The genesis of Universal's 47 Ronin is almost as tragic as the actual history that the movie is culling from. As the story goes, Universal saw the sprigs of talent sprouting from fresh faced director Carl Rinsch, whose previous experience was limited to just a couple of commercials and a nifty short film. The studio decided to ease the new director into feature filmmaking by cutting him what amounts to virtually a blank check, and giving him charge over a multi-national samurai fantasy epic. Almost impossibly, the film isn't a complete disaster. It's just a minor one.
47 Ronin follows the classic story of the titular team of warriors, a group of disgraced samurai who band together to seek revenge against a merciless warlord that betrayed and killed their master. But this isn't your grandfather's version of the story. 47 Ronin is an international affair, and it's covered with a veneer of Japanese mysticism and a thick coating of Hollywood lacquer, but east meets west rather uncomfortably, and it's mostly due to Keanu Reeves. Reeves' character is clearly crowbarred into the story that has no room for him, and it's plainly obvious where the seams of the story were stretched in order to patch him into the narrative. Reeves plays Kai, a half Japanese, half English orphan who is adopted by the samurai clan. His character serves no real purpose beyond being white, slicing things until they die, and playing the male lead of the most superfluous love story of the year. Rinsch simply can't make the inclusion of the character feel organic in any way, and "Kai" ends up feeling like a calculated studio move. It's a shame that the film spends so much time on Reeves when the real star is clearly Hiroyuki Sanada, who plays off the stoic samurai most believably among the rest of the cast.
It's also shame that with all the mysticism pumped into the story, there's no magic in the actual center of the film, the ronin themselves. The only personality trait a samurai is allowed to possess seems to be unerring stoicism, and between all 47 ronin, there are probably only three distinct samurai with any discernible character traits beyond an intense need to brood, and you'll probably only remember those three by the time the credits roll, only to promptly forget about them only a few hours later. Thankfully, Rinko Kikuchi's slinky and treacherous witch adds some much needed camp and personality to the mostly forgettable human characters.
And that's the issue with 47 Ronin. It's largely forgettable. When your film takes on a historical legend like the tale of the 47 ronin, a story that has been told and told again ad nauseum over the years, you really need to justify your own version. There are reels and reels of film dedicated to this story, and 47 Ronin doesn't manage to add anything significant to the canon. It promises to weld myth and history together, but does so clumsily, and while some of the action scenes are exciting, especially a particularly inspired set piece that involves the ronin noiselessly breaking into a heavily guarded fortress, the film is a bore when it's not clanking swords together.
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47 Ronin is a film with many stories. As much as it is a tale about the revenge of four dozen masterless samurai, it's also the tale of an inexperienced filmmaker swallowed up by the enormity of blockbuster filmmaking. Most of all though, It's proof that you shouldn't cram Keanu Reeves into a movie that doesn't really need Keanu Reeves. What you're left with is a dull and bloated samurai epic that has its moments, but feels largely unnecessary.
Dateline: 10 000 B.C. The day of the last hunt has arrived. Oh dear. If an ancient prophecy holds true a remote mountain tribe’s quiet existence is hours away from coming to a bloody end. Not that it matters to a hunting party comprised of mud-splattered Abercrombie & Fitch himbos--nothing’s going to come between them and a hot plate of woolly mammoth meat. But no sooner is dinner over than “four-legged demons” attack. Actually they’re just slave traders on horseback but they quickly make off with plenty of women and children including Evolet (Camilla Belle). This “girl with the blue eyes” just so happens to possess the tribe’s “promise of life”--whatever that is. Enter D'Leh (Steven Strait). Our would-be He-Man loves Evolet so he organizes a rescue mission with the help of tribe elder Tic’Tic (Cliff Curtis). Their destination is a place unlike anything they have seen before (because they didn’t see Apocalypto): a city with pyramids built by slaves and ruled by a purported god the evil Almighty. First though our heroes must make it there alive--which is easier said than done when there are hungry (and poorly computer-generated) saber-toothed tigers on the prowl. Forget about Belle replacing Raquel Welch as the prehistoric playmate of your dreams. It’s my sad duty to report that are we denied the pleasure of seeing Belle strike some sexy poses in an animal-skin bikini straight out of One Million Years B.C. But it’s nice to know that even in the Mesolithic period our dreadlocked damsel in distress has access to the spa services needed for her to pass as the well-scrubbed face of a Vera Wang perfume campaign. Everyone else though needs a hosing down. Besides keeping herself clean and healthy Belle’s only other responsibility is to give the occasional hard stare that emphasizes Evolet’s piercing blue eyes which she does with aplomb. The Covenant’s Strait may have the beefcake physique of a warrior but he doesn’t possess any noble qualities. He’s more dolt than D’Leh natural born leader. Just listen to the sleepy Strait’s morale-boosting Independence Day-ish speech and you’re be inspired to fall on your own spear. Live Free or Die Hard’s Curtis can barely contain his embarrassment at having to fight at Strait’s side. 10 000 B.C. doesn’t boast a villain worthy of our hisses but Affiff Ben Nadra and Marco Khan at least project some menace as at-odds slave traders. “Only time can teach us what is truth and what is legend ” intones narrator Omar Sharif with all the pomposity of Seinfeld’s J. Peterman. Fine but 10 000 B.C. is hardly the stuff of legends. There are too many problems with this serious-minded but fantastical prehistoric romp to enjoy it on its own terms or as an unintentional exercise in pure camp. Forcing the cast to speak with grating generic European accents makes the inane dialogue harder on the ears. The plot borrows too liberally from Apocalypto. Even when Emmerich stops treading on Mel Gibson’s toes 10 000 B.C. also comes across as a de facto prequel to Stargate what with its antagonist being a pyramid-obsessed supreme being. You even brace yourself for the Almighty to reveal himself to be Jaye Davidson. All could be forgivable if Emmerich delivered on the action. He doesn’t. A woolly mammoth stampede proves to be inferior to similar scenes in Jurassic Park and King Kong. A phorusrhacid attack provokes laughter because it looks like our heroes are fleeing from a pissed-off Big Bird. The climatic revolt ends as soon as it begins. No one demands much from Emmerich. Just pure spectacle. So why does 10 000 B.C. feel no bigger than a natural history museum mini-diorama?
Top Story: Mel Eyes Maccabees Flick
Mel Gibson, currently riding high with his religious film The Passion of the Christ, expressed interest in a film adaptation of the Maccabees' story, Reuters reports. The story of the Maccabees, and the oil that magically lasted eight nights when it should have lasted only one, took place 200 years before the events Gibson depicts in The Passion. Given how The Passion was received by many religious groups, especially Jewish organizations that found the film anti-Semitic, any film made by Gibson about the Maccabees would no doubt cause rancor once more. Said Gibson on an ABC radio show, "The Maccabees family stood up, and they made war. They stuck by their guns and they came out winning. It's like a Western." In response Anti-Defamation League director Abe Foxman commented, "The last thing we need in Jewish history is to convert our history into a Western."
Passion Sparks Marital Argument
Melissa and Sean Davidson of Statesboro, Ga., became so embroiled in their post-screening discussion of The Passion of the Christ that they were forced to call the police on one another, leading to mutual charges of simple battery, AP reports. Melissa suffered wounds to her arm and face, while Sean sustained a scissor wound and was left bereft of his shirt. The pair started fighting over the age-old theological question of whether God the Father was a real person or a figurative construct. Melissa, expressing a sentiment surely no one would disagree with, admitted that getting into the fight was "the dumbest thing we've ever done."
Sex Charges Against R. Kelly Dropped
All 12 charges against R&B singer R. Kelly, stemming from a videotaped incident in which he allegedly has sex with a fifteen-year-old girl, have been dropped by a Tampa, Fla., judge, AP reports. Last week a judge ruled that photographs depicting R. Kelly were seized illegally by detectives in the case. Rather than contest the ruling, prosecutors in the case opted to abandon their case against the recording artist. Kelly, whose real name is Robert Sylvester Kelly, is still set to stand trial in Chicago on 14 counts of child pornography.
Stewart Asks Friends for Recommendation Letters
Martha Stewart, in an effort to win leniency when her sentence is handed down this June, is asking more than 100 friends to write of good experiences they've had with her in the past, AP reports. In the letter, dated Mar. 15, Stewart requests those writing letters to "…include any memorable experiences you have had with me to explain the basis of any expressed opinion(s)." Stewart was recently convicted of four felonies including obstructing justice and lying to the government about the sale of 3.928 shares of ImClone stock. Her broker Peter Bacanovic was also convicted.
Mercedes McCambridge Dies
Mercedes McCambridge, who won a supporting actress Oscar for her turn as Sadie Burke the bleak political drama All the King's Men and voiced the obscenities that spewed from Linda Blair's mouth in The Exorcist, passed away today at the age of 85. McCambridge was also featured in such classics as Giant, Touch of Evil, and A Farewell to Arms (for which she received a best supporting actress nomination). Director William Friedkin picked McCambridge to voice The Demon in The Exorcist due to her vocal skills which Orson Welles also praised, calling her "the world's greatest living radio actress," when they worked together during his early career in radio. In 1987 McCambridge suffered the loss of her son John, who killed himself after shooting his wife and children.
Hepburn Possessions To Be Auctioned
Some of Katharine Hepburn's most noteworthy possessions, including a signed photo of Humphrey Bogart and letters from lover Howard Hughes, will go on sale at Sotheby's auction house in June, AP reports. Also up for sale are the wedding gown she wore to her 1928 nuptials to Ludlow Ogden Smith and a lock of her baby hair. Hepburn, who lived to see Meryl Streep surpass her record for most Academy Award nominations (Hepburn was nominated 12 times and amassed four Oscars in her six-decade long career), died last year at the ripe old age of 96. Sales from the auction are expected to total $1 million.
Child Custody Case Against Jackson Denied
Lawyer Gloria Allred filed papers in a Los Angeles County court to have Michael Jackson's three children removed from his custody, but was turned down by county officials, The Straits Times reports. Allred, who does not represent the children, says she will now take the case to a juvenile court. Allred had previously filed a similar case against Jackson in Santa Barbara court last year before the singer relocated to Beverly Hills. Jackson will soon stand trial on seven counts of lewd and lascivious acts against a child under 14 and two counts of giving an intoxicating agent to a minor.
No Love for Real World in Philly
Looks like there will be no cheese-steak sandwich dinner for the latest housemates on MTV's seminal reality show The Real World, AP reports. The show, which changes location every season, stars "seven strangers picked to live in a house" and have their lives taped, was set to start taping in Philadelphia later next month before labor disputes nixed the plan. At issue were non-Union workers hired to spruce up Seaman's Church Institute in Philly's Old City, which was to serve as the living quarters for the septet. Union leaders in the City of Brotherly Love picketed outside the Institute prompting MTV to withdrawal its show from the city. "After considerable evaluation, we are disappointed to announce that Bunim/Murray productions has decided not to shoot The Real World in Philadelphia," a spokesperson for Bunim/Murray, the company that has produce