Posted on Thursday, February 26th, 2015 by Peter Sciretta
This week, we’ve been running portions of our extensive interview with screenwriter Gary Whitta (Book of Eli, After Earth) as a five-part feature we’re calling “/Film’s Week Of Whitta.” Promoting the pre-order of his first novel, Abomination, Whitta talked to us not only about his career thus far, but the future and unproduced projects that haven’t happened.
Today in the fourth part, Gary Whitta talks about the projects he’s worked on that have not made it to the big screen, which include the American live-action Akira movie, an Escape From New York reboot, a big screen adaptation of Blizzard’s popular MMORPG video game World of Warcraft. I also ask Whitta about the rumors that he may be working with Blizzard on a a Diablo or Starcraft project. I always love hearing about the movies that could have been, so for me this segment might be the most interesting. Read the Gary Whitta unproduced projects interview after the jump.
Interview Part 4: Gary Whitta Unproduced Projects
Note: The following interview has been split up into five parts. Some questions are being presented out of chronological order so that each post tackles a thematic topic.
If you missed our previous installments, here is what Gary Whitta talked about:
- Monday: The past, present and future of Star Wars.
- Tuesday: His journey from video game journalist to screenwriter and the post-apocalyptic Oliver Twist script that got him into the business .
- Wednesday: His biggest produced film projects, Book of Eli and After Earth, as well as his upcoming novel Abomination.
You worked on early versions of a bunch of big film projects, so let’s talk about those. You were hired to help write a westernized version of Akira. How do you even approach that knowing that whatever you do is bound to be criticized by fans?
Well I went into it because I was – and remain – such a fan of both the original manga and the anime. I would not have taken the job on if I didn’t think there was a way to handle the original material respectfully and to do it some kind of justice. I personally reject the argument that AKIRA is necessarily a Japanese story and that it’s somehow sacrilegious to set a new adaptation of it anywhere else. I think many of the themes in that story are ones that speak to the human condition and are therefore relevant anywhere in the world – if that weren’t true the original versions would never have been a hit outside of Japan. Having said that, both myself and the director at the time, Ruairi Robinson, approached our version with a lot of appreciation for the story’s cultural origins and we wanted to be respectful of that. The one thing that had been communicated to us from Katsuhiro Otomo (we never spoke with him directly) was basically to not be afraid to change things, that he wanted to see an original and different interpretation, not just a straight-up remake.
I think we hit upon an idea that would have allowed the story to play to global audiences while staying faithful to its Japanese roots. The idea was basically that in the future Japan had been forced to deal with an economic and population boom by essentially purchasing an abandoned Manhattan island in a massive land deal from the American government, which itself had been driven close to economic ruin by the destruction of the city of Manhattan in the original Akira incident. So what had once been Manhattan became Japanese sovereign territory as New Tokyo, with ten million Japanese living there; it just happened to be located on the east coast of the United States. I thought it was an interesting way to fuse eastern and western cultures in the movie, and allow a mix of actors from both, rather than just “white-washing” the film, which is what I think a lot of people were anticipating. Having said that the project has gone through several writers and directors since Ruairi and I left and I have no idea what approach they’re taking now, or if it’s even still in active development.
How was your version of Akira going to be different from the source material?
Aside from what we did to try to fuse the eastern and western worlds with the setting, the original plan was that the movie be split into two parts. This was back in 2007, long before the current trend of splitting movies up into multiple chapters. It’s important to remember that we were not adapting the animated film that most people know and which is only a small part of the overall AKIRA story, but Otomo’s original manga, which runs to six very fat graphic novels. It’s a huge amount of material that goes way beyond what you see in the anime, and we wanted to tell that larger story, but the only way to do it was with two films – or three, I suspect, if the first one had been a big hit. The script I wrote took you up to the destruction of New Tokyo and the rebirth of Akira, and the rest of the story that plays out after that in the manga would have been told in the subsequent films.
You were also hired to work on the Escape From New York remake. Under what circumstances did you come on board?
Well I wasn’t hired as such since nobody paid me, but I was attached to it for a while when it was at Silver Pictures and I did a ton of work on it. Basically I heard that they were doing a remake and while I’m usually very cynical about remakes I thought there was a rare opportunity with Escape From New York to do a new version that could be faithful to the original and capture everything that people loved about it while still updating it in a way that would introduce it to a new audience. I usually turn down these sort of jobs but Escape From New York holds a special place in my heart from when I first saw it as a kid and I would not have taken a stab at it if I didn’t think there was a way to do it without pissing off all the other fans of the original.
What was your pitch on Escape from New York? How was it different than the original?
The original plan, which came from within Silver Pictures, was to do it as a trilogy with the first film covering, to some extent, the origin stories of Pliskken and The Duke and how Manhattan came to be turned into a maximum security prison. You would have seen the fall of New York and its rise from the ashes as a prison, and how Snake and The Duke were tied into all that. It was pretty fun but once we had the outline of the story we took a step back and realized that it felt more like an appetizer when really we just wanted to get straight to the entree. So the prequel idea went away and was replaced by doing a more straight-up remake. We kept some of the elements of how Manhattan Island became the prison though, we got to do some really fun world-building there. I particularly liked what we did with The Duke, where he was re-imagined less as the kind of flamboyant dictator you saw Isaac Hayes play in the original, and much more of a quiet, brooding intellectual, a former college professor who had become a kind of revolutionary libertarian terrorist. I always imagined Bryan Cranston playing him.
They are now remaking Escape From New York with Carpenter as a producer, so is your work on the project being completely thrown out?
I think so? The work I did was when it was at Silver Pictures, and now that it’s in the hands of a different production company there are chain-of-title type issues that make it impossible to use any of my stuff without inviting legal problems.