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.
Over the past seven years, we've spend a good amount of time on the sixth floor of the GE Building, seated in the TGS with Tracy Jordan writers room, watching the churning out of brilliant concepts like Tyke Myson: Baby Boxer, Wonder Woman Gets Her Period, and oh so many Fart Doctors. As we know, the television program that introduced us to such comedic wonder, 30 Rock, is coming to a close this season.
On Thursday morning, Kevin Brown (who plays the NBC sitcom's most well-read character, Walter "Dot Com" Slattery) tweeted the below image of the cast and crew banding together for one last set photo, in bittersweet celebration of 30 Rock's final wrap on shooting — as confirmed in a tweet by another of the show's supporting stars, Katrina Bowden (pictured), who posted on Thursday, "Yesterday was our very last day of shooting #30Rock laugher,tears,emotional speeches &a lot of cake. Tonight we celebrate 7 great years :)"
Now, we're sure that everyone was truly broken up over the conclusion of their long-running, critically acclaimed program. But why, then, can no one seem to focus on the fact that their picture is being taken? If you take a good look at the picture, you'll see many familiar faces from the TGS writers room — those of Cerie (Bowden), Frank (Judah Friedlander), Twofer (Keith Powell), Lutz (J.D. Lutz), and Sue (Sue Galloway) mesmerized by some bizarre offscreen phenomenon. Oddly, the usually befuddled Tracy Jordan (Tracy Morgan) seems focused, with his reliable entouragee Dot Com following suit. So what exactly might all of these people be so engrossed by?
Here are a few theories...
What is Cerie looking at?
Back from a nine-month voyage with his Somali pirate cronies, Cerie's socialite husband Aris has started an off-camera brawl with NBC page Kenneth Parcell... a long-gestating rivalry, fueled by an ill-conceived kiss Kenneth gave Cerie back in Season 1 of 30 Rock.
What is Frank looking at?
Having caught a glimpse of the one NBC cleaning lady with whom he has not fostered a romantic fling, Frank has taken to studying her habits diligently in order to win her heart before his days in the GE Building are over for good.
What is Twofer looking at?
Upon hearing someone shout something defamatory about his alma mater (he went to school in Boston... well, not in Boston, but nearby... no, not Tufts), and refuses to take that sort of codswallop lying down.
What is Lutz looking at?
Any semblance of a friend he might make before the final wrap of the show.
What is Sue looking at?
Whatever the English translation of a "fondruke" is.
What isn't Tracy Jordan looking at?
Captivated for once by the task he's been asked to undertake (smiling and staring straight ahead, kind of his wheelhouse), Tracy seems to be missing whatever is keeping his colleagues so enrapt. Perhaps he was sedated by a Diet Slice and some pita chips.
What is Dot Com ruminating about?
Having come to terms with his romantic inadequacies and personal insecurities, the sage prophet that is Walter Slattery can now smile big, thinking back upon a life of artistic expression in The Seagull and Angels in America. You've done well, Dot Com. You deserve a smile.
[Photo Credit: Twitter]
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