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Will a big screen bio of Abraham Lincoln be Steven Spielberg’s first film for the Mouse House ?

Will a big screen bio of Abraham Lincoln be Steven Spielberg’s first film for the Mouse House ?

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Okay. You’ve read the press releases. But what do Suits at the Studio really think about this Disney DreamWorks distribution deal ?

To be honest, those with long memories aren’t all that enthusiastic about being back in business with Steven Spielberg. They recall all too well the hassles that were associated with 1990’s “Arachnophobia,” that thrill-omedy that Hollywood Pictures co-produced with Amblin Entertainment. Not to mention Michael Eisner’s brutal battles with Spielberg over who really controlled Roger Rabbit. Which -- because neither man would yield -- is what ultimately did in that once-promising franchise.

And then when you factor in that John Lasseter, Jerry Bruckheimer and Robert Zemeckis are already working for the Mouse … It’s not like Disney doesn't already have a group of 800-pound gorillas to deal with. So when you add a Hollywood silverback like Spielberg to the mix (Who will expect to be treated with a certain amount of deference & respect by Mouse House management because he’s Steven Freakin’ Spielberg after all) … Well, there are those who see nothing but misery ahead for poor Dick Cook & Oren Aviv. Who will now have to deal with these four very powerful men as they all jockey for the very best release dates for their films, take issue with the way Mickey is trying to market their movies, etc.

Copyright DreamWorks. All Rights Reserved

But Bob Iger really wanted this deal to happen, claiming that it would be the perfect corporate fit (i.e. DreamWorks gets access to Disney's world-class distribution system, while Disney can then cash in on the pay-TV distribution & DVD sales of these same films). Which is why -- at least for the next five years --Steven Spielberg's company will now be creating new content for the Mouse House. And of those 30 DreamWorks films that Disney will be releasing under its Touchstone Pictures banner … Iger's allegedly hoping that at least five or six of them will be directed by Spielberg himself.

Which begs the question: Which project will Steven select to be his directorial debut at this new Disney-distributes-DreamWorks set-up ? From what I’ve been hearing, it could well be “Lincoln,” Spielberg’s long-in-development film about our 16th president.

Based on what Tony Kushner (i.e. the Pulitzer Prize-winning playwright that Steven hired to write the screenplay for this Abraham Lincoln biography) said this past Monday night, the decision to go forward with production could come as early as next week.

Liam Neeson at last year's premiere of "The Chronicles of Narnia: Prince Caspian."
Copyright Disney / Walden Media. All Rights Reserved

As for casting … Over 4 years ago, Spielberg asked Liam Neeson to play the Great Emancipator. This Academy Award-nominee immediately said yes. Only to then have the start date of this bio pic repeatedly get pushed back.

But nowadays Neeson sounds confident that “Lincoln” is really going to happen. And soon. In press interviews that he recently did for “Taken,” Liam talked about how Steven really wanted to capitalize on the Bicentennial of Honest Abe's birth (And here's an interesting bit of trivia for all you JHM readers out there: Abraham Lincoln was born 200 years ago TODAY). Which is why a Spring 2009 start for this project now looks quite likely.

As for the rest of the cast … Back in 2007, Steve reportedly asked Sally Field if she’d be interested in playing Mary Todd Lincoln. Just as Liam Neeson did back in 2005, the star of ABC’s “Brothers & Sisters” immediately said “Yes.” Only to then have this production get pushed back so that Spielberg could go off and shoot “Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull.”

So is Sally Field still Spielberg’s first choice to play Lincoln’s First Lady … To be honest, I'm not sure. Lately, there's been a lot of talk that Marcia Gay Harden may also be in the running for this role. But given that the folks at Amblin Entertainment have “Lincoln” tentatively slated to start shooting in April (Which is when “Brothers & Sisters” will be on hiatus, having wrapped production of its third season in March) … That’s a somewhat hopeful sign for Ms. Field.

Copyright ABC Studios. All Rights Reserved

My apologies if today’s article is coming across as somewhat vague. But you have to understand that “Lincoln” hasn’t been officially greenlit. Not yet, anyway. That decision – as Tony Kushner mentioned at Monday night’s “Looking at Lincoln in His Time and Ours – A Conversation on Abraham Lincoln” panel at the Harvard University Institute of Politics – should come sometime next week.

And even then ... Well, it's not like Spielberg is going to be available to start directing “Lincoln” anytime soon. Especially since he’s only three weeks into helming his first-ever performance capture picture, “Tintin.”

But that said, there are lots of less-than-subtle signs that Steven's "Lincoln" is really going to happen. Take -- for example -- this talk I had earlier today with someone associated with the redo of WDW’s “The Hall of Presidents.” The unnamed individual was complaining about how WDI may now be forced to revamp this attraction yet again in 2010. All because some bone-headed Suit at the Studio just suggested that they bring in a celebrity to do Abraham Lincoln’s voice.

Before this Imagineer could continue their rant, I then interrupted. “This celebrity? He wouldn’t happen to be Liam Neeson, would he?”

“Yeah,” they laughed. “How’d you know?”

So even though Steve’s pre-existing arrangement with Universal Studios prevents him from doing any consulting on rides, shows and attractions for the Disney Parks … That doesn’t mean that the Mouse isn’t already looking for ways to take advantage of the DreamWorks films that it will soon be distributing. Leverage these properties & personalities out into the Parks.

Copyright Disney. All Rights Reserved

And – yes, before you ask – it has also supposedly been suggested that Neeson provide vocals for Disneyland’s soon-to-be-revamped “Great Moments with Mr. Lincoln” attraction. With the props & costumes from this upcoming Spielberg film then reportedly being put on display in the pre-show or post-show area.

But before all of you theme park preservationists out there start carping about “Great Moments with Liam Neeson” … Let’s remember that this DreamWorks movie hasn’t even officially been greenlit yet. More importantly, that the guys at WDI always do this (i.e. talk about how they’ll possibly make use of some upcoming release in the theme parks). Just today the Imagineer that I was yacking with brought up how he hopes that “Tron 2” will become this huge success. So that Imagineering could then revisit an idea that was originally proposed back in 1982. Which was to replace the PeopleMover with the Lightcycles from “Tron.”

Anyway … That’s the latest buzz out of Burbank. That there are a lot of people who now work at the Studios who aren’t all that thrilled that Steven has a new deal with the Company. More to the point, that the first really-for-real Spielberg film that Disney will be distributing (possibly in late 2009. More likely 2010) might be DreamWorks' big screen version of Doris Kearns Goodwin’s “Team of Rivals: The Political Genius of Abraham Lincoln.”

Your thoughts?

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  • Well, there has been a lot of Lincoln love going around lately.  

    And those studio execs need to get over themselves.  Reading between the lines I see a bunch of wannabes upset because they won't be able to "fix" projects like they'd like to.  Let's see, should we be excited about more genuine artists joining Disney or concerned for the studios having to meet their demands for artistic respect?  It's not like we're talking about a bunch of prima donnas here.

  • If they take away the T.T.A I will cry.  It's my favorite ride!

  • A Lincoln biopic woul be very interesting. As I am an amatuer Lincoln scholar, I would pay to go see that. I hope they include some dramatic events such as the oldest boy, Robert Lincoln, running away from home, which he did do on some occasions. Or how Abraham and his father Thomas weren't on speaking terms when Thomas died. I mean, make Lincoln as close as possible to the real person. I also think Nieeson (spelling) will be a great Lincoln. He's a fantastic actor and he sort of looks like him in a way.

  • Or how about a movie that tells how things might have turned out if Lincoln had not been assasinated?

  • I show apathy to the clashing egos of studio heads, but I'm REALLY excited to se Liam Neison play Lincoln; I feel that he would do the role justice without playing to a romanticized ideal of the President.  I'm a fan of his work, and would love to see him replace the in-park vocals for Lincon. There would be continuity - and the movie tie-in would be subtle [unlike the many Disney/Pixar rethemes of classic rides].  Liam Nieosn for the win!

  • These are nervous times in Hollywood, as elsewhere. And the spectacle of Steven Spielberg reduced from

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