Warner Bros./Warner Home Video .
R4 . COLOR . 154 mins .
MA15+ . PAL
I like Tom Cruise as an actor; There, I said it. He is dedicated and talented with a long list of great movies in his resume. There seems to be a lot of hate for Tom Cruise in this world. I'm not sure where it all came from, perhaps because he's a scientologist, maybe it's because his fairytale marriage to Nicole ended, or Mission Impossible 2? Who knows.
Burkes Backyard in Japan.
Now that the Cruise haters are gone, let's get on with the review.
The Last Samurai is the story of Nathan Algren (Tom Cruise), an ex military Captain and hero haunted by his past and the atrocities he both witnessed and perpetrated during war, reduced to being a drunken spokesman for Winchester rifles in side-shows.
Through his friend Zebulon Gant (Billy Connolly), Algren is offered a job as an advisor to the Japanese military, charged with training conscripted peasants to fight the Samurai who are rebelling against the modernisation of Japan and the erosion of their culture.
Pushed to engage the enemy before they are ready, Algren's inexperienced army is easily defeated by the highly trained and brutal Samurai and Algren is captured and held as a prisoner by Samurai Katsumoto (Ken Watanabe) in a village deep in the mountains. During his time in the village Algren overcomes his alcoholism and slowly learns the way of Bushido, Japanese chivalry, eventually finding a peace of mind that has eluded him since his previous war experiences.
The Last Samurai is as much a movie about ancient Japanese warfare as it is about a spiritual journey by one man, and the struggle of an entire culture of people to hold on to the beliefs and way of life that they have lived with for thousands of years.
The man with the swords has something to say about that!
The film is presented in a widescreen aspect of 2.35:1 and is 16x9 enhanced for widescreen T.V. as all good recent releases should be. The main feature disc is dual layered where the special features disc is single layer.
The video presentation of the movie on this DVD is brilliant in all its anamorphic glory. At almost two and a half hours long, there are surprisingly few compression artefacts, a tribute to the work done to convert this movie to the DVD format and it very well could have been a different story if they had tried to squeeze the extras onto the main feature disc. Kudos for not being cheap in that department. The layer transition wasn't even noticeable, either it's well placed or I must be getting slow in my old age.
Red sky at night, shepherds delight.
The film is presented in Dolby Digital 5.1 with a choice of either English or Italian. Strangely, a more appropriate Japanese language track was not used. Italian? Was someone made an offer they couldn't refuse?
I could go on for paragraphs about sound stages and fidelity and dynamic range but in the end, isn't it enough to know that the entire 5.1 spectrum has been used to full effect; Swords go klang, wind goes woosh and chopsticks go... erm... chop?
The discreet channels are all used to good effect, dialog is clear from the center and environmental and positional audio all coming from their appropriate directions. The subwoofer also gets a good workout with cannons and horse charges aplenty.
The menu system for both discs is 16:9 enhanced and animated with scenery from the Japanese countryside. This two disc set contains a lot of extras, quite a comprehensive cross-section, nothing too innovative here though, just the usual interviews, trailers, featurettes and documentaries, here's a run down:
Tom Cruise: A warriors journey (11 minutes)
The cast and crew discuss Nathan Algren's journey from drunken washout to honourable warrior, interspersed by a lot of movie footage.
Edward Zwick: Directors Video Journal (26 minutes)
Commentary by the director with day by day accounts of the production of the movie, showing on location shoots in Kyoto, Tokyo, New Zealand and America, emphasis on how Zwick preferred to use live action over CG effects when possible.
Making an Epic: A conversation with Edward Zwick and Tom Cruise (18 minutes)
The mutual admiration society presents a canned, or candid discussion between Tom and Edward, where they discuss the balance of action vs story in the movie among other things.
History vs Hollywood: The Last Samurai (21 minutes)
A mini documentary by the History Channel which compares the events in the movie to actual historical events.
A world of detail: Production design with Lilly Kilvert (7 minutes)
A general run through of the process behind duplicating 18th century Japan by using historical photos and books.
Silk & Armour: Costume design with Ngila Dickson (6 minutes)
Ngilia discusses the challenge of designing, producing and ultimately dressing 100's of extras in authentic looking Samurai and modern Japanese army uniforms.
Imperial Army: Basic Training (5 minutes)
Shows how the cast and hundreds of extras where trained to march and generally behave like military personnel.
From Solider to Samurai: The weapons (5 minutes)
A presentation on props like swords, guns and hand made (and fully functional) cannons.
Bushido: The way of the warrior
Static text presentation of the 7 vitues of the Samurai.
Deleted Scenes (5 minutes)
A disappointing showing of only 2 deleted scenes, surely there were more scenes cut, perhaps we can loo forward to a director cut at some stage?
Japanese Premiers (6 minutes)
Red Carpet parade at the Japanese premier of the movie including interviews with some of the cast.
Exactly how it sounds.
I'd like to be able fault something on this DVD, I really would, otherwise I just sound like a Tom Cruise fan-boy and nobody will take me serious. Who would've thought reviewing DVDs was risky business.
The Last Samurai is a wonderful story, beautifully presented in this 2 disc edition. A masterpiece of cinema, and subsequently DVD, and should earn a place on the shelf of any movie fan.