Fans have generally greeted the news that Warner Bros. is actively developing a live-action adaptation of the cult Japanese comic book-turned animated movie, Akira, with downright hostility. The studio didn't do itself any favors when it (reportedly) had offered the lead role of streetwise biker Kaneda to Zac Efron last year. Feelings about the project only partially softened when news broke about some high-profile names being approached to take on that lead role - including the most recent candidate, Keanu Reeves.
Reeves, however, has officially passed on the chance to star in Akira, and that decision quickly led to speculation that the expensive sci-fi project was in trouble of slipping off its pre-production track into development limbo.
JoBlo has the scoop on the Akira situation, which Warner Bros. addressed in the following statement:
"Production on ‘Akira’ has not halted or been shut down, as the film has not yet been greenlit and is still very much in the development stage. The exploratory process is crucial to a project of this magnitude, and we will continue to sculpt our approach to making the best possible film."
Albert Hughes (Book of Eli) is attached to direct the Akira adaptation, with Leonardo DiCaprio set to serve as producer on the (tentatively) $140 million-budgeted project. Given that high price tag, it's no wonder the studio heads want an A-lister like Reeves to headline the film.
Akira may be based on an acclaimed graphic novel series with a strong cult following, but that particular combination of factors alone doesn't guarantee that box office returns will be large enough to cover all of the studio's expenditures (see Watchmen for proof of that).
Harry Potter franchise screenwriter Steve Kloves is currently plugging away at the Akira script, in an attempt to lower the budget and get the project back onto the fast track - to actually starting production. It seems that Kloves has also reworked the age of the Kaneda character, which explains why older types like Reeves and Brad Pitt were approached to star - as were actors in their 30s, like James Franco and Ryan Gosling (all of these gentlemen have since passed on the opportunity).
Among the big names previously shortlisted (and theoretically, still in contention) for the two main roles in Akira are the likes of Star Trek's Chris Pine, X-Men: First Class leads James McAvoy and Michael Fassbender, and Garrett Hedlund (TRON: Legacy). There are other candidates in the running, but those stand out as the best of the lot - though, Gosling still sounds like (arguably) the most appealing choice for the part of Kaneda, out of all the names mentioned so far.
Akira fans still have some big complaints about the live-action adaptation - including, how it will apparently Americanize the story (in terms of setting and characters) to the point that the social commentary of the original Japanese comic/movie will have been lost in translation. So the expensive cost likely isn't the only thing giving Warner Bros. reason to move ahead slowly with this project.
Look to hear more about Akira in the near future.