It's back to Development Hell for one of the most difficult potential projects on Warners' slate. Studio favourite Keanu Reeves was in talks for Akira a couple of weeks ago, but has now officially passed on the Americanised epic, adapted from Katsuhiro Otomo's classic manga. And with that, Warners are pausing for a re-think.
The Hollywood Akira, thought to be relocating to New Manhattan from Neo Tokyo, has been lumbering slowly along for some time now. Leonardo DiCaprio's Appian Way production company picked it up in early 2008, and after several screenplay drafts, including one by Children of Men writers Hawk Ostby and Mark Fergus, Albert Hughes signed on to direct in 2010. Sporadic casting rumours took in Brad Pitt, Ryan Gosling, James Franco, Andrew Garfield, James McAvoy, Robert Pattinson and Zac Efron. The most recent run at the script was by Harry Potter's Steve Kloves.
Very early reports gave the colossal project a colossal budget, but we seem now to be talking about somewhere around $140m: the same as Thor and JJ Abrams' Star Trek, and $60m less than Roland Emmerich's 2012. Nervous about rising costs, Warners were apparently talking to Universal about joining forces, with Warners helping out on the seemingly equally beleaguered Dark Tower in exchange. That deal seems now to be off the table, and as of last week, Akira's pre-viz FX department has been closed, and most staff let go.
Warners however, are keen to stress that this is not the end of the road for Tetsuo and Kaneda, or whatever their American counterparts might be called. "Production on Akira has not halted or been shut down," they explained in an official statement, "as the film has not yet been greenlit and is still very much at the development stage. The exploratory process is crucial to a project of this magnitude, and we continue to sculpt our approach to making the best possible film."
Hughes remains attached, and will apparently continue to work with Kloves on cracking a lean and economical screenplay.