Troubling news has emerged from those close to the production of 47 Ronin. Sources have told TheWrap.com that Universal Pictures has seized control of the film and director Carl Rinsch has been pulled from the project now that shooting has been completed. The editing of the film has been handed over to Universal co-chairwoman Donna Langley, who will oversee the completion of the film. The report also suggests that the budget for the film has blown past its $175 million projection to $225 million - largely due to reshoots and costs associated with post production. A Universal executive has denied the budget explosion and that the production has exceeded $175 million.
Reshoots took place in London so that Keanu Reeves' character, Kai, could feature more prominently in the climactic battle - which didn't originally feature him at all. These new scenes apparently pit Kai against a supernatural creature. The studio also added additional lines and a love scene to boost Reeves' presence in the film. Damage control on the production has also included shrinking the post-production staff and only doing visual effects for what the studio knows will make the cut. So don't expect a lot of extras on the home video release.
If the budget has indeed blown past its original projection then The Wrap figures the production will have to pull in at least $500 million to cover its production and marketing budget just to break even. 47 Ronin will need an amazing run at the global box office in order to do this. In comparison, another film of this ilk, The Last Samurai, made just under half a billion dollars globally when it was released in 2003. Only $111 million+ of that was domestic. Adjusting for 2012, 47 Ronin is going to have to do near $150 million domestically, with a lower profile lead, and make up the rest overseas. But that is just the numbers game and while it is a big deal to the studio there are other disconcerting facts emerging about this film.
Who gives a first-time feature director a budget of $175 million? That's just silly. The report suggests that Rinsch simply couldn't maintain control of the large production, and for that we feel bad for the guy. We've been praising the smaller works of Rinsch for some time and we're still excited about his prospects as a feature film director. Perhaps he should have eased into feature films on smaller productions and proven himself there. You know what happens to the kid who gets the keys to the BMW when he first gets his license? He smashes the fuck out of it.
Fans of the original films also have more to gripe about with this inclusion of a 'supernatural creature' that Reeves' character will apparently fight at the end of the film. If this holds true it is a complete slap in the face to fans of Japanese Chambara Cinema and the original 47 Ronin films, however small a number we may be.
Clearly the studio doesn't give a rat's arse about how the nation of Japan will feel about this defacing of a national legend. But I can give you a hint how much this could hurt if the Japanese do not like this turn of events. For this I have to go back to The Last Samurai and the box office numbers again. A third of that film's global box office tally came from Japan. Of the $345 million+ the film pulled in from around the world, Japan ponied up nearly $120 million. The next country behind them was Spain with $23 million. Well done Universal. You're about to alienate potentially a third of your global box office take for this film.
47 Ronin is clearly a production in peril. The film release date has already been pushed back twice, from this November to February 2013, then to next December. Universal Pictures has given themselves a full year to recover from this mess.