While grousing elsewhere about the Akira live-action adaptation — which now mercifully seems to be off the table — I used the term "insider's hubris". This was a phrase I coined a while back to describe the kind of disconnect that exists in Hollywood between the executives and the actual audiences.
Insider's hubris is something you see whenever an executive second-guesses what audiences actually want to see. The way I put it in the above piece was this:
There are just enough geeky people in Hollywood in both positions of power and with enough money in their pockets to greenlight some form of an "Akira" movie — and that's exactly the problem. That money would be better spent on a film that stands a chance of reaching a major audience without needing to be mutilated beyond recognition.
But after thinking about it for a minute, I realized the real problem isn't audiences. It's, again, the distribution platforms, because those are the real customers for all this product — the theater chains, Best Buys and NetFlixes of the world. They're the ones who put the money most directly back into the producer's pockets for their creations. They're the ones who do the most guessing about whether or not it'll be possible to sell $60 million or $120 million of tickets / DVDs / licenses for something like Akira.
Maybe Warner Brothers didn't think the project could be made at that cost because there were no third-party merchandising opportunities in it — no drink glasses, no toys or other tie-ins — and so cut it down to something they were prepared to risk out of pocket for it.
The opposite of this kind of hubris is not cowardice, I hope — the same cowardice that causes projects like At the Mountains of Madness to be canned before they even begin to shape up, or that forces a $50 million project to be shaved down to $35 million or $20 million.
One of the things David Fincher has said is that if you have a project that must be made at a certain price, you find a way to make it at that price or you don't make it; otherwise, the result is such a degree of compromise and pain that you might as well never have started.
The scurrying away from anything that reeks of real risk is a mixed blessing. On the one hand, it means that many less Golden Turkey-level flop-busters which have no reason to exist at all (Who here remembers Ishtar?). But it also means that many less shoot-for-the-moon projects unless you have assurance at every level that the project will not tank. Fox was able to spend something like half a billion dollars for Avatar because they had multiple guarantees the project wasn't going to crater on them: a veteran, technically sophisticated director; a gimmicky new in-theater technology; a dependable storyline; and so on.
With Akira all but dead in the water, I say take the same money and the same director, and go make a project in the same ilk that can be contained in that budget: Claymore, perhaps, or the live-action Vampire Hunter D that we've all been waiting for. Surely there's $65 million worth of both movie and tickets to be produced there.
Now that I think about it, there's yet another project in the same vein well worth doing for that kind of money: Black Lagoon. If they can throw money at something like The Expendables, which is essentially the same class of film, why not this — which is arguably the better story of the two?