So, even after the likes of James Franco, Mila Kunis, and Robert Pattinson jumping ship, the ever-increasing impossibility of getting “dream stars” Brad Pitt and Keanu Reeves, the latest director Albert Hughes (one-half of the Hughes Bros.) cutting ties, and no actors of Japanese descent yet being considered for any roles, the Warner Bros. live action adaptation of the Akira manga is at least as likely to happen as it was yesterday. If you’ve never heard of the comic, it’s sort of the manga equivalent (at least to many U.S. readers) of Watchmen, and considered to be even more unfilmable than its 80s fellow classic. A lot of that conception is due to it being a dense, character and story packed cyberpunk epic with anti-corporation/anti-military messages, but mostly because this eventually happens:
Despite all of that, Hollywood’s version of Akira is probably a better bet than ever now that, as Variety reports, the film’s initial plan of adapting the six volume (that’s “volume” as in hundreds of pages each) series into two big budget summer blockbusters is now going to be a single Clash of the Titans styled tentpole, with a relatively modest $90 million budget. Warner Bros. has hired newcomer Jaume Collet-Serra, who directed Unknown, the not-sequel to Liam Neeson’s Taken, which means they’re trying to save money behind the camera, too.
Besides signaling the movie’s inevitability, and that the fans of the Japanese comic should drastically lower their already low expectations, the smaller budget and condensed screen time makes it sound like the only possible avenue for Warner to cut their losses would be to remake the 1988 Akira anime. It wouldn’t be the worst direction for something watchable to be created, as the original movie is pretty great and tells the fundamentals of Katsuhiro Ohtomo’s source material. But if you aren’t going to go deeper into the narrative than a film that’s already told the story’s basics (and told them well), then why bother? Even at $90 million, this is not a guaranteed cash machine — just look at Dragonball Z. Steve Kloves (all but one of the Harry Potter adaptations) may be the latest writer to take a crack at the screenplay, but it’s apparently still set in Neo-Manhattan instead of Neo-Tokyo, with all the casting shenanigans that likely implies.
It sounds strange to lament the lack of a huge budget for a movie (or series) that (if told properly) should decry things like movies with huge budgets, but the only way to tell Akira accurately is to do it big, like Blade Runner on HGH. But that film is, ironically, thankfully out of the picture. A leaner production could mean more imaginative filmmaking, but at the moment the entire project all boils down to being a terrible, horrible, no good, very bad idea, which means of course it’s going to happen. And in the end, no one will be happy. Which admittedly, again ironically, would be accurate to the sinking pit of despair one feels after completing the original.
If this is the sort of thing we can expect, then the we can only hope it will be told at least this well (warning: painful hilarity to ensue):
Rob Payne also writes the independent comic The Unstoppable Force, co-hosts the internet radio show We’re Not Fanboys, and can be absorbed on the Twitter @RobOfWar. Honestly, as long as Akira keeps people distracted from poorly adapting Cowboy Bebop, he’s happy.