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Wednesday, April 9, 2014

47 Ronin Blu-ray Review

Reviewed by Jami Ferguson
Keanu Reeves (The Matrix trilogy, The Day The Earth Stood Still) stars in a reimagining of one of Japan’s timeless tales, 47 Ronin, available on Blu-ray™ 3D and Blu-ray Combo Packs, DVD, DIGITAL HD including UltraViolet and On Demand on April 1, 2014, from Universal Studios Home Entertainment.­­­ Based on an epic story, this extraordinary tale of inspiring courage has its origins in the early 18th century. After a treacherous warlord kills their master and banishes their kind, 47 leaderless samurai vow to seek vengeance and reclaim their honor. Transformed into a thrilling, visually stunning 3D film by director Carl Rinsch, 47 Ronin tells the story of a small group of warriors, or ronin, on a quest to avenge the death of their master. Battling across a savage world of mythical beasts, shape-shifting witches and wondrous terrors, the ronin must seek help from kai (Reeves), an enslaved half-breed they once rejected – in their ultimate fight for redemption.
Film (2 1/2 out of 5 stars)
Kai (Keanu Reeves) is found running through the woods as a child, and his origins are unknown. He has scratches on his head and he has clearly been running for his life. He is taken in by samurai, but doesn’t belong. He trains hard and lives in a makeshift home in the woods. Lord Asano Naganori (Min Tanaka) seems to genuinely care about Kai, as does his daughter Mika (Ko Shibasaki). Others do not welcome his presence.

Lord Kira (Tadanobu Asano) and a shape-shifter poison and disgrace Lord Asano. He is given the opportunity to commit suicide and preserve the clan’s honor. Mika is told that she will marry Kira, after being allowed one year to grieve. The 47 samurai, who are now considered ronin because they have no master are banished. The leader of the ronin, Oishi (Hiroyuki Sanada) joins Kai and they go to battle with supernatural creatures. They seek magical weapons to return to make Kira pay for his treachery. To avoid spoilers, I will leave the plot summary at that.

If any of you have wondered where Keanu Reeves has been – here is the answer. He has been filming 47 Ronin. Before filming this movie, I have to believe that he had been cryogenically frozen because he doesn't appear to have aged at all. I don't remember seeing him in any movies since The Day The Earth Stood Still, so I assume that his agent deep froze him after that so that his forty-nine years do not show. He and Tom Cruise likely share a cryo-pod in between movies.

47 Ronin was not at all what I expected. I thought I was getting a straightforward samurai film with the expected awesome fight scenes and beautiful locations. I did not expect the supernatural aspects and for me the two did not meld well together. The film is very disjointed as it goes back and forth between the life and hierarchy of the samurai and their families to fighting with monsters. In my opinion, neither aspect was adequately explained. I was often reminded of other films and that’s not a good thing. I kept thinking "this looks just like a scene from Pirates of the Caribbean, or this looks like it belongs in Lord of the Rings." 47 Ronin failed to establish its own identity while attempting to mix genres.

At one point there is a fully tattooed man that seems ominous but the character doesn't develop into anyone. It’s an example of one of the many times I thought “oh here’s where they are going with this” and then I was wrong. The beginning of the film showed great promise and the ending was also well done. It’s everything in the middle that had me confused as a viewer and left me wanting more. On the plus side, the movie has good characters, is well acted and had the potential to have been a great samurai film. I was afraid this was going to be a good samurai movie with an awkward white man in the middle of it all. Keanu gave a good performance overall, so it was unfortunate that this turned out to be a samurai film with some awkward supernatural elements confusing the story. There was enough tension, drama and action included already so witches and monsters weren't needed.

Nonetheless, I still found the movie entertaining. I would definitely say give it a chance. I also caution the viewer to avoid having expectations. Don’t go into this movie looking for a samurai film or for a supernatural film. If you keep an open mind you might enjoy it. There's plenty of good elements present, including the visual effects that are well done and the traditional samurai aspects are detailed and entertaining. I just wish that they had focused on one genre which would have really improved the movie overall.
Video (4 out of 5 stars)
47 Ronin is presented on blu ray with a 1080p AVC encoded transfer. The film overall has an intentionally muted, earthy color palette with accurate skin tones. Detail is excellent from the creature elements to the real life costumes and environment. It’s not perfect visually, but pretty good overall.
Audio (4 1/2 out of 5 stars)
The video was good, but the DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 surround sound is great. Dialogue is clear and intelligible, even with the thick Japanese accents. The battles are especially impressive when you listen to the swords being drawn and clashing together. The listener truly feels the weight of the action through the side and rear speakers.
Extras (2 1/2 out of 5 stars)
The amount of special features was the big disappointment for me. Even though the film wasn't what I wanted or expected, I was sure that when it got to the extras there would be hours of special features that documented the making of the movie which it sadly didn't do.

The Blu-ray contains the following extras:
  • Deleted Scenes – Four deleted scenes are available lasting approximately 8 minutes.
  • Re-Forging the Legend – Director Carl Rinsch and Actor Keanu Reeves discuss the film’s production and origins in a brief featurette.
  • Keanu and Kai – A very brief look at the Kai’s story.
  • Steel Fury – A look at the battle action and samurai sword fighting.
  • Myths, Magic & Monsters – An eight minute featurette about the supernatural elements of the film.
Summary (3 1/2 out of 5 stars)
The key to enjoying 47 Ronin is to approach it with no expectations. If you go into it wanting a classic samurai/action movie you’ll be disappointed by the appearance of witches and monsters. If you're looking for a supernatural flick, all the samurai fighting will probably let you down. Universal has put together a nice Blu ray with excellent audio and video quality but the special features that are less in number and length than I would like. My advice is to give it a try and have an open mind. If you watch it without any preconceived ideas of what kind of movie it is, you might enjoy it more than I did. 

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