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Tom Cruise's new mission: Run a studio

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15614__cruise_lTake that, Sumner Redstone! Tom Cruise is now a studio mogul, just like you! OK, I’m not saying that today’s announcement – that Cruise and partner Paula Wagner are resurrecting United Artists – is entirely about scoring ego points against the Viacom chief who not only declined to renew Cruise’s Paramount deal but who also continues to dis Cruise in interviews. But surely that has to be part of it. A word of warning, though, to Tom: if you want revenge against the studio chief who kicked you to the curb, become a studio chief yourself is an awfully expensive way to do it; just ask ousted Disney honcho-turned-DreamWorks founder Jeffrey Katzenberg, whose brainchild has now been all-but-absorbed by… Redstone’s Paramount.

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After all, as prestigious as it looks for Cruise to be running the studio launched in 1919 by then-Hollywood royals Charlie Chaplin, Mary Pickford, Douglas Fairbanks, and D.W. Griffith, there are still some large lingering questions about the UA deal, such as: where’s the money going to come from? Also, what does this mean in the context of last year’s Sony-MGM deal? For a long time, UA has seemed little more than a phantom limb of MGM, which in turn was expected to be absorbed by the Sony borg after last year’s takeover. But if UA rises from the grave and continues to keep MGM viable as a studio with new films to release (not just Hollywood’s biggest back catalog, which is apparently what Sony thought it was buying), then isn’t the tail starting to wag the dog here?

Finally, what kind of movies will UA be releasing via its four-pictures-a-year slate? Cruise himself can’t really star in more than one per year (especially given how much action blockbusters cost), so what’s left? It’s hard to see where UA will be able to afford to make anything other than low-budget, FX-averse, character-driven comedies and dramas. In other words: Tom Cruise – indie filmmaker. Who in Xenu’s name would have imagined that?

Originally posted November 2 2006 — 10:42 PM EST

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