Studio execs want another rewrite of sci-fi epic

At a time when blockbuster budgets are facing extra scrutiny, Warner Bros. has halted pre-production on its live-action “Akira” remake, which Jaume Collet-Serra is set to direct.

Studio confirmed Thursday that it shut down the project’s Vancouver offices as the creative team reworks the story.

Though it was reported that WB wanted to whittle down the $90 million budget — cut once already from the $130 million-$150 million range — insiders tell Variety that execs want fixes on the sci-fi script that’s already gone through rewrites from Steve Kloves and David James Kelly.

Delays for major titles are nothing unusual: “The Hobbit” will have taken nearly a decade by the time the first pic unspools in December. In recent months, budget issues were largely responsible for hobbled production starts (“The Lone Ranger” at Disney) or projects being shelved outright (“The Dark Tower” series and “At the Mountains of Madness” at Universal).

And though creative concerns alone are icing “Akira,” Warner Bros. projects haven’t been immune to the belt-tightening mentality spurred by the dual problems of declining theater attendance and downward DVD revenue. To wit:

•Steven Soderbergh ankled from directing spy pic “The Man From U.N.C.L.E.” in November after the director and the studio disagreed over budget issues.

•”Arthur and Lancelot,” given a March 15, 2013, release date, is on hold while the studio pares down David Dobkin’s $135 million budget to $110 million.

•”Paradise Lost,” a retelling of John Milton’s epic Lucifer tale financed by Legendary, will miss its January start date over budget issues.

Warner execs declined to comment, though Time Warner chief financial officer John Martin noted at a Citigroup conference Thursday in San Francisco that the company is bullish about WB’s 2012 lineup — “as good as you can at the start of the year about any film slate,” he said, singling out “The Dark Knight Rises” and “The Hobbit.” But he also said the overall DVD market looks weaker in the fourth quarter than the third, which is likely driving decisionmaking.

Warners remains aggressive in acquiring new material, and its slate for the next two years looks formidable. Besides the two “Hobbit” films, it has the most anticipated title of the year in “The Dark Knight Rises” and next year’s Superman revamp “Man of Steel.” And WB has nearly three dozen producing deals, far more than any other studio, and output pacts with a trio of reliable suppliers in Legendary, Alcon and Village Roadshow.

As for “Akira,” which has only “Tron: Legacy” star Garrett Hedlund locked, the studio is by no means pulling the plug. Insiders said a new writer will probably be brought on over the next two weeks to focus on character elements and particularly on the pic’s look. While no one’s yet been offered the job, studio is said to be eyeing Jonah Nolan (“The Dark Knight,” “The Dark Knight Rises”) and Michael Green (“Green Lantern”).

WB prexy Jeff Robinov met with the “Akira” team to discuss several issues, including who would land the second lead opposite Hedlund. Choices had been narrowed down to Michael Pitt and Dane DeHaan, but the studio wanted to wait until after the holidays to decide. Now that decision will be delayed further.

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