47 Ronin (and 10 of the weirdest big-budget blockbusters)
Back in 2009, Carl Rinsch was being tipped for big things, having spent the previous few years making a name for himself with some eye-catching TV and cinema adverts for the likes of Mercedes Benz, Heineken, Lexus and, perhaps most famously, he was the man behind Saturn’s ‘Evolution of Technology’ commercial. For a while it was even rumoured he would be directing the prequel to Ridley Scott’s Alien series, but it never emerged, with the veteran director taking the reins himself for Prometheus. Then he took on 47 Ronin.
The film is very, very loosely based on the true story of the revenge of the 47 Ronin, a group of legendary Samurai from the early 18th Century whose tale has already been largely embellished upon and mythologised in their native Japan, but the film takes thing even further. Set in a Japanese-inspired fantasy world of dragons and monsters, the film stars Keanu Reeves as a half-Japanese, half-English outcast named Kai who is taken in by the Samurai’s master, Lord Asano, much to the chagrin of his band of warriors. When a treacherous Shogun master named Lord Kira kills Asano, his warriors vow to avenge their master’s death and enlist the help of Kai, who has some pretty nifty fighting skills of his own having learned the way of the Tengu, to plot and execute their revenge.
Despite the fact that this was a feature-length directorial debut for Rinsch, Universal Studios were confident enough in his ability to table a production budget of $175m – a pretty big risk on the part of both the studio and the director – and make no mistake about it, this film looks every bit as expensive as you would imagine. Sadly, the film’s production has been beset with problems and, after a change of director and extensive reshoots, the film overshot its already generous budget to the tune of approximately $50m, a fact not helped by the film’s disappointing performance at the box office.
However, you don’t spend $225 million without producing something pretty epic and, visually, it’s on the scale of a Lord of the Rings or a Pan’s Labyrinth kind of film. You have to hand it to Carl Rinsch, the man knows how to create something that looks beautiful. There’s also a very good Japanese supporting cast and the attention to detail throughout the film is astonishing, particularly the in the costume and set design departments.
Rinsch is obviously a talented director and we would expect he will be back very soon, but 47 Ronin is a hugely complex project with all the challenges that come with a big budget film, plus the additional complexity of trying to westernise a Japanese story with elements that are a tricky cultural fit. Where it succeeds is in the battle sequences, the epic visuals and the big, bombastic production values. If you happen to own a massive 3D television, it’s well worth getting this on Blu-Ray.
It may be one of the biggest budget films to have a weird concept, but it certainly isn’t the weirdest. We picked out 10 of the strangest concepts to bag a huge Hollywood budget...
Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter
As much as we wanted to include Churchill: The Hollywood Years on this list, having been made on a low budget in the UK it doesn’t really qualify, but this is the next best thing. That’s right: the much-loved and highly respected former President of the United States has been recast as a Van Helsing style vampire slayer in this 2012 film from Timur Bekmambetov. Benjamin Walker takes a very different approach to Daniel Day Lewis in the lead role as Abe Lincoln and while the film’s concept is very silly, that didn’t stop it gaining a $100 million production budget.
Sadly, we weren’t in attendance when this movie was pitched, but we imagine it went something like this:
“Basically it’s like Treasure Island…but in SPACE.”
“Here’s $140 million. Go nuts.”
If proof were needed that a bizarre concept doesn’t necessarily make for a bad film, look no further than Christopher Nolan’s 2010 film Inception. Starring Leonardo Di Caprio as the highly talented thief Dom Cobb, the film sees him stealing secrets from inside people’s minds while they sleep. Inhabiting a dreamworld for much of the time where the boundaries of physics no longer exists, this mind-bending film has the cohesive plot and stellar acting performances to match its stunning production values and astonishing visual sequences. Sometimes, gambling on a big budget flick really pays off…
The Adventures of Pluto Nash
Then again, sometimes it doesn’t. This expensive vehicle for Eddie Murphy is set in the year 2080, on the Moon no less. When his popular nightclub is blown to smithereens, Pluto Nash embarks on a pan-lunar mission to find out who is responsible. Coming so soon after the Nutty Professor films, this must have seemed like a pretty bankable idea at the time. Sadly for its director Ron Underwood, it bombed at the box office.
Wild Wild West
Perhaps the most unlikely hit on the list, this 1999 film by Barry Sonnenfeld stars Will Smith, Salma Hayek and Kevin Kline and is set in the old west, where the brilliantly named villain Arliss Loveless is hell bent on taking over the region with his steampunk-esque giant robotic spiders. As you do…
Thanks to the aforementioned machines Sonnenfeld had no problem burning through his $170 million production budget, but thankfully the film smashed it at the box office and netted Warner Bros. a very tidy profit.
This 1998 film by Jonathan Demme is billed as a ‘horror-mystery drama’ and stars Danny Glover alongside none other than national treasure and undisputed queen of the chat shows Oprah Winfrey. The plot involves a former slave being haunted by a poltergeist and then visited by a reincarnation of her daughter, whom she murdered to slave her from her barbarous ‘owner’. Contrary to the film’s title, audiences didn’t love it and it bombed, but it wasn’t all bad news; the film was well-received by critics and even picked up an Oscar for its costume design.
Disney certainly now how to throw money at a project and John Carter is a fine example, having hoovered up a budget of $250 million. Directed by Andrew Stanton and starring a talnted cast that includes Taylor Kitsch, Samantha Morton, Bryan Cranston and Willem Dafoe, this sci-fi epic features as its storyline a Civil War veteran being marooned on Mars and held hostage by 12-foot barbarians. Well, why ever not?
This spin-off / sequel to Bruce Almighty stars Steve Carrell and Morgan Freeman reprising their roles as the stuttering newsreader and God, respectively. This time it’s Evan who is handed the powers of the Almighty and he’s been instructed to build an arc. No prizes for guessing where all the money went – this film is a CGI-fest and with two of every species to draw into the action it’s no wonder the film was expensive to make. Carrell is funny, as always, and although some of the gags fall flat it’s a fun watch nonetheless.
Cowboys & Aliens
If there was ever a self-explanatory title for a film then this is it. Based on the 2006 graphic novel by Mailbu Comics’ Scott Mitchell Rosenberg, Jon Favreau was handed a reported $160 million to make this film starring Daniel Craig, Harrison Ford and Olivia Wilde. It’s actually not as bad as you might imagine, the actors are stellar and the visuals are epic, but as concepts go it’s almost as daft as it gets. Almost..
Mars Needs Moms
You have to hand it to whoever signed the cheque on this film, the cojones on display here are undeniable. Seth Green and Joan Cusack voice this capture animation adventure from director Simon Wells features a young boy named Milo who has to rescue his mother when she is kidnapped by Martians, because apparently they need her to explain to them how to love their children. As weird as it gets, audiences didn’t really get it and the film’s $150 million budget couldn’t rescue it from being a commercial flop. Swing and a miss, fellas…