47 Ronin is an intriguing project, in part because Universal plucked Carl Rinsch from relative obscurity to direct the 3D samurai tentpole. It seems the studio regrets that decision, and wants to heighten the intrigue in all the worst ways a cinephile can imagine. Rinsch has reportedly been removed from the editing room; Universal co-chairwoman Donna Langley will oversee the final cut. A source involved with the production said the budget escalated from the planned $175 million to a prohibitive $225 million, although the studio denies that number. Keanu Reeves stars as one of the 18th century samurai who seek to avenge their master’s death, which lends some star power to the movie. But the rest of the cast—featuring Hiroyuki Sanada, Tadanobu Asano, Kô Shibasaki, and Rinko Kikuchi—is mostly Japanese. [Edit: To clarify, I have no problem with the nationality of the other actors. See explanation in the comments.] Add in the period setting and the lack of built-in brand awareness, and it is surprising Universal trusted an unproven director with so much money in the first place.
But Universal is ready to rectify that. Find out how after the jump.
The Wrap suggests that Rinsch came off as “creative and competent” during pre-production, but struggled when shooting got underway and eventually “buckled under the pressure of the ambitious shoot.” Rinsch oversaw reshoots in London as recently as a week ago at the request of the studio. Reeves’ character Kai was initially absent from the final battle scene. With the reshoots, the climax now pits Kai against a supernatural creature. The studio also “added a love scene, close-ups, and individual lines” to boost Reeves’ screen time.
Clearly, Universal was not happy with the footage that Rinsch had assembled and had already taken over the production in spirit. The studio apparently would have fired Rinsch earlier if not for a DGA regulation that insists that the director of the initial production must also be involved with the reshoots. Now that the reshoots are in the can, the studio feels free to seize control from Rinsch more definitively. To reduce costs, Universal has reportedly halted some of the visual effects work.
It is unfortunate that things devolved to this state, because again, it was such an exciting prospect. Now… it’s hard to root for a studio takeover, and even more difficult to believe that such a troubled process will yield a whole and satisfying final product. Until the planned Christmas 2013 release, we can hope that this conflict is overstated, or at the very least that cool elements will seep through the mess.