Damn you, Warner Bros. You had to twiddle your thumbs and wait for all the right pieces of the puzzle that is Akira to fall into place on its own, and now that hesitation has caused Albert Hughes to walk away from the project. That’s right, folks: Akira is now without a director or star, and it seems very unlikely that this ambitious film will ever get made.
Deadline just broke the news that Hughes, who recently made The Book of Eli at the studio with his partner/brother Allen, has departed the adaptation of Katsuhiro Otomo’s seminal graphic novel and will move on to pursue other gigs at WB. It’s just one of many problems that the film has faced on its way to a start date, though the most troubling issue thus far has been casting the teenage characters at the center of the sci-fi tale. Originally the studio wanted young up-and-comers, and was considering everyone from Zac Efron and Joseph Gordon-Levitt to Justin Timberlake and Andrew Garfield for the roles of Tetsuo and Kaneda, but after a change of heart (and a ballooning production budget) decided the film would require an ultimate A-lister. Brad Pitt and Keanu Reeves were offered roles but smartly turned them down, as the characters are teens and both of the actors are pushing 50.
All these game-changing plans must’ve been awfully frustrating for Hughes to deal with, so it’s no surprise that he’s dropped the film. WB will now seek out another director to fill the void, but I’ve got plenty of reservations about the project moving forward. As my colleague Peter Hall put it, with Akira you either go big or go home. If the company is balking over the high price tag, it should just cut its losses and move on. Sure, Akira COULD be an enchanting, philosophical science fiction epic for the ages, but it needs to be treated with utmost respect. You can’t cut corners on a movie like this. Whoever steps in to Hughes’ shoes needs the full support of the studio, and unless Warner’s are ready to give a filmmaker whatever he/she needs to make this happen, I’d rather just watch the anime over and over again.