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Gaiman replaces an earlier screenwriter on the planned $300 million trilogy from prominent Chinese television producer Zhang Jizhong, according to The Hollywood Reporter. James Cameron has agreed to consult on script and technology matters, while Gaiman’s friend Guillermo del Toro is being courted to direct.
Published in the 1590s, Journey to the West follows a Buddhist monk and his three protectors — the Monkey King, a pig spirit and a fish spirit — on a pilgrimage from China to India to retrieve the Buddha’s sacred scrolls.
“We have to do what Peter Jackson did with Lord of The Rings,” Gaiman tells the trade paper. “We have to make it filmic, non-episodic. This story is in the DNA of 1.5 billion people.”
The story has been adapted numerous times for stage and screen, recently as Monkey: Journey to the West, an opera by Gorillaz collaborators Damon Albarn and Jamie Hewlett. The 2010 fantasy-adventure The Forbidden Kingdom also also borrowed elements from the novel, including Jet Li’s Monkey King.
Gaiman, who’s widely known for his comic series The Sandman and for his novels American Gods, The Graveyard Book, Coraline and Stardust, wrote the BBC series Neverwhere and co-wrote the screenplays for Beowulf and MirrorMask. He also penned an episode for the upcoming season of Doctor Who.