First ’47 Ronin’ trailer promises gorgeous scenery, Keanu swordfights and CGI beasts

When I moderated Universal’s Comic-Con panel this year, we covered two films. “Kick-Ass 2” and “Riddick” were perfect fits for that crowd, and I can tell you that we didn’t have a spare minute up on that stage. Just giving those two films their time was frantic, so there wasn’t room for Universal to bring and showcase anything else in that hour.

If there was any other film I would have been interested in having up there, it would have been “47 Ronin.” This is, by most published accounts so far, a deeply troubled movie. This was supposed to be in theaters in November of 2012, but instead, that’s right around the time Universal took the film away from director Carl Erik Rinsch. Some people are reporting the film’s budget as high as $225 million, with Universal officially stating it’s $175 million, which is still GIGANTIC.

If you’re Carl Rinsch and someone gives you $175 million to make a movie, I think your goal has to be to absolutely knock it out of the park. Rinsch came out of the world of commercials, and I’m not sure everyone understands just how big the money is in commercial production. I remember one commercial set I was on that involved a truck, a huge spinning rig that was flipping the truck around and around and end over end with not one but two robot arm camera rigs moving around the whole thing. That commercial ended up costing right around $1.5 million per second. That’s unreal. It looked amazing, but for $1.5 million per second, it had better look amazing, right?

So I’m not surprised that RInsch seems to have made an aesthetically interesting movie, something that looks beautiful. I watched this trailer three times, and it is loaded with eye candy. But some of the dialogue here lands flat, and it worries me that these are the best moments they have to show, the beats they’re selling to get us into the theater.

This is an amazing story. I was somewhat obsessed with the idea of adapting the original Japanese novel, and I’ve seen the 1941 version many times. It’s a very simple story, but filled with rich characters and huge emotions. Lord Asano is one of the few honest men in the court of the Shogun, and when he angers the wrong person, he is cornered into committing ritual suicide, leaving the 47 samurai who served him suddenly adrift and looking for revenge. Wow. I love the simplicity of that, and I think you can tell and retell that story dozens of different ways.

I’m not entirely sure I understand what this version is doing with CGI monsters. Like “The Wolverine,” this is a mostly Japanese cast with a white Western lead, in this case Keanu Reeves. Hiroyuki Sanada, who has a major role in “The Wolverine,” is a major part of this film, too, joining cast members like Rinko Kikuchi, Cary-Hiroyuki Tagawa, Tadanobu Asano, and Ko Shibasaki, and I can’t really tell if they’re doing the story, if they’re adding lots of other things to it, or if they’re just using the title. This sells the images, but not the ideas.

Check it out:

At this point, it’s encouraging to finally see footage, because that means Universal is still going to make their push for this one. I just hope that this turns out to be a case where all the behind the scenes friction results in something special onscreen.

“47 Ronin” opens in theaters December , 2013.