It was announced last week that Warner Bros.’ Diane Nelson will step in as the head of the newly formed DC Entertainment, overseeing the DC brand for the media giant. Consequently, several DC Comics properties slated for film development have been put on hold as Warner Bros. firms its grip on the heroes and villains of DC’s long publishing history. However, it appears that not all projects are quite on a full stop yet, as plans for a big-screen adaptation of Frank Miller’s “Ronin” continue unabated.
“It’s still being developed. I just got a new draft a week ago. It’s looking really good and promising. I hope it gets to go,” director Sylvain White told CBR News.
After helming the dance hit “Stomp The Yard,” Whte is currently at work bringing Andy Diggle and Jock’s Vertigo series “The Losers” to life with a cast including Jeffrey Dean Morgan and Chris Evans.
“Ronin,” the graphic novel Miller created at DC after his legendary stint on Marvel’s “Daredevil,” tells the story of a masterless samurai reincarnated in the hard sci-fi world of a future New York City. Mixing manga influences, cyberpunk stylings, heady philosophical themes and Miller’s signature brand of rough-hewn art, the book has long been in development as a film. Once under the purview of director Darren Aronofsky, things picked up for a “Ronin” film after White became attached in 2007. And while the director wants to remain true to the original story, he said that a project like “Ronin” would only be hurt by attempting to film it panel-for-panel, as Miller adaptations like “Sin City” and “300” were done.
“The fortunate thing is that ‘Ronin’ is some Frank’s earlier work,” said White. “What’s great and what for me works in the graphic novel, aesthetically-speaking, is the design of [the city of] Aquarius, the design of New York. So I would pay homage to him more in the production design versus the actual frames. The frames in ‘Ronin’ are some beautiful frames, and some I would go with, but what’s beautiful to me about ‘Ronin’ is the production design and the character design and the colors that are used. You can frame things with much more depth and beauty on film than you can in a graphic novel. Replicating frames, that’s a different language. You want to always stay true to the graphic novel, but you’re watching a different medium. You never want to remind the audience that they’re watching a graphic novel or [something from] a graphic novel source. You just want [audiences] to watch a great movie. And if they know it’s based on a graphic novel, awesome. And if you make the fans happy because you paid good tribute to the source material, awesome. I don’t think you make fans happy by just replicating frames. What they want to see is that you stayed true to the story, true to the characters and true to the design.”
One way “Ronin” will stay very close to its source material is in size, as White’s hopes for the project include making a massive summer tent poll affair with the special effects razzle dazzle and cross-media marketing to back that up. “It’s a big-budget, big blockbuster take on it. I’d love to do it in 3D. I think it’d be ridiculous and amazing,” he said. “That’s an additional budget issue, but it’s the kind of movie that would be great. I think it’d make a brilliant video game as well -Â something along the lines of ‘Assassin’s Creed’ but from a first-person perspective.”
While fans may not immediately associate White’s name with comics, the director grew up reading graphic fiction outside the American superhero realm, which he said gives him a unique feel for how material like “Ronin” can work. White also has opinions on other comic book adaptations on the pipeline, such as Stephen Spielberg and Peter Jackson’s upcoming motion capture take on Tintin. “We’ll see about Tintin. ‘Tintin’s’ a very difficult comic to adapt, tonally, to the screen. It’s the first graphic novel I grew up reading. I’m French, so as soon as I could read I had a ‘Tintin’ in my hand. I love those. I don’t know how they’re going to be able to transfer the tone. It’s very tricky. In terms of the approach, who knows? Every film is different.”
With “Ronin,” White sees strength in the material that has wide appeal despite the recent shine taken off of Frank Miller after his version of “The Spirit” bombed in theaters. “I think it’s just a great property and a great concept. It’s got so many ideas in it in terms of commentary and philosophy,” White said. “Frank Miller is a genius when it comes to that. It took so long because the source material is so complex. It’s very difficult, and it’s not linear, and it doesn’t really fit into a film format off the bat.
“But I think with ‘Ronin’ we need a little bit of streamlining, otherwise it’s too esoteric. You need a little bit of streamlining, but the story and the characters, if I get to do that movie, will all be there. I’m the guy who wants to respect the authors and the source material as a fan of graphic novels who grew up reading them whether it be in Europe or [in the U.S.] It’s something that needs to be done right, and it hasn’t really been done right.”
Some readers may remember that White was previously tapped to direct the big screen version of video game classic “Castlevania,” though he said that his most recent project meant he could not continue with that film as its rights became tied up. “‘Castlevania’ is a project that I developed for a couple of years at Universal. We got to a really good point, then the division of Universal folded, and I jumped on this movie. Now it’s set up somewhere else, and I believe that someone else got attached,” White explained. “It’s one of my favorite video games and I’m a huge video game player. I played that game for 25 years and I loved developing it [as a film]. I almost feel like I’ve already shot it because I was so into it for a while. I think it’ll be a great movie if they do it right.”
As for the idea that doing back-to-back graphic novel adaptations in “The Losers” and “Ronin” would be seen as a negative for a young director’s career, White explained, “Well, you always worry about being pin-holed. I haven’t been yet. You always worry about that, no matter which genre you do. Luckily for me so far, every time I’ve done a movie it’s been a completely different genre. If I went to ‘Ronin,’ it would be a very different genre from [‘The Losers’] even though the source material is still a graphic novel. You’re going from a gritty action film to a sci-f from a fun, light contemporary action film to a very dark, futuristic sci-fi film, so I’m not worried.”