According to The Hollywood Reporter, Warner Brothers Pictures has told the Vancouver production offices of the sci-fi actioner AKIRA to close down, and send the “below-the-line talent and crew” home.
Apparently the studio wants director Jaume Collet-Serra (HOUSE OF WAX) to re-work the script and budget, possibly wanting to shave as much as $20 million from the 90 million-dollar manga/anime adaptation.
The project has no major stars attached, and that might be one of the concerns the studio has with the project. Only Garrett Hedlund (TRON: LEGACY) was offically signed for the film, with negotiations ongoing with Kristen Stewart, Helena Bonham Carter, and
Ken Watanabe (INCEPTION).
AKIRA fans might actually feel feel relieved if the adaptation was abandoned, as the live-action production was being relocated from a post-apocalyptic Neo-Tokyo to a American-ized “New Manhattan”, to facilitate using a largely non-Asian cast.
The manga was previously made as an animated feature in 1988.
In honor of HARRY POTTER AND THE DEATHLY HALLOWS, PART 2, the Cinefantastique Podcast crew takes a look at sequels that surpass their predecessors, including TOY STORY 2, DR. PHIBES RISES AGAIN, and BATMAN RETURNS. Joined by special guest Andrea Lipinski (formerly of the Chronic Rift podcast), the regular CFQ crew of Dan Persons, Lawrence French, and Steve Biodrowski also take a look at superheros on screen this year and give a run down of this week’s home video release, including the director’s cut of LIMITLESS (featuring an alternate ending on Blu-ray), the most recent season of DOCTOR WHO (starring Matt Smith), and TEKKEN, a DTV title based on the popular games by Namco.
In this week’s Cinefantastique Round Table Podcast – the Podcast with a Sense of Wonder – Dan Persons, Lawrence French, and Steve Biodrowski appraise the X-MEN film franchise: what have the mutants contributed to the world of comics-to-movies adaptations? Also up for discussion: remembering late actor Vincent Price – the Merchant of Menace – on the 100th anniversary of his birth. Plus a look at the week’s most interesting news: Is it good or bad that the live-action, Americanized remake of Katsuhiro Otomo’s AKIRA is going nowhere fast? Does Christopher Nolan’s use of IMAX instead of 3D for THE DARK KNIGHT RISES indicate a better way to immerse audiences in on-screen world’s of fantasy? And do we really want or need a DARK SHADOWS remake with reluctant vampire Barnabas Collins recast as a thoughtless playboy?
Deadline.com reports that Albert Hughes (THE BOOK OF ELI) is stepping down as director of Warner Brothers and Legendary Pictures live action adaptation of the popular Manga/Anime series AKIRA.
Based on the sci-fi ‘cyber-punk’ comic book by Katsuhiro Otomo, Warner Brothers Pictures vision of and approach to AKIRA has apparently wavered somewhat over the past year.
A 2010 script by Steve Kloves (HARRY POTTER series, THE AMAZING SPIDER-MAN) changed the setting of the film from the post-apocalyptic ‘New Tokyo’ to ‘New Manhattan’, and more or less ‘Americanized’ the young characters, members of futuristic gangs and subjects of experiments into psychic powers.
The studio has been unsure about the production’s budget and cast, vacillating between a more modest film with up-and coming actors, and a big budget epic with major stars.
Keanu Reeves (THE MATRIX) had been briefly connected with the project, but left recently, which hints that the film has been scaled back down.
Whether this has a bearing on Hughes leaving the film is unclear, though the site notes that the parting seems to be amicable, with Warner Brothers offering the director a selection of other projects.
It also looks as though the studio remains eager to make the movie, and is actively looking to attract a new director to take over the reins.
As you may know from this previous post, since recently purchasing a Blu-ray player I have been trying out my old DVDs to see how they look with their output signal upgraded for my 50-inch widescreen high-definition television. Needless to say, I have been trying to select films with spectacular visuals, and this led me, almost inevitably, to open Pioneer Entertainment’s Limited Edition Metal Collector’s Case of AKIRA and pop the Special Edition disc into the machine. I won’t trouble you with the details of how improved the DVD image was when played through the new unit. (AKIRA is available on Blu-ray disc, which is no doubt much better, so why worry how good the DVD looks?) But I did have an interesting thought while revisiting Katsuhiro Otomo’s 1988 anime masterpiece: the film seems to defy our usual desire for clean narrative simplicity, and it is far better for it.
Though I have never had anything profound to say about it, I have always felt that AKIRA is a profound film – even back when I first saw it on an imported Japanese laserdisc, without subtitles, and had no idea what the characters were saying. Subsequent viewings – on VHS and in theatres, with various subtitles and audio dubs – have only magnified this first impression. There is something about the dense, layered texture of the film that creeps into your head, filling you with the impression that you are witnessing something ground-breaking and unique.
What brought this forcibly home to me on this most recent viewing was this realization: AKIRA is so dense and convoluted, on both a visual and narrative level, that each time I watch the film, I forget exactly what – or who – “Akira” is. I know this sounds like early-onset Alzheimer’s, but trust me when I say that this is a case unique to this particular film.
Perhaps this is just a quirk of my memory, but I prefer to credit this phenomenon to AKIRA itself – and register it as a positive virtue. I find it personally remarkable that I can re-watch a film that I have closely scrutinized on numerous previous occasions and still react almost as if viewing it anew, at least in terms of the central mystery regarding the nature and/or identity of “Akira.” To me this is a testament to just how dense and complex AKIRA is.
I an dubbing this phenomenon the “Art of Convolution,” indicating “intricacy of form, design, or structure.”*By this, I do not mean that AKIRA is incomprehensible on a narrative level – it is actually easy to follow what is happening. It is the why rather than the what that is difficult to determine; the motivation behind and meaning of what we are seeing is left open to interpretation.
The narrative is split into multiple viewpoints, presenting various characters with conflicting agendas, few if any of whom are clearly good or evil, leaving it up to the audience to sort out how they feel about the whole thing. The ostensible protagonists – Kaneda, the leader of a violent biker gang – is often on the periphery of the action, connected to the story only by the fact that his friend (more of a whipping boy, actually) Tetsuo has been altered by a power connected with Akira, turning Tetsuo into a super-psychic powered being who can now get even with the world that used to beat him down (rather like the title character in CARRIE). It’s not really Kaneda’s problem – the scientific and military types associated with the Akira project should be the ones to handle Tetsuo – but Kaneda seems to feel it is his personal duty to put down his former friend.
The result feels a big like an epic saga condensed down to feature length. (This is apparently more or less what happened: I have not read Otomo’s original manga, on which the screenplay is based, but I understand that is is much longer and less elliptical.) Harkening back to the editorial theories of Eisenstein, the separate plot threads interact in a dialectic way that invites – or perhaps forces – the viewer to synthesize them into some kind of meaning.
Normally, we enjoy works of art – including horror, fantasy, and science fiction films – that are structured in a way to makes easily understandable sense. If we regard these films as profound, it is because their themes touch us on a deeply emotional or intellectual level, not because the themes are buried too deep to be easily understood.
Then every once in a while comes along another kind of film, one that feels profound precisely because it refuses to yield all its secrets or surrender itself to easy analysis. I think AKIRA is one of these films, and that is why I feel comfortable using and re-using the world “profound” to describe it, even though I have no particularly insightful analysis to offer. All I can say is that it’s a rich movie that rewards multiple viewings, and even if, next time around, I remember who and what Akira is, I’m sure the film will nevertheless wrap me up in its intricate convolutions as deeply as ever. FOOTNOTE:
“Convolution” is also a mathematical term referring to an operation in which two functions interact to produce a third function that is seen as a variation on one of the initial functions. In a figurative way, I suppose this definition can be applied to AKIRA as well, with the functions of the different characters interacting to produce a result that is a synthesis of the others.
It’s a busy week for DVD and Bluray releases, with titles from such classic and cult genre names as Wes Craven, Dario Argento, Mario Bava, Barbara Steele and Tod Slaughter arriving in stores.
LastHouse on the Left (MGM/UA DVD)
Wes Craven’s landmark 1972 shocker gets a second DVD go-around with a much more comprehensive set of extras, but the recent UK DVD release easily trumps all previous entries. Few horror pictures have had as checked a history on home video as Last House; two different edits appeared on VHS, courtesy of the beloved Vestron Video, the second of which was billed as ‘complete and uncut’, running roughly 83 minutes. MGM/UA’s first go around with the title on DVD, back in 2002, offered the most complete version yet, along with commentary by Craven and Cunningham, featurettes on the production and Hess’ music, and several minutes of outtakes, some of which feature extra moments of intestine-pulling that was best left on the cutting room floor.
Last year, the UK was finally able to see the film without cuts in a nation-wide release (it had previously held a place of honor at the top of the BBFC’s “video nasties” list) via a massive 3 disc set from Metrodome, featuring an additional commentary track with baddies Hess, Lincoln, and Sheffler, a brand new 40-min production documentary produced by Blue Underground (”Celluloid Crime of the Century”), which provides an extensive look into the making of the film; the interesting “Krug Conquers England,” which covers the first uncut theatrical showings in the UK; an excerpt from the short film “Tales that’ll Tear Your Heart Out ,”which reunited Craven and Hess; all of this in addition to the same set of outtakes and general ballyhoo from the previous release. However, the main selling points that might drive interested parties to double-dip are housed on the second disc, which includes a marginally different cut of the film under the title “Krug & Company” (which contains some footage found in no other version and has at least one astounding plot difference regarding the fate of Mari), and some the infamous soft core sexual footage shot during the forced copulation of Mari and Phyllis. Like much of the film’s more extreme footage, it had fallen victim over the years to the vagaries of local “decency laws”, with theater managers excising out any would-be offending material (and saving it for their own personal collection, of course) and few prints making it back to the distributor’s office intact.
MGM/UA’s newest offering is geared to take advantage of Rouge Pictures’ upcoming remake, and cherry picks several features off the Metrodome set, while leaving off the Krug & Company alternate cut and the “Krug Conquers England” featurette to fit onto a single disc (the 3rd disc on the Metrodome set was devoted to a documentary, Going to Pieces: The Rise and Fall of the Slasher Film). Unfortunately, the new MGM release continues the tradition of no-thought, Photoshop paste ups for the cover art; Last House has some of the most memorable promotional artwork ever made for a horror film (much of which is retained on the Metrodome set), but MGM’s disc makes it look like a DTV Wrong Turn sequel. Read a complete review of the film here.
TheBird with the Crystal Plumage (Blue Underground Blu-Ray)
It’s hard to remember a time when a POV shot of a knife-wielding, black-gloved killer stalking through a European cityscape wasn’t considered cliché, but Blue Underground’s gorgeous Blu-Ray edition of Dario Argento’s classic goes a long way towards transporting the viewer back four decades to experience what made this movie such a sensation. It’s a shame that a film which relies so heavily on its visual punch has had to suffer so many years of lackluster presentations. Previous editions have been beset with both image and sound issues, and it wasn’t until Blue Underground’s DVD presentation in 2005 that we finally had an edition that could be called definitive. Their stunning new Blu-Ray transfer, however, trumps all contenders with a 1080p image that squeezes out an amazing amount of detail and clarity without the (apparent) application of excessive digital noise reduction. Also present are a 7.1 DTS-HD Master Audio and 7.1 Dolby TrueHD English tracks, either of which works fine even without 17 speakers. The Italian language track is available as well, but since the lip movements for most actors are clearly in English (and Musante and Kendall dubbed their own voices on the English track), there’s no need to get sniffy about watching the show in its “original” language. All extras from the previous edition are ported over as well, including a terrific commentary track featuring journalists-authors Alan Jones and Kim Newman, and featurettes on Argento (“Out of the Shadows”), cinematographer Vittorio Storaro (“Painting with Darkness” – and thank God that neither Argento nor Blue Underground have let him get his hands on the transfer and pimp-smack it into his beloved universal aspect ratio of 2:1), composer Morricone (“The Music of Murder”), and the late Eva Renzi (“Eva’s Talking”). Read a complete review of the film here.
Four Flies on Grey Velvet (Mya Communications DVD) Having just released an international smash with The Bird with the Crystal Plumage in 1970, Argento followed up with 1971’s Cat ‘o Nine Tails and 1972’s Four Flies on Grey Velvet. Although Four Flies is a fairly conventional thriller – particularly in light of Argento’s later, edgier work – the beginnings of the visually audacious style that would come to full fruition in Deep Red, Suspiria (1977) and Inferno (1980). The director has a ball with camera placement, and even uses an early variation of the bullet-time slow motion sequence, later made famous (and ubiquitous) in the Matrix pictures. Much of Four Flies on Grey Velvet’s reputation stems from its unavailability on home video. US residents have had to live with dodgy bootlegs of questionable quality while pleas for a proper DVD release fell on deaf ears at rights-holding studio Paramount Pictures. We don’t know what strings were pulled, but Somehow Mya Communications has managed to secure domestic DVD rights, and the results are glorious – an uncut print (sourced from an Italian negative) with excellent color and detail that finally allows for a proper evaluation of the show. There are both English and Italian tracks available (both in mono), though as was the case with most of Argento’s films of the period, the vast majority of the actors (including the leads) were clearly speaking English. The package is rounded out with a collection of fascinating vintage trailers, including one without dialog or narration that is decades ahead of its time. Read the complete review here.
Akira (Bandai Blu-Ray) Katsuhiro Otomo’s Akira, based on the director’s own series of comics (or Manga, if you’re nasty), is set in Neo-Tokyo in the year 2019, roughly 3 decades after it was destroyed by a nuclear blast at the beginning of World War III. Newcomers to the film (or to Anime itself) will find that Akira pleasingly breaks from the typical cost-cutting practices, with incredibly detailed animation (even going so far as to sync lip-movements to dialog, a rare practice in Japan at the time). If, like me, you owned Criterion’s towering (and pricey) laserdisc of the film and yearned to see its myriad extras duplicated on Bandai’s new Blu-Ray, you’ll likely be disappointed. Aside from a collection of trailers there’s little else in the way of extras – a real shame given the rich production history of the film and a real lost opportunity to introduce new viewers (for whom Akira may well be the only Anime title in their collection) to the genre with supplemental materials. But the important thing is the presentation, and the Blu-Ray looks fabulous, bringing unprecedented detail to the title (enough even to expose the limits of the source materials, an increasingly common problem). Read a complete review of the disc here.
The rest of the week’s considerable releases include:
The Haunting of Molly Hartley. This low budget ghost story generated little positive word of mouth when it received a limited platform release last Halloween.
A double-bill DVD of The Whip and the Body/Conspiracy of Torture. The former is a colorful and atmsopheric effort from Mario Bava, who reuses many of his old tricks from Black Sunday in this tale of S&M from beyond the grave; it’s beautiful to watch, but molassas could outrun the pace of the story.
Another double bill DVD, this time of two features starring cult horror queen Barbara Steele, The Long Hair of Death/An Angel for Satan. The first is atmospheric and entertaining, providing a good opportunity for Steele to shine, even if the storyline is muddle. The second is a rare title that seldom if ever showed up on U.S. shores before the advent of home video. (Don’t hold me to this, but I think it never received a theatrical release here, and I never saw it showing up on late night television or on Saturday afternoon Creature Features.)
And yet a third double bill disc, this one showcasing melodramatic Victorian villain Tod Slaughter in Sweeney Todd, the Demon Barbar of Fleet Street/Incredible Crimes at the Dark House. You can read a review of the former here, including a sketch of Slaughter’s career.
Tales of the Unexplained is an old British television anthology, featuring horror icon Boris Karloff (FRANKENSTEIN).
Futurama: Into the Wild Green Yonder arrives on Blu-ray and DVD, and also as part of the Futurama Movies Collection.
And lastly, Noah Wylie returns as the Librarian in Curse of the Judas Chalice.
Japanese Anime was the one video store section that never failed to leave us dizzy. It’s a world that we’re totally unfamiliar with and the hundreds upon hundreds of titles make us sympathize with the people that never leave the safety of the ‘New Release’ wall. Anime always looked cheap and unattractive to us and even the occasional show that did grab our attention – such as the horror-infused Vampire Hunter D – had to be dripping with familiar genre elements to get us past the unappealing visuals. But one picture that did managed to break through our wall of indifference to Anime was Katsuhiro Otomo’s Akira, based on the director’s own series of comics (or Manga, if you’re nasty).
The story is set in Neo-Tokyo in the year 2019, roughly 3 decades after it was destroyed by a nuclear blast at the beginning of World War III. The city that rose in its place is a neon nightmare, resembling a more rabid, dangerous version of the Los Angeles seen in Blade Runner (a film which takes place, not coincidentally, in the very same year). We encourage readers to seek out more information on the plot and the background of the production on their own, as even the film itself has difficulties jamming Otomo’s massive 2,000+ page Manga into a film running just over two hours.
Newcomers to the film (or to Anime itself) will find that Akira pleasingly breaks from the typical cost-cutting practices, with incredibly detailed animation (even going so far as to sync lip-movements to dialog, a rare practice in Japan at the time).
If, like me, you owned Criterion’s towering (and pricey) laserdisc of the film and yearned to see its myriad extras duplicated on Bandai’s new Blu-Ray, you’ll likely be disappointed. Aside from a collection of trailers there’s little else in the way of extras – a real shame given the rich production history of the film and a real lost opportunity to introduce new viewers (for whom Akira may well be the only Anime title in their collection) to the genre with supplemental materials. But the important thing is the presentation, and the Blu-Ray looks fabulous, bringing unprecedented detail to the title (enough even to expose the limits of the source materials, an increasingly common problem).