The beautiful disaster of ‘47 Ronin’

2013-12-23T17:00:00Z 2013-12-24T11:07:14Z The beautiful disaster of ‘47 Ronin’ Herald-Review.com
December 23, 2013 5:00 pm  • 

I wasn’t around in 1980 to take in the critical and public reaction to Michael Cimino’s western “Heaven’s Gate,”  but it’s the kind of epic, crawling cinematic disaster that doesn’t happen very often, presumably because it all seems so obvious in hindsight. With “Heaven’s Gate,” it’s at least understandable how it all came to be. Cimino had been tagged an ascendant director, fresh off an Oscar win in 1979 for “The Deer Hunter.” The film was squarely in his hands and his studio, United Artists, had reason for their faith in him. Cimino, in fact, was only partially responsible for the final product, which was hacked apart in the editing room after negative early press screenings.

The upcoming “47 Ronin,” on the other hand, is a whole ‘nother beast. This film looks like it will be a disaster without any qualifications or defensibility, a true catastrophe that went wrong from the very beginning but was pushed and shoved to this ultimate conclusion. And for that reason, I find it very interesting.

Examination of this film, which releases nation-wide on Christmas Day, must begin with its first-time director Carl Erik Rinsch.  Before “47 Ronin,” he was known for directing a largely plotless 4-minute sci-fi short film called “The Gift,” as well as a few TV commercials for BMW and Heineken  (I guess he likes robots?). Some of the higher-ups at Universal were apparently very impressed with these, because they saw fit to hand Rinsch a starting budget of $175 million to direct a period piece epic based on one of Japan’s most famous national legends. You can see why he jumped at the offer. If someone offered our videographer Hugh Sullivan $175 million to do a feature after seeing his short films, I expect he would sign on that dotted line, even if said project did involve Keanu Reeves as a samurai.

And so, Rinsch and Co. went to work, intent on adding another stand-out entry to the “white guy inserted into foreign mythos to save the world” sub-genre. But all was not well, and it was quickly clear that things at the London shoot were amiss. Production costs expanded, ballooning up to an estimated $225 million. Numerous delays halted production, leading to reshoots. Even Reeves, the film’s supposed star, was busy during part of its production with his own directorial debut, “Man of Tai Chi.” He eventually was brought back for reshoots to, I kid you not, add him back in to the film’s final action sequence. Apparently he wasn’t a part of it previously? Does that seem concerning?

To say these issues pushed back the movie’s eventual release is an understatement, as it was initially scheduled for December of 2012. In late 2012, Universal clearly voiced its concern when it pulled Rinsch from further work on the film’s editing, putting studio executives in charge who were almost a full hemisphere away from the London shoot.  Go ahead and read the article in that link, and consider that it was posted in September of 2012. You know it’s a bad sign when you can go back 15 months to find an article about all the production problems a movie has been having, and the film still isn’t out.

Of course, none of this would matter if “47 Ronin” was a film that audiences wanted to see, but by now you probably realize where I’m going with this. The movie opened the first week of December in Japan, earning only $1.3 million in its first weekend. It was beaten handily by a film titled “Lupin the 3rd vs. Detective Conan: The Movie,” and I don’t believe I need to make a joke about this. As is, unless it unpredictably becomes a record-breaking smash hit in the United States, “47 Ronin” is likely to end up as an extremely costly bomb for Universal. All in all, it could end up losing even more cash than this summer’s “The Lone Ranger,” especially after you factor in the cost of marketing.

Unsurprisingly, the critical reviews have been scathing as well. My favorite is this 0.5 review from Film.com,  which calls the movie “possibly the second-worst thing to happen to Japan so far this century.”

As that author goes on to point out, it may be that for filmmakers and film fans who are weary of seeing these bloated box-office failures, a catastrophic bomb on behalf of “47 Ronin” might be more positive than negative. The system is in dire need of a change, with studios becoming utterly dependent on “tentpole” features even when none of their films in production deserve such lavish treatment. Studios need to stop assuming they can dump huge amounts of money into a film and have that translate into increased ticket sales. That’s just not how it works, and when a movie like “47 Ronin” needs to make more than $200 million domestically just to break even, it’s a more fantastical scenario than the plot of the film in question.

I may very well go to see “47 Ronin” just to be able to say I was there when it all came crashing down into a heap. I just hope the studio doesn’t take my single irony-laden ticket purchase as a mandate to pump out more of this stuff.

What do you think, sirs?

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(32) Comments

  1. leonides
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    leonides - January 07, 2014 11:17 pm
    Didn't Tom Cruise already make this movie, about a white guy who becomes a leader of Japanese Samurai? Wasn't it called "The Last Samurai?" I didn't believe Tom Cruise as a Samurai, and I sure wouldn't believe Keanu Reeves as one. The premise of this film is ridiculous. I don't to buy a ticket to this film, to know it will be terrible.
  2. The Dwight Knight
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    The Dwight Knight - January 02, 2014 8:42 pm
    The Dwight Knight
  3. The Dwight Knight
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    The Dwight Knight - January 02, 2014 8:41 pm
    I am...
  4. The Dwight Knight
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    The Dwight Knight - January 02, 2014 8:41 pm
    I sat for two hours just to watch 46 people off them selfs. It was less than that if you followed who died. It was a god movie, except, the end could have been way better. Not worth ten bucks. Common folk? I'd say, wait to watch it with a friend on Netflix or something. Not worth over 5 bucks. Also... The first year I heard Keanu Reeves, I thought it was a Japanese anime series.
  5. Whitten1975
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    Whitten1975 - January 01, 2014 8:32 am
    Very helpful comments!
  6. cragon
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    cragon - December 25, 2013 6:45 pm
    I just saw 47 Ronin in 3D and have to say Keanu was in top form. I loved the movie. The story was great and the speacial effects were outstanding. I would highly recomend this movie to anyone wanting to see an action packed movie. I will go and see this movie again, it was that great. It has been sometime sence Keanu Reeves has been in a big production film. His fighting form took me back to the Matrix. I love to see this man handle a sword. Anyone who thinks this movie is a boxoffice failer is out of their freakin' minds.


  7. patbuddha
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    patbuddha - December 25, 2013 5:29 pm
    Here's the next box office disaster: Some studio exec looks at these comments and comes to the conclusion that Conan Gets Lupus is a major cultural touchstone and that a movie costing the GDP of Kazakhstan will make a trillion dollars worldwide. They will have made the same mistake as the backers of 47 Ronin. There's only 115 people outside of Japan who know and care anything about it. Otherwise there's no hook to get anyone else interested and so people stay away.
  8. Zuuhl
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    Zuuhl - December 24, 2013 6:55 pm
    "It has nothing to do with why 47 Ronin won't perform well in American cinemas"

    Huh? The entire theme of your article is that it won't do well in American cinemas because it didn't do well in Japanese cinemas against strong Japanese competition. You even said we should see by now that's where you're "going with this".

    Just save face and admit you goofed on this one.
  9. ProfessorK
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    ProfessorK - December 24, 2013 5:10 pm
    What I think, Sir, is that you need to *see* Heaven's Gate.

    Not the hacked to bits things that was released, but as full a cut as you can find. I saw a 4+ hour cut that was released to video and even that was clearly cut in unfortunate ways.

    It may have been an economic disaster, but it IS also absolutely brilliant and probably the truest to real life western ever made.
  10. TampaKurt
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    TampaKurt - December 24, 2013 5:00 pm
    "A whole nother?" Ugh.
  11. sludge86
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    sludge86 - December 24, 2013 4:25 pm
    Jim, please don't take any of these neckbearded mouth breathers seriously about Lupin, the point still stands: Lupin didn't cost 225 million to make and will probably recoup its losses, unlike 47 Ronin.

    To the weeaboos, I know you think a director is as important as a vanity plate is to a used honda, but the fact that this director did NOTHING to suggest that he is going to be successful in adapting this movie betrays your ignorance.

    The way these defend their hobby and niche interest makes them look naive and out of touch with the majority of people in the Western (and even Eastern) World where 47 Ronin will be released eventually. I enjoy blaxploitation films but would no way be offended if a remake of Shaft was included instead of Lupin. Here's some advice, if you wouldn't spend so much time consuming garbage targeted at middle school to high school children, you might not come off as man children who, after they get off work, change into their diapers and bonnets to turn on their favorite anime or read a manga (that often has underage girls in sexual or perverted poses). Go digest some real art, maybe you'd realize this movie is going to be utter garbage.
  12. TIMNOLA
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    TIMNOLA - December 24, 2013 4:16 pm
    "What do you think, sirs?" Do you know that you have no female readership or do you just not care? Seriously, it is not 1946. Who are you addressing in your last paragraph?

    I was around in 1980 and Heaven's Gate was butchered in the edit. The director's cut is quite good. The studio system has not learned its lessons about budget bloat and this film will not change that. No good will come of its expected failure.

    And how do you NOT research the competition that this film went up against in Japan? If I opened my film against Star Wars VII I wouldn't expect to do much business. Get your act together, sir.
  13. TheMightyX
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    TheMightyX - December 24, 2013 2:00 pm
    Okay, to all the people bashing on him about Lupin III, I don't think he was making a joke at the expense of the anime. I've been a huge anime fan since my early teens, and I am well aware of how cool Lupin is. The POINT, I think, is that no matter how you slice it, "Lupin III vs. Detective Conan" is not exactly a very...well, the TITLE is very odd sounding. If you were to go to a movie based SOLELY on the title, would you be likely to see it, not knowing anything about it? The title doesn't exactly sound very Japanese. I mean, "47 Ronin" vs "Lupin III?" It was just a comparison for humor's sake.
  14. FrozenFirebat
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    FrozenFirebat - December 24, 2013 1:49 pm
    Created an account just to put my 0.02 in. I agree with the opinion of the OP. Anybody who knows the story of the 47 Rōnin, the trailers of this movie would turn their stomach. Here's a brief summery of how the real story goes:

    two young lords get invited to the shogan's palace to learn edicate from some low ranking official. As common to the time, the official expects bribes, which one of them gives and the other does not. The one that does not, is insulted until he can't take anymore and feels he must defend his honor. He attacks the official (conflict being explicitly forbidden in the shogun's palace). While failing to kill the official, he earns the wrath of the shogun; who orders him to commit harikari (kill himself). The young lord's lands are stripped from him, and his retainer is made ronin (masterless). The shogun also forbids any retribution. The official, still fearing for his life, has the retainers watched for years. The retainers make a pact; to disband, bide their time, establish themselves as normal working class people, and wait for a time they can get their revenge (some would argue this goes against the principals of Bushido; and that they should have rushed to defend their master's honor despite their low chance of success). So after a few years, the official grows confident, and stops watching. Some of the ronin even manage to take up jobs in the official's manor and make a layout of the place. The head of the Ronin spent his years as a drunk and gambler; Despised by the common folk because of how far he fell. Eventually they all band back together and plan their assault on the Official's compound. They send messengers to the neighboring manors telling them that they are not bandits and this is revenge for their master. Since most of the neighbors hate the official anyways, nobody would come to his aid. The son of one of the retainers, who had also joined in their cause, gets sent away to be a herald of their actions. The ronin break into the compound, an epic fight culminates in the capture and killing of the official. But because they broke the Shogun's orders, after the incident, they were all commanded to commit Harikari themselves. However, the lord's family had regained their honor in the act, and were given back their lands.
  15. Bad_Critic_Is_Bad
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    Bad_Critic_Is_Bad - December 24, 2013 1:48 pm
    Author sees funny looking title "Lupin the 3rd vs. Detective Conan", assumes it's a silly movie, makes snide derogatory comment pointing out "47 Ronin" couldn't even beat it. Anyone familiar with Japanese pop culture would know that the Lupin vs Det. Conan movie is a huge deal. The author was completely oblivious to this fact. He then goes on to defend himself by saying he knows nothing about anime when it isn't really a lack of anime knowledge that's the problem but a lack of research. I suppose taking 10 seconds to google the movie before making assumptions would be asking too much.
  16. 大きな大砲
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    大きな大砲 - December 24, 2013 1:44 pm
    I came here to point out how utterly ignorant your comment about a Lupin the 3rd movie is but everyone else got you pretty good.

    I'll just add that the the #1 movie (the movie you joked on) only made 6 million.

    Turns out making 1 million in a weekend in Japan isn't that bad.
  17. shoeeee
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    shoeeee - December 24, 2013 1:29 pm
    I mean really five seconds on google or any search engine would have told him that. Not taking even a little amount of time to search in one of those characters names is just sloppy and shows he has no busy writing articles like this if he can't do the work that even a half decent journalist would know to do.
  18. disappointingpost
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    disappointingpost - December 24, 2013 1:17 pm
    I thought it was kinda common knowledge Keanu Reeves' character was not originally the main character, seems kinda relevant to me. Also I heard the guy that recut the movie did such a crappy job he won't put his name on it, wasn't from any where with proof, and I'm not going to go search for it, Just something interesting to take into consideration. Also, the Lupin comment is just straight ignorance, I'm curious if you wrote it off as not being a formidable box office competiter because its a mash of two seperate successful franchises, the long silly name, or did you really try to slam something that you just are completely ignorant of just because it isn't in your normal realm of awareness?

    I'm sure the movie won't be good, they never are when a studio butchers something just to get the big name more screen time.
  19. Bandalite
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    Bandalite - December 24, 2013 1:00 pm
    It's funny that you think the movie studio cares why you purchased your ticket. It doesn't matter whether your purchase was "irony-laden" or not. All they will see is profit. If you don't want sh*t like this to be made, don't pay money for it.

    I'm glad these other comments didn't let you off the hook for the Lupin III/Conan jab. That was just sloppy.
  20. jvorel Staff
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    jvorel - December 24, 2013 12:50 pm
    Completely true, I clearly don't know my anime. It has nothing to do with why 47 Ronin won't perform well in American cinemas, but you're correct.
  21. NicoTn
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    NicoTn - December 24, 2013 12:33 pm
    And you failed to properly research on the movie it was up against. Because if you did some research you would realize why it didn't do well in japan.
  22. Tsphinx
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    Tsphinx - December 24, 2013 12:27 pm
    I have no doubt that "47 Ronin" isn't going to be much more than a stereotypical popcorn action-flick, but the way you compare it to the Lupin III/Detective Conan movie irks me a little bit. I can't help but read it as a sort of ridicule, when the reality of the situation is that both "Lupin III" and "Detective Conan" are anime/manga series that have enjoyed immense popularity in Japan for decade(s). That particular mash-up movie outselling "47 Ronin" in Japan of all places can hardly be considered a surprise.

    I'm fairly certain that Steven Spielberg (among others) has cited "Lupin III: Castle of Cagliostro" as on the major inspirations for his films and I am certain that the Japanese government utilized Detective Conan to spread situational awareness to children in Japan due to it's high sales and overall popularity.

    TL;DR

    You're probably right about your assumptions regarding "47 Ronin", but I think giving it slack for being outdone by big name franchises (in Japan) such as Lupin III and Detective Conan is a bit rough.



  23. J Shetler
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    J Shetler - December 24, 2013 12:24 pm
    Real nice research there buddy.

    Lupin the Third is one of the most iconic characters in both Japanese manga and anime, and has been for near 50 years. If that wasn't enough, Detective Conan is wildly popular in it's own right, and has been running in both manga and anime form for nearly 20 years.


  24. jvorel Staff
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    jvorel - December 24, 2013 12:18 pm
    This is not a review. At no point did I claim to have seen the movie. All I did was write about the film's troubled production history and provide links to reviews from people who HAVE seen the movie. I simply reported the facts that are there for anyone to see.
  25. PeripheryCLEAR
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    PeripheryCLEAR - December 24, 2013 12:14 pm
    LUPIN THE THIRD V DETECTIVE CONAN HOLY MONKEYBALLS MY CHILDHOOD IS EXCITED! And yes, no need to make a joke there, as you must have been living under a rock. That's basically their BATMAN VS DR WHO. For a journalist, you didn't do all the research.
  26. jvorel Staff
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    jvorel - December 24, 2013 12:06 pm
    JJ: First of all, this is a blog post and not an article. It's supposed to be simple opinion, and that's what it is.

    Said information is indeed cited via links. Likewise, I linked to reviews of people who HAVE seen the movie because, as you said, I haven't seen it yet. That's why this piece is not a review. I simply thought it was very interesting to see all the production issues this particular film has had, coupled with the poor reviews and bad box office in Japan. And so, I gathered all of the pertinent information together here in one place.
  27. Scratchbird
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    Scratchbird - December 24, 2013 11:59 am
    Remember when people would see a movie before reviewing it? What a douche...
  28. jjbeans
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    jjbeans - December 24, 2013 11:51 am
    How completely unprofessional is this article? You haven't even seen the movie and yet you are lambasting every aspect of it. This type of editorial oversight is why journalism and journalistic integrity have gone by the wayside. Probably also needs mentioning that you've cited ZERO sources for how you know all this information, and why do you keep quoting what other people have to say about the movie? Your readership is supposedly interested in what YOU have to say, not what Film.com has to say.

    Your editor should be sacked.
  29. zen davis
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    zen davis - December 24, 2013 11:50 am
    There's a Lupin the 3rd vs. Detective Conan: The Movie! Holy dung! Thanks for bringing it up! I'm hyped!
  30. Toki
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    Toki - December 24, 2013 11:26 am
    If you knew anything about Japan you would know "Lupin the 3rd vs. Detective Conan: The Movie" would be the US equivalent of Batman vs Superman. No movie would stand a chance at the box office going against that movie.
  31. jdl0218
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    jdl0218 - December 24, 2013 11:14 am
    Well, Joel, it's obvious you and the Bots have not suffered enough so you will see this movie in a double-bill with Kangaroo Jack, the Director's Cut.
  32. rowsdowerdeep13
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    rowsdowerdeep13 - December 24, 2013 10:51 am
    It's Michael Cimino, not Crimino.
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