Making movies is all about risk, so much time and effort go into their production and distribution with only the dream of coming out the other end with a profit. Every film is the studio or whomever else trying to do the best with the hand they’ve been dealt, but every once and awhile even the most seasoned of players get a hand they think is a winner so they bet big only to find that cards they have don’t amount to squat. Such was the case this year for Universal and its less than stellar hand when it came to 47 Ronin.
It seemed the a surefire thing when the ball first got rolling on the project, the real life story of the 47 Ronin was very popular and had been spun into multiple fictionalized accounts over the years. Epic tales like The Lord of the Rings and Pirates of the Caribbean franchise had spelled big bucks so why not this story? It even had the bonus of having samurai and swords in it, things that had only gained popularity since the advent of the new millennium.
A cool concept alone however, isn’t enough to carry a movie, you need to be able to bring together the proper people to flesh things out and make the movie work. This is where it seems the movie faltered. First of all they gave this project to a first time feature director, Carl Rinsch. Untested directors are usually given smaller projects and work their way up to the big budget films. 47 Ronin, while not cheap, started out as a moderately budgeted film until other factors kept driving the price up. The script was constantly being rewritten, some drafts were about adding in new and costly characters and sequences to the film, still others were about providing more depth to Keanu Reeves’ character Kai, and even more were done to simplify the dialogue because Rinsch had cast so many non-English speaking Japanese actors that had to learn their parts phonetically.
Since none of the places they expected to shoot looked “ancient enough,” the production bounced around trying to find a home until finally settling and being shot mostly in Hungary and the UK. Universal, in its infinite wisdom, decided that the movie had to be shot in 3-D, adding time and even more money to the project. Add to the cost of the film the 150,000 square feet of villages that had to be built from scratch and you begin to grasp just how bloated the production had become.
The post production process also seems to have gone terribly. Even though Stuart Baird is listed as the sole editor, this movie actually had a long list of editors come and go during the process, which is never a good sign. The movie’s release was also pushed back twice, most likely to try to salvage what they could out of the mess and try to make it work.
The price tag for this film came out to a painful $175 million, made all the more stinging by the string of negative reviews and a lousy reception at the box office, both foreign and domestic. The film only managed to make $20.6 million in its first week stateside, and in Japan, where Universal made a big push for the film given its cast and subject matter, has only managed to scrape together $2.8 million since the film’s release there on Dec 6.
The saddest thing about this movie is that it squandered its potential and that Hollywood will be scared off from doing this story right for years to come because of fear of being associated with 47 Ronin. Let us hope that when they do return to this story, Hollywood’s endeavors fare better than they did with this movie.
So people, who do you think is the most to blame for the poor performance of 47 Ronin? Have any of you seen the movie, and if so what do you think of it? Let us know in the comments below!