Is Akira on the rocks with Warner Bros? I’m told that along with Warner Bros closing the Vancouver production office, the studio let lapse the test options deals it had with Dane DeHaan and Michael Pitt. Both actors had been competing for the lead role of Tetsuo, to star alongside Garrett Hedlund, Kristin Stewart, and potentially Ken Watanabe and Helena Bonham Carter. DeHaan and Boardwalk Empire star Pitt have been vying for that role since late last year. Neither was chosen over the other, and since those option deals ended today, it remains an open question whether either will keep the slot open to see if this movie goes forward. The film was all but greenlit, with production slated to begin March 5.
What’s the problem? Akira sounds not a lot different than what has happened at the studio to the films Arthur & Lancelot and Legendary Pictures’ big-budget film Paradise Lost. I’ve even heard turbulence on the 300 prequel Xerxes. Basically, the studio is scrutinizing everything. Akira, which was bought years ago and put on a fast track when Albert Hughes was going to direct it. While reports indicate Warner Bros has problems with budget, I’m told that’s not really the issue. The studio suddenly wanted changes made to the script, the most recent draft of which came from David James Kelly. They will quickly set a high-end writer to do a polish and then Warner Bros will have to a final decision to make. Director Jaume Collet-Serra’s version already came down from $150 million that Hughes planned to spent to about $90 million, so this is more about creative than budget, or it could be that the studio is getting cold feet about making a pricey movie with a young cast and not huge stars.
Warner Bros still hasn’t settled the situation on Arthur & Lancelot, after putting the brakes last month on a David Dobkin script that the studio paid a fortune to acquire. This one is about budget: the $130 million was high for a film that so far has Joel Kinnaman and Kit Harington as its stars. The studio gave Dobkin license to shop it elsewhere, and I’ve heard Warner Bros might start redeveloping the King Arthur project that Sherlock Holmes helmer Guy Ritchie was sweet on. Warner Bros will make the Dobkin-directed Arthur & Lancelot for $110 million, but that’s still a jump from the $90 million expected when the script was bought. On Paradise Lost, Legendary put the brakes on a January start because the green screen visual effects needed to stage the celestial battle between good and evil swelled a $120 million budget by 10%-15%. That film is expected to start production by summer.
This is hardly curtains for any of these movies and sometimes the extra time is beneficial. Disney and the makers of The Lone Ranger spent the second half of 2011 finding a way to bring down that budget to a manageable $215 million, a much better risk than the $250 million that the studio was facing when it scrapped an early fall start date. And there is always the case of Moneyball, which was halted days before production started because for creative reasons. That film got put back together and is now an Oscar contender.