47 Ronin Blu-ray Review
The movie business is not exactly populated with a wealth of truly original thinkers. And that’s ok, weather a screenplay is adapted from a book, play, television show, true story or even another film, nobody cares as long as the end result is something worth watching. A completely original, high-quality screenplay is always a coveted prize for a studio, but established stories that already have a following come with a built-in audience, which in turn can loosen up a studio’s grip on its bankroll. 47 RONIN centers around a tale that has circulated for more than 300 years, and until now has been an untapped resource for American cinema. Unlike a comic book or novel written in the last 50 years or so, there is much more leeway allotted for creative liberties on a story of this age since it has already been rehashed and modified throughout the centuries and countless translations of languages. Keanu Reeves, star of one of the most original film series of all time with THE MATRIX TRILOGY, returns to his “Neo” form to infuse a western take on what is referred to as the quintessential example of the samurai code of honor.
The samurai keep the peace throughout an 18th century Japan that is shrouded in mystery and home to magical beasts and beings. One day the samurai come across a young “half-breed” (half Japanese, half British) boy who has just escaped from what might be demons. The lord of the samurai decides to take in the boy, who he thinks may be special. As the years pass, the half-breed named Kai (Keanu Reeves, THE MATRIX) is clothed and fed but never respected by any of the samurai he grew up with. When a rival clan frames the samurai’s lord for crimes that sentence him to death, the samurai become “ronin,” a warrior that is disgraced and stripped of their honor. The samurai now need Kai and his abilities to exact revenge on the clan and restore their honor.
The best assessment of what first-time feature film director Carl Rinsch was trying to achieve with 47 RONIN was some kind of synthesis between a grounded historical take on old-world Japan, a la THE LAST SAMURAI (2003), and a fantasy laced type of heighted reality like 300 (2006). Rinsch did not exactly hit the mark with his directorial debut, displaying his inexperience with a rocky pace and scenes that either take too long to develop or are not fleshed out enough. To his credit though, he may have come close to maximizing what was obviously a sub-par screenplay that heavily relied on the novelty of the tale of the “47 ronin” instead of enhancing it with layered characters and intriguing plot points. The editing of this film is also cause for major scrutiny. Many of the scenes end abruptly, including integral action sequences during the climax of the film.
Probably the most disappointing facet of the film is the overall weak quality of the fight scenes. Keanu Reeves in his first big-budget, martial arts film since THE MATRIX TRILOGY ended in 2003, is definitely a primary source of motivation for viewers to check it out. It is not unfair to expect 47 RONIN to top, equal or at least approach the now iconic kung fu sequences from a film that is now 15 years old. Reeves had a small handful of innovative maneuvers as Kai, but nowhere in the film is the audience treated to anything resembling sequences from THE MATRIX or current inspirations in the genre like THE RAID: REDEMPTION (2011).
The bitterest bill 47 RONIN forces you to swallow is that this legendary story will now be discarded as a “failure” until another studio decides to take a chance with a better script and a more experienced director. Although, what will be hard to improve upon is the set and costume design work. Massive and elaborate sets were built for this film, minimizing the use of CGI so that the powerful and artistic backgrounds that were generated by computer meshed in seamlessly. But unlike a film such as PACIFIC RIM, looks alone are not nearly enough to overcome what will surely be a “ronin”-like status amongst its viewers.
47 RONIN BLU-RAY REVIEW
Video: 1080p/AVC MPEG-4, 2.40:1 Widescreen: Not exactly reaching a “demo disk” status, but the look of 47 RONIN is definitely the best thing the film has going for it. Colors are deep and rich, detail is crisp without noise and skin tones are not influenced by the strong surrounding palette.
Audio: English DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1: The audio track matches the films visual quality with a very impressive mix. Action sequences are given the royal treatment with just about every possible sound being represented within the illustration. Especially noteworthy is the detail of effects that are taken for granted like raindrops or leaves being crushed.
Deleted Scenes (8 min): There are 4 deleted scenes in this feature, none really worth the effort of hitting “enter” on your remote. They do not give any more insight into the characters or reveal anything that would expand on any of the plot points.
Re-Forging the Legend (7 min): This feature goes through the original details of the “47 Ronin” storyline and elaborates on how it was “Americanized” for a US audience. This one is interesting if you’re still curious about the original story after you’ve watched the film.
Keanu & Kai (4 min): Reeves gives some background on his character in the film, but more importantly the rest of the cast gets the opportunity to convey on what a perfectionist Reeves is and the incredible work ethic he brings to the set.
Steel Fury: The Fights of ’47 Ronin’ (6 min): Even though the fight sequences were nothing anyone will remember 10 years from now, this is an interesting feature to see how Reeves was choreographed with a much larger opponent.
Myths, Magic & Monsters (7.5 min): This feature shows off the most impressive aspect of the film, the way in which very detailed and elaborate sets were built and used in conjunction with CGI that only enhanced the craftsmanship of the real-life pieces.