Last week, I wrote about the possibility of Steven Spielberg settling on "Matt Helm" as his next film, something which Michael Fleming and Peter Bart seemed to think was at least possible.

Leave it to Spielberg to zag when everyone's looking for the zig, though, as today he sent out a press release stating in no uncertain terms that his next film as a director will be "Harvey," a new film version of Mary Chase's classic play about Elwood P. Dowd, who is best friends with a giant invisible rabbit named Harvey.  Or who believes he is, anyway.  The Jimmy Stewart film version of the play is a classic, in no small part because of the way Stewart embodies Dowd, all of the movie star's personal charms turned up as loud as possible.

Hollywood's been trying to remake "Harvey" for a while now, but this latest configuration clicked.  Jonathan Troppen's a novelist, with "Harvey" as his first screenplay, so he pretty much just won the screenwriter lottery.  Well-played, sir.  Whatever Troppen did with the material got Spielberg to set aside nearly a year of speculation about what he would do next.  I have trouble counting "Tintin" as a "real" shoot because of the unusual nature of the filmmaking process.  That sounds so experimental that it's more of a diversion than anything.

There's no mention in the press release of who might star, but come on... it's Steven Spielberg.  It's "Harvey."  There's really only one right man for the job, and it just so happens he's got a nice clear schedule right now.

Paging Mr. Tom Hanks... Tom Hanks, please report to "Harvey."  Thank you.

[more after the jump]

Here's the full body of the press release, which I found this morning over at David Poland's Hot Blog:

*****

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE

STEVEN SPIELBERG TO DIRECT "HARVEY" AS NEXT FILM
Oscar-winning director to make contemporary adaptation of Pulitzer Prize-winning play for Twentieth Century Fox and DreamWorks Studios

Los Angeles, CA (August 2, 2009) __ Steven Spielberg will direct as his next film a contemporary adaptation of Mary Chase's Pulitzer Prize winning play "Harvey," a co-production between Twentieth Century Fox and DreamWorks Studios. The announcement was made today by Fox Chairmen Jim Gianopulos and Tom Rothman and DreamWorks partners Stacey Snider and Spielberg.

"Harvey" is the first screenplay by the best-selling novelist Jonathan Tropper.

The film will be produced by Spielberg and Don Gregory, with Elizabeth Gabler and Carla Hacken overseeing the project for Fox 2000, which acquired the rights to the original play in 2008.

"I am very happy to be working again with my friend Tom Rothman who shepherded us through ‘Minority Report,' and with Elizabeth and Carla, who I'm looking forward to collaborating with," said Spielberg. "DreamWorks has experienced a creative and profitable relationship with Twentieth Century Fox in the past, and I look forward to renewing that time together."

"Don Gregory entrusted us with these precious rights, Beth Gabler and Carla Hacken developed an exceptional screenplay and Jim and I had the easy part: Deciding to go first, before anyone else, to a filmmaker who combines the mastery of craft, tone, wit and insight that ‘Harvey' embodies," said Rothman. "Steven Spielberg is film's greatest humanist. And we feel blessed as Elwood himself to be collaborating with him, Stacey, and everyone at DreamWorks."

"Harvey" is the story of an amiable eccentric, Elwood P. Dowd, and his friendship with a six and a half feet tall invisible rabbit and how this affects every member of his family and his community. It won the Pulitzer Prize in 1944, and played on Broadway for 1,775 performances between 1944 and 1949. It later was adapted for the 1950 Universal film that starred Jimmy Stewart and Josephine Hull.

Added Stacey Snider: "This is a story relevant for all times, perhaps more so than ever before. We are so pleased to be able, with Fox, to be bringing this to today's audiences."

Casting and pre-production will begin immediately with cameras turning right after the first of the year as a joint venture between the two studios.

Tropper is the author of The Book of Joe, Everything Changes, Plan B, How to Talk to a Widower, and his newest book, This is Where I Leave You, which will be published this month.

About Fox Filmed Entertainment
One of the world's largest producers and distributors of motion pictures, Fox Filmed Entertainment produces, acquires and distributes motion pictures throughout the world. These motion pictures are produced or acquired by the following units of FFE: Twentieth Century Fox, Fox 2000 Pictures, Fox Searchlight Pictures and Twentieth Century Fox Animation.

*****

It's an interesting choice, but a safe choice.  I'm sure he'll make a charming film out of the material, but I can't imagine what new statement to make there is with "Harvey" in the year 2009, or that this is the absolute best piece of material available in town right now.  I always say we shouldn't react to who we want directors to be, but rather to who they are.  Expectation is a bitch.  People want Spielberg to make "important" films just like they want him to make perfect commercial machines.  His success creates certain demands on his creative energy, so maybe it's a good thing when he makes an inexplicable choice like this one.  Whatever he sees in it or responds to, I hope that translates when audiences see the film in 2010.

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