BLU-RAY REVIEW: 47 Ronin
Keanu Reeves Leads Masterless Samurai In This New Fantasy Epic...
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- Jess C. Horsley
Keanu Reeves' heyday may have been some 15 years back when he starred in the highly successful sci-fi trilogy The Matrix. From 1999 to 2003, Reeves was an action star as Neo, the savior of mankind in a film series that today still resonates with brilliance. And while Reeves has never again reached that level of success, it's not for a lack of trying. Reeves starred in 2005's comic book-based Constantine as the film's titular character, he brilliantly brought to life Detective Tom Ludlow in 2008's Street Kings, he became the alien Klaatu in 2008's remake of the sci-fi cult classic The Day the Earth Stood Still and he just recently starred as the half-blood warrior Kai in Universal Studio's retelling of the classic Japanese tale 47 Ronin.
Loosely - very loosely - based on the 18th century Japanese legend of 47 masterless samurai who sought revenge on an enemy feudal lord whose actions caused their chief to commit seppuku (ritual suicide), the original tale features a deep historical significance in Japan. Thus, casting Reeves as the "half-blood" (aka: white guy) Kai, a character *not* originally included in the story, may have been a bit of a stretch from the start. That said, just because the movie isn't exactly what some thought it'd be doesn't mean it's not an enjoyable and entertaining experience.
As previously mentioned, 47 Ronin is based on the 18th century tale of a group of ronin (masterless samurai) who, upon the death of their feudal lord, refuse to commit seppuku and instead lived dishonorably as peasants until, upon the fulfillment of their planning, found vengeance by killing the man responsible for their master's death. In Japan, the story sets a near-perfect example for what dedication, commitment, loyalty and honor look like. So much so that the tale of the 47 Ronin today is considered a "national legend." Thus, with such precious story to be told, it's maybe somewhat of a surprise Universal would place it into the hands of the untested, first-time feature film director Carl Rinch. It's rumored Rinch wanted to keep 47 Ronin a drama, based on relationship and character while the studio wanted the film to be a fantasy action film. And, while there's plenty of each, the film never seems to fully develop as either a period drama nor an action thriller; instead coming to life as a somewhat awkwardly navigated 2-hour hybrid of each.
Much of the film is newly conceived by screenwriters Chris Morgan and Hossein Amini and story developers Chris Morgan and Walter Hamada and, while this isn't necessarily a bad thing, it doesn't do anything for those die-hard Japanese history buffs who were looking forward to an accurate retelling of the timeless classic. That said, as a fan of fantasy, I thoroughly enjoyed the fantastical elements of 47 Ronin, so much so in fact I thought there should have been more. The film could have expanded the role of the shape-shifting sorceress and the soulless samurai, not to mention one of the film's best scenes in which Kai helps hunt a rabid wild creature at the film's start.
Aside from the sometimes challenging mix between drama and action fantasy, the film does a great job of being what it's meant to be thanks in no small part to the characters, who do a solid job of playing warriors hellbent on seeking the death and destruction of their lord's enemy. Maybe more impressive than Reeves in the lead is co-star Hiroyuki Sanada as Ôishi, the default leader of the faction who seeks guidance from Kai as their plan for vengeance comes to fruition. Both men must seek resolution as they fight for the same thing in different ways. Overall, the film delivers an enjoyable 2-hours worth of fun, fantasy and swordplay.
Both audio and video are beautifully accomplished on blu-ray with the natural outdoor setting and drab castles providing an awesome contrast to one another. Likewise, the impressive CGI animation provides an exciting look at creatures that might have been. Darks are deep and frightening, colors are bold and bright and all are tight and smooth throughout. The DTS-HD 5.1 Master Audio provides a powerful and engaging experience. Dialogue is clear always while surround effects - including sailing arrows, burning fires and screaming warriors - provide an complete atmosphere for the film.
As for special features, the blu-ray provides a few worth mentioning, including four short featurettes highlighting different aspects of the film. The 7-minute "Re-Forging the Legend" highlights star Reeves and director Rinsch discussing the film's production; the 4-minute "Keanu & Kai," which focuses on Keanu as Kai; the 6-minute "Steel Fury," which focuses on the film's swordplay and the 8-minute "Myths, Magic & Monsters," which examines the film's fantasy creatures. beasts and behemoths of the film.four deleted scenes.
47 Ronin was a bit of a failure at the box office but that shouldn't dissuade fans of fantasy and samurai films from giving it a watch. In fact, while the movie might have seemed almost plagued from the start - a novice director, an aging star, numerous rewrites and a bouncing release date - 47 Ronin is still some of the most fun I've had at the movies this year. Its story is exciting, its action is dynamic, its CGI is beautiful and its designs are gorgeous throughout. While some might wish for what might have been, I would encourage all to enjoy what we've got.
Fans of fantasy and Japanese lore as well as swordplay and anime won't want to miss 47 Ronin, available now on 3D Blu-ray, Blu-ray, DVD and Digital HD wherever fine home video is sold.
- Jess C. Horsley
Last edited by JeffSaylor; 04-15-2014 at 07:50 AM.