The Last Samurai on DVD
The year 2003 seems to have been reserved for a series of movies that cost
over $100 million to make, didnt perform overly well at the box office,
and werent as good as they could (or should) have been.
The Last Samurai was the latest addition, and like many other sweeping epics,
was pretty much ignored at the Oscars.
Tom Cruise stars as Civil War hero Capt. Nathan Algren, a good man with some
personal demons that have taken their toll. When hes offered a hefty sum
to head to Japan and teach their army how to fight with modern weapons, he has
his first encounter with an ancient people called the Samurai.
At first, the Samurai appear to be barbaric, but when Nathan is captured and
taken to their village, he begins to understand their culture. They may be primitive,
and against the modernization of Japan, but everything they do revolves around
honor, and theyre a good-hearted people who do what they feel they must.
Nathan spends a good long while with the Samurai, learning the ways of the
sword and the code of honor. When it comes time for him to head back to Tokyo,
he realizes which is the right side to fight on, and makes his way back to the
Samurais village to prepare them for the battle of a lifetime. Even though
it will surely mean the death of them all (except for the one who will invariably
become the last samurai, of course).
This is a great looking movie that does an excellent job of showing off the
Samurai culture. Its a sweeping and emotional epic in which we get a good
mixture of action and drama. The locations are beautiful (an entire village
was constructed from the ground up in the mountains of Japan), the direction
and production design are outstanding, and the performance by Cruise ranks as
one of his best ever. Ken Watanabe is also excellent as the Samurais head
The Last Samurai is good, but not great. It borrows its entire story from other
movies, like Braveheart and Shogun, among several others. It doesnt really
deliver anything we havent seen before, and we would have liked to see
more of the Samurai in action.
And at over two and a half hours, things can move pretty slowly. The action
sequences are spread out mostly to either end of the film, leaving you almost
asleep by the time you reach the middle.
But the movie is so well made, it manages to keep you interested.
As mentioned, the production values are first rate, and so are the performances.
We guarantee youll have seen all this stuff before, but its not
often done so well. Highly recommended.
Warner Bros. has provided one of the best DVDs theyve ever created, and
delivered it in the lovely keepcase that weve all grown to love. Presented
in 2.35:1 anamorphic widescreen and Dolby Digital 5.1, the quality of the disc
is superb. Picture is sparkling, with excellent detail, rich color, and not
a trace of dust or grain. The beautiful locations are done perfect justice by
the picture, and you can see every bit of detail.
Audio is very good as well, but it really only roars into full effect during
the action sequences. Otherwise its pretty reserved, with dialogue and
score using the front channels effectively. Once the action kicks in, so do
the surrounds, with cannons, howitzers, shouts, and all the other battle sounds
filling the room nicely.
Disc one features an audio commentary by director Edward Zwick, in which he
discusses the production in great length. Hes not the most engaging speaker,
but he fills our brains with plenty of information that would please most fans.
Pop in disc two and we get a whole bunch of behind-the-scenes stuff. History
vs. Hollywood is a History Channel documentary on the similarities between
the movie and the actual historic events that occurred. The realism factor seems
to be pretty good, but obviously certain aspects had to be Hollywood-ized.
Tom Cruise: A Warriors Journey spends several minutes with
the actor talking about the rigorous training he had to endure in order to make
the film. Edward Zwick: Directors Video Journal follows the
director for over 20 minutes as he does what he does (its not particularly
interesting). Making an Epic is a conversation with Zwick and Cruise,
as they reminisce on shooting the movie, and talk about their feelings towards
the whole thing. Its more a catching-up between friends than an actual
There are short featurettes on the production design, costume design, Imperial
Army basic training, and the weapons. Finally, some deleted scenes and Japanese
promos round out the disc.
The Last Samurai, from Warner Bros. Home Entertainment
154 minutes, anamorphic widescreen (2.35:1) 16x9 enhanced, Dolby Digital 5.1
Starring Tom Cruise, Timothy Spall, Ken Watanabe, Billy Connolly, Tony Goldwyn
Produced by Marshall Herskovitz, Edward Zwick, Tom Cruise, Paula Wagner, Scott
Kroopf, Tom Engelman
Written by John Logan and Edward Zwick & Marshall Herskovitz, Directed by
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