47 Ronin no tentpole

2 January, 2014

Keanu Reeves (49)at the Coffee Bean in Hollywood

Keanu Reeves (49) at the Coffee Bean in Hollywood

After months of bad buzz and two postponed release dates, “47 Ronin” finally bowed on Christmas in the U.S. and grossed only $20.6 million in its first five days at the domestic box office. Overseas, it’s fared even worse — with $2.8 million in its home turf of Japan since its Dec. 6 debut. The film’s gargantuan budget of $175 million (it cost even more before tax breaks) means it could lose the studio $120 to $150 million, especially once marketing is factored in.

The budget wasn’t so monstrous until Universal, influenced by Hollywood’s latest obsession, decided to shoot the film in 3D. That’s when “47 Ronin” became the Titanic of samurai movies. The creative team scouted Japan, New Zealand and Australia before deciding that none of those regions looked ancient enough. The film was eventually shot in England and Hungary, with a design team constructing 150,000 square feet of samurai villages for all those close-up 3D shots.

By all accounts, the post-production process was fraught with tension. When Universal executives saw an early cut in 2011, they had concerns about the story and started ordering changes. Another week of shooting was slated so that Reeves could be made more integral to the finale. A 2012 article from the Wrap reported Langley kicked Rinsch out of the editing room, but two highly placed sources deny that happened.

Another source with knowledge of the situation said that in post-production, Universal decided to take the film in a different direction. Rinsch then sought the help of the DGA to ensure his contractual rights were being honored.
The reviews, embargoed until 36 hours before the American release, were not kind. Universal didn’t spend lavishly on an advertising campaign. By then, the box office prospects for “47 Ronin” were grim.

“47 Ronin” is just one of several risky tentpoles (see “The Lone Ranger” and “R.I.P.D.”) that flopped in 2013. While some executives may now be warier of taking $175 million gambles on unproven talent and material, there’s also the fear that a studio may miss out on the next big thing.

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