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.
Ralph Fiennes, Colin Firth, Gary Oldman and Michael Fassbender are joining Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy for Working Title and Studio Canal.
Variety reports that Tomas Alfredson (Let the Right One In) has already signed on to direct and will begin shooting in October in London. In other Working Title news, Screendaily reports that the studio will reteam with Joe Wright for a live-action feature adaptation of Hans Christian Andersen's fairytale The Little Mermaid.
Based on John Le Carre's 1974 bestseller, Tinker, Tailor is set in the aftermath of the Cold War and involves a spy hunt within the highest echelons of the British Secret Intelligence Service. Peter Morgan wrote the adaptation.
Tim Bevan and Eric Fellner are producing. Debra Hayward, Liza Chasin, Le Carre and Morgan are exec producing.
Meanwhile, Abi Morgan has written the Little Mermaid adaptation, which was inspired by a children's puppet theater production of the classic at London's Little Angel Theatre Company.
Wright previously worked with Working Title on his first three features: Pride & Prejudice, Atonement and The Soloist.
Horton Hears a Who may not be as high-profile as say The Cat in the Hat or How the Grinch Stole Christmas but it is equally beloved. Thankfully the script doesn’t overcomplicate things but rather keeps to a basic theme of acceptance and staying true to yourself no matter what the consequences. The story centers on one particularly sweet and imaginative elephant named Horton (Jim Carrey) living in the jungle of Nool who hears a faint cry coming from a tiny speck of dust floating through the air. Since only he can hear it because of his super-giant ears Horton quickly finds out it’s an entire city called Whoville nestled deep within the speck. And because “a person’s a person no matter how small ” this gives Horton the justification for transporting said speck now resting on a clover to a safer spot despite the ridicule and threats from his fellow Nool denizens. Meanwhile the mayor of Whoville (Steve Carell) in constant communication with Horton is having difficulty convincing the town's people they might be in danger of being squashed--or eaten or blown away into the far reaches. But the mayor shouldn’t be worried; Horton’s motto--“an elephant’s faithful 100 percent”--means the kindly pachyderm will stop at nothing to accomplish his task. Jim Carrey as a childlike wildly imaginative elephant? Steve Carell as a furry figurehead who likes being everybody’s friend? Imagine that. They both probably could have played it straight without the animation and it would have worked--but the CGI certainly adds to their performances. As a Seuss regular Carrey’s usual manic behavior is well-harnessed within the extra folds of elephant skin and Horton’s optimistic outlook is infectious. For example he doesn’t exactly know what 'ASAP' means but he’s pretty sure it means “Act Swiftly Awesome Pachyderm!” That might just be a better acronym. Carell as Mr. Mayor of Whoville is also an upbeat fellow who cherishes his job his cute wife (Amy Poehler) his 96 daughters and especially his only son Jo Jo (Jesse McCartney) but when it comes time to save the town the mayor is all action. Also included in the A-list cast is Seth Rogen as a hyperactive rodent-type and Horton’s BFF; Will Arnett as a molting evil vulture; and Carol Burnett as the snooty Kangaroo Nool jungle’s resident naysayer and mob instigator. It’s just another collection of eclectic voices that work well together. Animating Dr. Seuss is a definitely the key to a successful big-screen adaptation which up to this point hasn’t been done before. One has to wonder why. Yes seeing Jim Carrey decked out in green fur as the Grinch was quite a spectacle--even Mike Myers as the Cat in the Hat took some initiative. But seriously what better way to re-create Dr. Seuss than with CGI? Veteran Pixar animator Jimmy Hayward (Monsters Inc. Toy Story 2) and newcomer Steve Martino take the helm with Horton Hears a Who and paint us all the wacky and wonderful sights and sounds of a Seuessian world. The animals in the jungle are certainly different with stripes and spots and colors not generally found in such an environ while Whoville finally looks like the real thing rather than a set design straight from an amusement park. There's even an homage to standard 2-D animation particularly Japanime when Horton fantasizes himself a martial arts hero. Classic stuff. Simply there’s really no way they could go back to live-action Dr. Seuss when there are no limits to the imagination he inspires with animation.