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Screenwriter promises 'Dallas on acid'

Reuters

NEW YORK -- When hair was big, and big oil was brash and unbowed by scandal, Dallas was the world's favourite soap opera.

Now the 1980s story of the Ewing family and their Texas oil empire is coming to the big screen, updated to the present day with an all-star cast. Instead of "Who shot J. R.?" the mystery now is who will play J. R., the devious oil man with a glint in his eye.

"Wealth and power, greed and corruption in Texas -- it's a very pertinent topic," screenwriter Robert Harling said in an interview shortly after turning in his script to Legally Blonde director Robert Luketic, who will direct the film.

The author of Steel Magnolias, who also wrote the screenplay for the 1996 comedy The First Wives Club, has been working for 18 months on the Dallas script, which takes the original characters from the pilot of the 1978-91 series.

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"It's reinventing the Ewing family as if they existed now in 2006 when the movie comes out," Harling said, explaining that he did not follow the plots developed over more than a decade in the series, though fans will recognize some things.

"In this story, Bobby and Pam meet, fall in love and get married, J. R. and Sue Ellen are Macbeth and Lady Macbeth, and we have the patriarch Jock and the matriarch Miss Ellie.

"These characters are outrageous -- one of the things I told the studio is I'd like to do 'Dallas on acid,' " Harling said, promising humour, glamour, cliffhangers and suspense.

He said the plot and characters were informed by such dramas as the collapse of oil giant Enron, as well as by modern-day celebrities such as heiress Paris Hilton.

When news of the film came out last year, Hollywood papers mentioned Brad Pitt and Catherine Zeta-Jones as possible stars, but Harling said he had been sworn to secrecy over who would take the roles made famous by Larry Hagman and Linda Gray.

Harling describes the plot as the story of a "very, very rich, powerful, dysfunctional family and their adventures in 2006 . . . against this backdrop of big Texas."

He insists he has no political agenda despite the fact that Texas's most famous son these days is President George W. Bush, who has a ranch in the Lone Star state.

"Texas is in the White House so you can't ignore that, and it's the source of some humour," Harling said. "But the Ewings don't know the Bushes."

And what of the most mocked plot twist in the history of soap opera -- the so-called "dream sequence" when Bobby Ewing emerged from the shower a year after he was killed off, wiping out the events of the past season as just a dream?

There will be no shower scene, Harling promises. For the moment, that's all he's giving away.

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