this going next year. I’m excited.”

Rodriguez has his highly visual game plan down; the film will be truer to a standard film than Sin City, which Rodriguez created to honor the Miller’s work. “Sin City reflected Miller’s two-dimensional plane and had an abstract very graphic quality to it, while Frazetta’s is this heightened reality, or rather layers of unreality that create a dream like reality you can get lost in, with an adventure film right out of his imagination. If we get the script in the next couple months, by the end of spring or start of summer, we start preproduction.”

Frank_Frazetta_002Said De Luca: “The incredible art and legacy of Frank Frazetta will finally get its due through Robert’s visionary filmmaking. Everyone at Columbia couldn’t be more excited by Robert’s homecoming and the chance to team up with him and Bold Films on Fire And Ice.” Rodriguez is repped by WME.