LOS ANGELES, Nov 17 (Reuters) In the first big-screen casualty of the Hollywood writers strike, Columbia Pictures said it had postponed production on ''Angels &Demons,'' a prequel to its box-office hit ''The Da Vinci Code'' starring Tom Hanks.
The Sony Corp.-owned <6758.T> film distributor Yesterday said the planned release date for the Ron Howard-directed religious thriller, originally set to open during the 2008 holiday season, has been pushed back to 2009.
''With the strike nearing its third week, Columbia Pictures has postponed production of 'Angels&Demons','' the studio said in a statement, adding that the script by Oscar-winning screenwriter Akiva Goldman needed further work.
Goldman, a member of the Writers Guild of America, is barred by the WGA's strike rules from editing or polishing scripts for the duration of the walkout.
In addition to his work on ''Da Vinci Code,'' Goldman's writing credits include boxing drama ''Cinderella Man'' and ''A Beautiful Mind,'' for which he won the Academy Award for best adapted screenplay.
''While the filmmakers and the studio feel the screenplay is very strong, we do not believe it is the fully realized production draft required of this ambitious project,'' Columbia said. ''At this time, there is no new start date, but we are setting a release date of May 15, 2009.'' The Writers Guild went on strike against major film and TV studios on November. 5 after negotiations on a new contract for its 12,000 members reached an impasse in a dispute over higher fees the union is seeking from Internet revenues.
The strike immediately threw the television industry into disarray, as work on numerous late-night talk shows and prime-time comedies and dramas ground to a halt.
HANKS SIGNS ON FOR PREQUEL ''Angels&Demons'' marks the first major Hollywood film set for release in 2008 to be delayed by the walkout.
Columbia said it did not expect the strike to affect any other film in its 2008 slate, which also includes the next James Bond film, a Will Smith action drama titled ''Hancock'' or the Adam Sandler comedy ''You Don't mess with Zohan.'' ''Angels&Demons'' is being adapted from the bestselling book of the same name by author Dan Brown.
Published in 2000, it was Brown's first novel to introduce the character of Robert Langdon, the crime-solving Harvard professor of iconography and religious art played by actor Tom Hanks in the big-screen adaptation of ''The Da Vinci Code.'' Hanks is on board to return as Langdon for ''Angels&Demons,'' which the studio optioned as part of its 2003 acquisition of film rights to Brown's ''Da Vinci Code.'' Despite mainly negative reviews after its premiere at the Cannes film festival in May 2006, ''Da Vinci'' went on to tally more than 753 million dollars at the box office worldwide.
That film, like the book, teamed up Langdon with a young French cryptologist to solve a murder entwined with the works of Leonardo Da Vinci and a supposed alternate history of Christianity.
A central premise of the story was that Jesus fathered a child by Mary Magdalene, and that a clandestine society has for centuries protected the identity of Christ's living descendants from agents of the Catholic Church.
In ''Angels,'' another muder investigation leads Langdon on a quest to thwart a plot by an ancient group, the Illuminati, to blow up the Vatican during a papal conclave.
REUTERS SYU RK0930