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The Last Samurai

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, didn’t perform overly well at the box office, and weren’t 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 he’s 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 they’re 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 Samurai’s 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. It’s 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 Samurai’s head honcho.

The Last Samurai is good, but not great. It borrows its entire story from other movies, like Braveheart and Shogun, among several others. It doesn’t really deliver anything we haven’t 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 you’ll have seen all this stuff before, but it’s not often done so well. Highly recommended.

Warner Bros. has provided one of the best DVDs they’ve ever created, and delivered it in the lovely keepcase that we’ve 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 it’s 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. He’s 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 Warrior’s Journey” spends several minutes with the actor talking about the rigorous training he had to endure in order to make the film. “Edward Zwick: Director’s Video Journal” follows the director for over 20 minutes as he does what he does (it’s 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. It’s more a catching-up between friends than an actual informative piece.

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 Edward Zwick


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