Universal Pulls '47 Ronin' From Director as Budget Swells to $225M
by Lucas Shaw and Sharon Waxman
Universal has pulled the editing of Japanese epic "47 Ronin" from its director Carl Rinsch as the budget of the project has ballooned to $225 million, individuals close to the project told TheWrap.
The troubled 3D megaproduction has been taken over by Universal co-chairwoman Donna Langley, who is now overseeing the editing of the movie instead of the director, one of those individuals said.
The movie wrapped up a series of reshoots in London about one week ago, the purpose of which was to recapture key close-ups of lead actor Keanu Reeves and put him back in the center of the action in the film's most climactic scene.
The individual described the production process as a "nightmare."
Universal declined to comment for this story. A CAA representative for Rinsch did not have any immediate comment.
"47 Ronin" fictionalizes one of Japan's most legendary samurai tales, the story of a group of 18th century warriors who aim to avenge their master's death. Reeves, in his first starring role in a tentpole project since "The Matrix" trilogy, plays the lead in a mainly-Japanese cast.
The cost of Rinsch’s tale has now climbed past $225 million, an individual with knowledge of the production told TheWrap. Factoring in both the budget and the millions the studio will spend to market the film, Universal would need more than half a billion dollars at the global box office just to break even.
A Universal executive disputed that figure and said the budget had not veered from its original $175 million figure, despite the reshoots.
But there is no doubt that the production has been a mess.
An individual close to the movie, which is co-produced by Scott Stuber, Pamela Abdy and Eric McLeod, said that the director, a veteran of Heineken and BMW commercials on his first feature film, had buckled under the pressure of the ambitious shoot of "47 Ronin," and the studio had to step in to micromanage the latest round of reshoots from half a world away.
The studio was dissatisfied with the movie it saw coming together and seized control from Rinsch.
One individual with knowledge of the production said Rinsch, who during preproduction seemed creative and competent, struggled to control the filmmaking process. The studio then stepped in to oversee the project from Los Angeles, taking charge of the editorial development, including the cut of the film.
Firing Rinsch was not a possibility, as the Directors Guild of America requires that if a director completes physical production he must also take part in the reshoots. But with the reshoots done, the director was then pushed aside.
Marginalized in the initial sequences was Reeves, the lone actor well-known in the U.S. Universal opted to reshoot a major fight scene near the end of the film, as well as a few other scenes to sharpen the focus on Reeves' character Kai.
Kai was not even present in the final battle scene, whereas the new scene pits Kai against a supernatural creature.
In addition, the studio added a love scene, close-ups and individual lines to boost Reeves' presence.
Reshoots in London began in late August, delayed by the Olympics and the filming of Reeves' directorial debut, "Man of Tai Chi." An individual close to the project said the "47 Ronin" reshoots lasted only about a week.
Once slated for a November release, the studio has pushed the movie’s debut twice in the last few months, settling on a December 2013 release.
In April, the studio moved it to February 2013, citing the need for work on the 3D visual effects. Then Universal pushed it into December 2013 to account for the reshoots and post-production.
Reshoots aren’t necessarily a harbinger of calamity. But costs would have grown more had the studio not stepped in, the individual close to the studio said.
To further rein in costs, the studio halted some visual-effects production, shrunk the staff and only produced what it knew would make the cut.
Still, an escalating budget was the last thing Universal needed after the bloated "Battleship," on which the studio took an $80 million loss.
The studio had a bona fide hit this summer with ‘Ted,” and hopes are high for the next Judd Apatow movie, “This is 40,” as well as for Tom Hooper’s adaptation of “Les Miserables,” which opens at Christmas.
3D ticket sales and strong international play may boost "47 Ronin," but the process of making can be described with just one word -- nightmare.