‘I Am Legend’ Director’s Next Project Sounds Like World-Class Oscar Bait

tim_grierson
The Projector
This man may have a movie made about him. Michael Tullberg/Getty Images
This man may have a movie made about him. Michael Tullberg/Getty Images

There are some true stories that are so unbelievable and inspiring, you can't help but say, "That would make a great movie." One of those is the saga of Louis Zamperini, a former Olympic track star and World War II hero who will turn 94 at the end of this month. The epic twists and turns of his life were recently chronicled in a bestselling biography by "Seabiscuit" author Laura Hillenbrand, and now it appears that it's headed to the big screen ... with the guy who directed "I Am Legend" behind the helm.

Universal bought the rights to Hillenbrand's book, "Unbroken," with the hope that "Crazy Heart" writer-director Scott Cooper will work on the adaptation and that "I Am Legend" director Francis Lawrence will steer the project. Zamperini's story is the stuff of classic award-grabbing film fare: Growing up in the Depression as a bit of a hooligan, he turned his life around when he became a runner, eventually competing in the 1936 Olympics when he was only 19. But then he was stationed in the Pacific during World War II, where he was captured and tortured by the Japanese. He was eventually freed, but his ordeal was so severe that he later had to overcome alcoholism and madness to get over his demons.

In other words, this is the sort of sweeping, inspiring film that Universal should be comfortable with, considering the studio previously adapted Hillenbrand's "Seabiscuit." But just as complex as Zamperini's story is, so too has Universal's path to make this film happen. As far back as 1957, the studio has wanted to do a movie about Zamperini, with the project falling apart several times over the last 50 years.

So now, Universal is as close as they've ever been to making it happen, and they're turning it over to a director who might seem to be an odd choice. "I Am Legend" is a pretty terrific zombie/vampire/apocalypse film, but before that Lawrence's only credit was the very so-so "Constantine." But Lawrence clearly wants to move on from the world of fan boys: This spring, he'll be releasing "Water for Elephants," a Depression-era drama about a traveling circus that stars Robert Pattinson and Christoph Waltz. And there's a chance he could reunite with his "Legend" star Will Smith for "The City That Sailed," a cool-sounding family drama. These projects very much feel like "real" movies -- i.e. films for grown-ups -- so it's no surprise that he'd be interested in "Unbroken." At its best, it could be a moving film about the indomitable spirit of the human heart. Or it might be one of those movies that's so begging to be showered with Oscars that it doesn't get a single nomination.

Universal Buys Laura Hillenbrand WWII Bestseller 'Unbroken' For Francis Lawrence [Deadline]