Crisis in the Hot Zone

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Crisis in the Hot Zone was the title of a 1992 non-fiction article by Richard Preston in The New Yorker. It chronicles the story of how the U.S. government believed a deadly virus had entered the United States.

The article was later expanded into the 1994 book The Hot Zone.

Movie of Crisis in the Hot Zone[edit]

The article created a bidding war between rival movie studios for the film rights. The rights were sold to 20th Century Fox and producer Lynda Obst on the understanding that as a woman she would be able to treat the lead character – a female government scientist – with respect. Having paid a seven-figure sum for the rights, Obst in turn paid screenwriter James V. Hart US$500,000 to adapt it to the screen. Ridley Scott was hired to direct for US$4 million plus 5% of the gross revenue. Jodie Foster was chosen for the lead role and was to be paid US$4 million plus another 5% of the gross.

Meanwhile, one of the losers in the auction, producer Arnold Kopelson, announced that he would make his own virus movie, to be based on a spec script by Laurence Dworet and Robert Roy Pool, writers of the unproduced screenplay The Ultimatum. The script was purchased for US$250,000, after which Ted TallyAcademy Award-winning screenwriter of The Silence of the Lambs – was paid an additional US$500,000 to give the script a "thriller edge." Kopelson even offered Scott the chance to direct his virus movie, an offer Scott angrily rejected.

Fox became concerned with the rising cost of Hot Zone; they wanted a strong male lead to play opposite Foster. The part of an environmentalist was rewritten as a star role for actor Robert Redford, who would be paid US$7 million plus 7% of the gross. Foster complained that her part had now been diminished and the script was again rewritten. Redford complained that now his part had been diminished. Unable to reach a compromise, Redford and Foster both left the now-US$45 million project.

Kopelson released Outbreak in 1995 starring Dustin Hoffman (in a role originally intended for Harrison Ford) and directed by Wolfgang Petersen. Preston criticised the producers for turning the virus into Jaws, but the US$50 million film was a solid international success.

Obst tried to restart Hot Zone with Robin Wright-Penn – hot from her Golden Globe nomination for Forrest Gump – and then with Emma Thompson, but the idea had lost its edge after Outbreak.

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