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THE LAST SAMURAI ($30) is a thoroughly enjoyable piece of cinematic entertainment, filled with sweeping battles, stirring performances, beautiful recreations of 19th century Japan, gorgeous cinematography and thoughtful direction. Tom Cruise stars in THE LAST SAMURAI as Captain Nathan Algren, a Civil War hero, who has turned to alcohol to numb the self-loathing and grief he feels because of the atrocities in which he forced to participate during his career. However, still the military man, Algren accepts an opportunity to go to Japan, where he will assist in the creation and training of a modern Japanese army against rebellious forces. Shortly after his arrival in Japan, Algren’s unready troops are thrust into battle with a traditionalist Samurai faction, lead by Katsumoto (Ken Watanabe), who wants to retard the rapid modernization of Japan.

Having a clear advantaged over the untrained peasant army, the Samurai win the battle and take a wounded Algren prisoner. Hoping to learn from his western enemy, Katsumoto transports Algren back to his isolated village, offering him the hospitality of a guest, as they wait out the winter. Over the course of months, Katsumoto and Algren develop a mutual respect, while at the same time, Algren begins steeping himself in Japanese language, culture and fighting techniques. As one might expect, Algren becomes sympathetic Katsumoto’s cause and stands beside the Samurai in a final battle between modern and traditional Japanese forces. The cast of THE LAST SAMURAI also features Tony Goldwyn, Masato Harada, Koyuki, Billy Connolly and Timothy Spall.

Warner Home Video has made THE LAST SAMURAI available on DVD in a 2.35:1 wide screen presentation that has been enhanced for playback on 16:9 displays. This being a recent major studio "A" production, it should come as no surprise that the transfer is absolutely stunning. The image appears wonderfully sharp and produces well realized fine details. Colors appear quite vibrant, while flesh tones are wholly natural and very appealing. Hues are rock solid and are rendered without noise or other aberrations. Blacks are silky smooth, whites are crisp and contrast is uniformly excellent. Shadow detail is also excellent, plus the image is rendered with a nice sense of dimensionality. The film elements used for the transfer appear virtually perfect and there is hardly any perceivable grain. Digital compression artifacts are always well contained.

THE LAST SAMURAI comes with a very good Dolby Digital 5.1 channel soundtrack. As expected, the mix becomes very aggressive during the film’s battle sequences or any other time some form of action is engaged. As for the film’s quieter passages, the mix is subdued and subtle, indicative of the peaceful tranquility found in the isolated Japanese village. Fidelity is quite good; sound effects are convincing and not forced. Additionally, Hans Zimmer’s fine score is rendered delicate clarity and musical presence. The bass channel is quite solid, and since this is a period piece, the bottom end of the track is not pushed to ridiculous depths. English dialogue is always crisply rendered, with excellent intelligibility, plus all the voices have a natural timber. A French 5.1 channel track is also encoded onto the DVD, as are English, French and Spanish subtitles.

Full motion video, animation and sound serve to enhance the DVD's interactive menus. Through the menus, one has access to standard scene selection and set up features, as well as the supplemental materials, which have been spread across both discs of this set. Featured on disc one is a running audio commentary with director Edward Zwick. This is an excellent commentary track, as Zwick goes into extensive detail talking about the film’s production, without ever becoming boring during the film’s two and a half hour running time.

Moving on to disc two, one will find the remainder of the supplemental programming. Tom Cruise: A Warrior’s Journey is a twelve-minute program in which Cruise looks at his character’s development, as well as the preparation he underwent for the role. Edward Zwick: A Director’s Video Journal runs twenty-six minutes and allows the director to share some of his experiences and insights from the set and on location. Making An Epic: A Conversation With Tom Cruise And Edward Zwick clocks in at nearly eighteen minutes and features the director and star talking about the origins of the project and their collaboration. History vs. Hollywood: The Last Samurai is a twenty-two minute program from the History Channel that looks at the historical events that served as inspiration for the film. A World Of Detail: Production Design With Lilly Kilvert (seven minutes), Silk And Armor: Costume Design With Ngila Dickson (six minutes), An Imperial Army: Basic Training (five minutes) and From Soldier To Samurai: The Weapons (five minutes) are four brief programs are four self explanatory programs that detail their various aspects of the production. Bushido: The Way Of The Warrior is a text feature that spells out the Samurai philosophy and code of honor. Also prided on disc two are two deleted scenes with optional commentary, as well as a look at the film’s two Japanese premieres, plus a theatrical trailer.

THE LAST SAMURAI is a thoroughly entertaining film that has an intelligent story, plus a good deal of action. As for Warner’s wide screen DVD edition of the film, it looks fantastic and sounds great, not to mention it offers a solid body of supplemental features. If you are a Tom Cruise fan or enjoy action films set in historic periods, then you are certain to enjoy THE LAST SAMURAI. Recommended.



The Last Samurai(Widescreen Edition) (2003)


DVD reviews are Copyright © 2004 THE CINEMA LASER and may not be copied or reprinted without the written consent of the publisher.
THE CINEMA LASER is written, edited and published by Derek M. Germano.



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