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Will Big D get a role in its film?

04:58 PM CST on Sunday, February 12, 2006

Ed Bark

Almost 15 years after leaving CBS as a weekly series, Dallas looks as though it's finally getting ready to roll toward a larger-than-life return next year on theater screens.

Still at issue, though, is how much of Dallas will originate from Dallas if filming starts as anticipated in late summer. John Travolta already is all but locked in as J.R. Ewing, with Matthew McConaughey and Catherine Zeta-Jones on short lists to play Bobby and Pam Ewing.

"It's not that they won't shoot here at all," says Dallas Film Commission head Janis Burklund. "They just might not shoot much here, and that would be horrible. They could spend $30 million if they do the whole film here."

Financial incentives, always a prime consideration with the fictional Ewings, are paramount here, too. Rival states, including neighbor Louisiana, offer production rebates to filmmakers. Texas still doesn't have its funding in place, although a remedial state Senate bill remains in the works.

Ms. Burklund, who's in frequent contact with the film's producers, says she's "trying to be as creative as possible" by offering alternative perks before pre-production begins in May.

"It feels like it's going to go this time" after a series of false starts dating to fall 2002, she says. "It's really intensified here in the last few months."

The Dallas feature film is the brainchild of series creator David Jacobs, who first talked it up in an October 2002 interview with The Dallas Morning News.

"Part of the pleasure of watching Dallas was seeing people that rich being that miserable," he said. "It was fun, but it was never a send-up. And I don't think the movie can be a send-up. It's not going to be The Godfather, but I don't think it's going to be Charlie's Angels, either."

The Dallas movie, then and now, is being bankrolled by Regency Enterprises, a production company based at 20th Century Fox. But Mr. Jacobs largely has stepped aside, turning the principal production reins over to Michael Costigan, whose credits range from Brokeback Mountain to still-in-development Asphalt Beach. Mr. Costigan could not immediately be reached for comment.

Hired to direct the new Dallas is 32-year-old Australian Robert Luketic (Monster-in-Law, Legally Blonde, Win a Date With Ted Hamilton!). The script has been revised at least twice, with Robert Harling (Steel Magnolias, First Wives Club) and Sacha Gervasi (The Terminal, The Big Tease) currently listed as co-writers on the heavily trafficked imdb.com (Internet Movie Data Base) site.

Ms. Burklund, who has seen the scripts, characterizes the film as "like Dallas on steroids. Basically, it blows up our stereotypes even bigger."

So much so that the TV series' venerable Southfork Ranch, still a tourist attraction in the Collin County city of Parker, might be way too teensy for the big screen. "It's not in the plans to shoot there to my knowledge," says Ms. Burklund.

Sally Peavy, manager of tourism operations at Southfork Ranch, says there's no news from her side of the fence. "We keep hearing little snippets and rumors about a movie, but on my daddy's grave, I don't know."

For the time being, her consolation prize is an interview on the Southfork grounds later this month. A TV Land camera crew will be visiting the Ewings' old home in connection with Dallas' receiving career pop-culture honors at the network's awards show on March 22.

Whatever new images it projects, a homegrown Dallas movie clearly would be very good for business in and around the city. The TV series pumped an estimated $6 million a year into the local economy during its annual two months of location shooting. That likely would be chicken feed compared to the worldwide attention and tourism a Dallas feature film could generate.

"It's already got people's tongues wagging all around the world," Ms. Burklund says. "It's going to get a lot of notoriety. It could be a bad film and it's still going to make money."

Ms. Burklund says the next several weeks will be pivotal in determining whether Dallas sets its sights here or elsewhere.

She went down this road recently with CBS' Walker, Texas Ranger movie, which aired last October.

The Walker series was filmed almost entirely in the Dallas area during an eight-season run that ended in 2001. But the movie nearly went thataway.

"CBS encouraged us to do it in Shreveport, but we talked them out of it," Walker star Chuck Norris told The News.

"It was a battle to keep it in Dallas," added his brother, Aaron Norris, who co-produced the movie. "But our crew here is second to none."

Keeping Dallas on its home field is a much bigger battle with far higher stakes.

"It's just cutthroat right now," Ms. Burklund says.

Which, come to think of it, is just the way the Ewings like it.

E-mail ebark@dallasnews.com

Can Dallas' TV characters be replaced? Casting for the new players in the big-screen version is under way. Here are the classic models and the new actors in the running.

Larry Hagman
John Travolta

Victoria Principal
Catherine Zeta-Jones

Patrick Duffy
Matthew McConaughey

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