HTS Moderator , Reviewer
Title: 47 Ronin
HTS Overall Score:79
“47 Ronin” is one of those movies that just goes through development torment. First it had its script written, re-written and then vaulted, only to be given to a director who had only done a few short films before this movie and then given an enormous 170 million dollar budget (that supposedly sits at around $225 Million before marketing costs after all is said and done) and the inclusion of Keanu Reeves. The film tries to be an epic period piece, and then contradicts itself by becoming a wild, CGI ridden fantasy piece at the next moment. Constantly battling over which genre will take over, it becomes a mushy, uneven film that limps in one direction, only to turn around and limp the other way in the blink of an eye. The film had a LOOOOT left on the cutting room floor, by all accounts and you can really feel the studio involvement as they tried to get more name recognition by putting in Reeves to drag more butts to the theater seats.
“47 Ronin” is based upon the ancient Japanese folk lore of a warlord and his men. The warlord, being betrayed by a rival, left his Samurai as Ronin, otherwise known as master less warriors, who then laid down their weapons and patiently endured the humiliation of defeat. One year later, to the day, the entire group of disgraced warriors took up arms and slaughtered the rival who stole their master’s life, and then fell upon their own blades. Here’s we’ve got the basic gist of the story, but with plenty of embellishment and supernatural folk lore, especially when we throw in Kai (Keanu Reeves), a young half breed boy, supposedly of demon birth, who ends up being rescued by Lord Asano (Min Tanaka) and taken in as a ward. Spurned his whole life, the young boy grows up with fierce loyalty towards his master and a much fiercer loyalty for Mika (Ko Shibasaki), Lord Asano’s daughter. Enduring much abuse he finally commits the unforgivable sin of impersonating a Samurai warrior in a duel, so as to not have his master lose face in front of the Lord Shogun (Cary-Hiroyuki Tagawa). To make matters worse, Lord Kira (Tadanobu Asano), the rival Lord in this duel, has nefarious plans of his own. Setting up Lord Asano by his personal witch, it is seen as Lord Asano trying to murder his guest. The punishment for this sin is death, albeit the Shogun allows Asano to take his own life and ritual Seppuku, in order to keep his honor and save face.
With Lord Asano out of the way, his samurai warriors are now dishonored and left without a master. In situations like these, it is customary for a Samurai to defend his master’s honor and avenge the crime of death. Instead Oishi (Hiroyuki Sanada), head of Asano’s men, places down his arms and submits to banishment. As an act of cruelty, Lord Kira sends Kai to be sold into slavery in order to mock Mika. Then taking command of all of Lord Asano’s possessions he then decrees that he will marry Mika and combine the bloodlines in order for “peace” to reign. Laying wait for nearly a year, Oishi assembles his men and finds Kai in order to deal the retribution that is required of a Samurai. With a few side plots of attaining magical Tengu weaponry and a side quest to get Kai from the pirates that he was sold to, the men focus in on killing Lord Kira and the witch that remains by his side.
The story is, as mentioned earlier, at war with itself. It’s fighting between being an epic period piece and a fantastical Hong Kong fantasy blended with Japanese culture. Keanu Reeves character is the most perplexing, as he seems plugged in the movie out of nowhere and really does nothing besides add a popular face to the cast. He did his normal Neo caricature quite well, but the fantasy side plots really brought the pace to stagger instead of a full rush forward as it should have been. The tale is rather simple. Men get betrayed, men hide in plain sight, humiliated, until they decide to rise up and surprise their new master. Instead we get flying dragons, magical blades and a love story that was cringeworthy at best.
There are some good points to the film though. Some of the bushido style battles are quite well done and the choreography was excellent. The end battle scene with the Ronin sneaking into Lord Kira’s castle was beautifully done. One of the better battle scenes in the whole movie. The ending sequence was surprisingly powerful, even though we know all of the men die at the end, it was still emotionally riveting to see the men willing to lay down their lives and accept their fate with peace and dignity. It was so well done, that amusingly enough it felt out of place just BECAUSE of its excellence.
Unfortunately, by all accounts, there was a LOT left on the cutting room floor, and it shows. Villains that were hyped up in the commercial were barely seen. The giant hulking Samurai that appears to be an unstoppable monster throughout the film, ends up being taken out by dumb luck, and the mysterious tattooed pirate that is prevalent on all the artwork is in it for all of 30 seconds. According to insiders there was a full battle scene with him that was cut and would have made a lot more sense in the escape from the Pirate ship. The inclusion of Keanu was really the main offense with behind the scenes politics. The movie was originally written without his character, but as usual the studio heads decided to meddle and forced his character in being that they were worried about the lack of mega Hollywood stars in the film. As a result their meddling really muddied the waters and made a decent film a lot worse just by having one character crammed down our throats so that we could say “ahhh, Keanu Reeves is in it!!!”. Overall it’s not a bad movie, but one that just skates the lines of both good and bad, ending up just being one that evokes “meh” from someone.
Rated PG-13 for intense sequences of violence and action, some disturbing images, and thematic elements
[img]http://www.hometheatershack.com/gallery/file.php?n=15185[/img]While the film may not be a stunning example of art, the 2.40:1 AVC encoded image certainly is a stunner. The colors range from soft greens and reds to the misty, surreal pastels and primaries intermingled in a pattern so intricate that it seems as if it was part of an ancient Japanese tapestry. The black levels are silky smooth and inky as can be, with over half the film bathed in shadows and still featuring exemplary detail amidst the murkiness. Contrasts and skin tones are quite excellent, albeit some scenes show a little bit of contrast boosting, but that appears to be an artistic choice by the filmographer. The detail levels are just as good as the rest, boasting excellent facial details to marvel at as well as exquisite use of CGI to blend in any inconsistencies. There are a few scenes that appear a bit soft, and less detailed than I would have liked, but nothing to write home about. The most obvious are the ones where a LOT of CGI is being used, such as the Dragon end battle and the fight with Kai’s Tengu master. Still the disc has plenty of room to breathe and is devoid of most compression issues except a few scenes of color banding and a couple of macroblocking issues in the Tengu temple.
[img]http://www.hometheatershack.com/gallery/file.php?n=15186[/img]Just as stunning as the video is the fantastic 5.1 DTS-HD MA track that Universal has for us. I knew from the first few moments of the movie as Kai and the Samurai battle the giant monster that we were in for a treat. The surround channels are constantly active with a myriad of different types of sounds, ranging from the clash of swords in battle, the thundering of horse hooves, or even the simple noises of the witches dress sliding across the wooden floors. The dialogue is exemplary, with no complaints from this viewer, and the dynamic range was wide and smooth. The range gave us thundering clashes of battle and the whisper of Lord Asana each are equally accurate and on opposite ends of the loudness spectrum, but I never once needed to turn down or turn up the volume due to too wide a disparity. LFE is pounding and constant, giving a much needed low end to the film and punctuating the action with excellent power. A good track and one that is certain to be demo worthy.
• Re-Forging the Legend
• Deleted Scenes
• Keanu & Kai
• Steel Fury
• Myths, Magic & Monsters
“47 Ronin” rides a very interesting line. It never falls into the category of being singled out for being a bad film, nor is it exemplary enough to be heralded as a good or great movie. Instead it follows that razors edge of just being good enough to be not disliked and poor enough to not really be noticed and ends up vanishing into obscurity where one day people will say “47 what?”. Mildly entertaining for the most, it ends up failing at being an epic and will be one that you can watch when you’re really bored on Netflix or there’s nothing left to watch in your movie collection. The audio and video are certainly stunners and redeem the film somewhat for us home theater enthusiasts, but I can’t in good conscience recommend it as anything more than a simple rental.
Starring: Keanu Reeves, Hiroyuki Sanada, Ko Shibasaki
Directed by: Carl Rinsch
Written by: Chris Morgan, Hossein Amini
Aspect Ratio: 2.40:1 AVC
Audio: English: DTS-HD MA 5.1, French, Spanish DTS 5.1
Studio: Universal Studios
Runtime: 119 minutes
Blu-ray Release Date: April 1st, 2014
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