From ancient Japan's most enduring tale, the epic 3D fantasy-adventure 47 Ronin is born. Keanu Reeves leads the cast as Kai, an outcast who joins Oishi (Hiroyuki Sanada), the leader of 47 outcast samurai. Together they seek vengeance upon the treacherous overlord who killed their master and banished their kind. To restore honor to their homeland, the warriors embark upon a quest that challenges them with a series of trials that would destroy ordinary warriors. 47 Ronin is helmed by visionary director Carl Erik Rinsch (The Gift). Inspired by styles as diverse as Miyazaki and Hokusai, Rinsch will bring to life the stunning landscapes and enormous battles that will display the timeless Ronin story to global audiences in a way that's never been seen before.
Has there ever been a movie that people, including the media, incessantly bash on, yet when you saw it, you actually enjoyed it? '47 Ronin' isn't one of those.
There are plenty of rumored reasons for why '47 Ronin' is so bad. Who knows which are true and which are false, but one thing that's certain is that Universal Studios went about making this film in the wrong way – but before we get to that, you need to know how much potential exists within '47 Ronin.'
For those who don't know, a "ronin" is a master-less samurai warrior. The tale of these specific 47 ronin is based on a piece of Japan's history – the 18th century, to be slightly more specific. A well-respected and beloved Lord was framed for crimes. The Shogun allowed the Lord to regain his honor by taking his own life in traditional suicidal fashion. The Lord's land and daughter were then given to the man who framed him; the samurai were banished and sentenced to death should they ever return. Loving their Lord and his family, the 47 ronin returned to reveal the new Lord's guilt and completely restore honor and integrity to the Lord's family name. To date, a festival is held each December 14 in honor of these 47 ronin warriors who gave all for their dead master, knowing that they would be sentenced to death if they ever returned to their homeland.
While this tale has been depicted several times in Japanese cinema, '47 Ronin' marks the first time that it has been told through mainstream American cinema. Universal decided to go all the way with the picture, giving it a massive $175 million blockbuster budget (it's rumored that it ended up around the $225 mark before marketing). For some reason, they decided to hand the reins to a first-time feature director, Carl Rinsch, who had solely made a few short films prior to shooting '47 Ronin.' One of the most common rumors is that Universal constantly had their hands in the production, forcing changes to be made on-the-fly. Considering they handed this huge project to a no-name director, I can see that being the case – but the next common rumor rings a little more true. Word has it that the original cut of the film was around three hours long and that Rinsch was booted from the editing process. Personally, I believe this is the fault of the film. Let me explain.
The runtime of '47 Ronin' is just under two hours. If the pacing is off or the story is slow, a 119-minute movie can drag. Such is the case with '47 Ronin,' but it feels like it's due to poor editing. Despite the Japanese tale being embellished with fantastic elements – magic, witches, mythical beasts, superpowers and monsters – it's slow. Exceptionally slow. One scene solidifies how trimmed-down the picture is. It features an amazing, grand-scale elaborate set. Imagine something out of the 'Pirates of the Caribbean' movies. We're on a gigantic seaside dock with enormous boats tied to the posts. Who knows how much of the budget went into this set alone, yet the action scene that's set there only lasts a few seconds. Many scenes feel much shorter than they should and the audience-to-character connection is non-existent. All throughout the movie, whenever a scene was oddly ended with a harsh cut, I found myself thinking, "Where's the rest of that scene?"
The sad thing about '47 Ronin' is that there's a base for a seemingly amazing movie. From beginning to end, it looks fantastic. The effects are great. The cinematography is clean and big. The potential for a major Japanese epic is there. There's a solid story and characters that we should connect with. But all is wasted. Instead of greatness, we get a shallow two-hour movie that feels like a three-hour movie. I'm certain that had the missing pieces been included in the final cut, that it would have felt like a much more cohesive and fulfilling picture. If Universal was going to release an extended version, I'd recommend waiting for that – but considering that they didn't pump an extra cash into '47 Ronin' after post-production (there wasn't a single advance/press screening prior to its theatrical release and, frankly, I'm surprised that they even sent out the 3D Blu-ray for review), I doubt we'll ever see another version of it. This is it. I still can't recommend it, but if you're curious, it might be worth a rent.
The Blu-ray: Vital Disc Stats
Universal has given '47 Ronin' a combo release that includes a BD-50, a DVD and a redeemable code for iTunes and Ultraviolet digital copies. The discs and code are placed in a two-disc blue Elite keepcase. A cardboard slipcase is included. "Fresh trailers" stream via BD-Live.
'47 Ronin' arrives on a great 1080p/AVC MPEG-4 encode. The movie is presented in a 2.40:1 aspect ratio. Despite the movie itself not being anything special, the video quality is brilliant. Colors are vibrant, especially those found in costuming and lighting. Fleshtones are natural. Black levels are rich and deep, never resulting in crushing.
There's a great amount of detail to be seen in '47 Ronin.' Found in clothing, facial features, sets, make-up and in many of the CG elements, textures are ever-present. Thank heaven a great amount of money was pumped into the FX or the textures of CG elements wouldn't have matched those of the practical realistic ones. The fine detail are visible because of how crisp, clean, neat and sharp the overall picture's quality is. If only the film itself was worthy of this great imagery.
'47 Ronin' features a 5.1 DTS-HD Master Audio track with solid effects mixing. The bar is set high early-on by the samurai hunting sequence that opens the movie. Prior to finding their next meal, the dynamic nature effects of bird chirping and horse breathing/shuffling around are spread through the space. The result is an engaging environment that immerses your senses. Once their monstrous mythical prey appears, there's no shortage of bass and LFE as it tromps through the forest. A few minutes later, as rain begins to fall, despite a scene taking place inside a wood and grass hut, you can hear muffled rainfall from all around the room. The effects are so strong that you can hear whether the dampened off-screen rain drops land in puddles of collected water or if they pitter-patter on soft objects (like leaves or grass) or hard objects (like wood and stone). Throughout the entire picture, the effects are very strongly mixed.
I've seen plenty of films scored by composer Ilan Eshkeri, but none have caught my attention like his score for '47 Ronin.' The music is just as grand and epic as the movie itself tries to be, only the score actually achieves epic status in both its composition and its dynamic mixing.
The vocal mix is clean and clear; nothing is lost beneath the fantastic and loud music and effects.
Deleted Scenes (HD, 7:42) – Four deleted scenes are included, none of which expand the many scenes that I felt were trimmed down too much in the feature film. Unfortunately, none of the four scenes offer anything of importance to the story or characters.
Re-Forging the Legend (HD, 6:44) – Because this feature explains the original historical story from A to Z, avoid this featurette if you haven't yet seen the film. The filmmakers, cast and crew explain how they added fantasy to the true story and how they wanted to achieve grand heights through extensive sets and design.
Although I expected to, I didn't hate '47 Ronin.' It isn't awful, but it's far from meeting its cinematic, thematic, and emotional potential, which makes for a sad viewing. From it's fantasy-infused true story and characters to its wonderful style and good cast, everything needed for greatness is present, but the final product doesn't take it where it needs to go. Bad editing has made this should-be exciting film feel tediously long. I consider '47 Ronin' the new 'Kingdom of Heaven' – a movie that's ruined by a theater-friendly two hour runtime instead of the hour-longer director's cut. But with Universal having no faith in this project (or any desire to chock an even bigger loss into their books), this is the best that we're going to get. The video and audio qualities are great. Several special features are included, three of which are Blu-ray exclusives, but nothing too meaty. If you're curious about it, give it a rent. '47 Ronin' isn't terrible, but it's certainly not worth adding to your shelf.