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.
As Star Trek: Nemesis begins its journey the U.S.S. Starship Enterprise is enjoying Officer William T. Riker (Jonathan Frakes) and Counselor Deanna Troi's (Marina Sirtis) wedding reception. But the celebrations come to halt when Engineer La Forge (Levar Burton) detects some sort of electromagnetic signal coming from the nearby planet Kolaris III. A crew from the Enterprise heads to the planet to investigate and finds scattered body parts of what looks like an android prototype of Lt. Commander Data (Brent Spiner). Before they can put the android back together again Captain Jean-Luc Picard (Patrick Stewart) receives a message from Admiral Janeway (Kate Mulgrew) that the Romulans have undergone a revolution and their new Praetor (leader) wants to discuss peace with the Federation. But when a hesitant Picard and his crew arrive on the planet they discover that the Praetor Shinzon (Tom Hardy) is not actually a Romulan but a human from Romulus' sister planet Remus. And not only is he human--he's a younger clone of Picard. Shinzon is hell-bent on revenge and wants to destroy everything in his path including the Enterprise the Federation and Earth but first he has a score to settle with Picard. Meanwhile Data struggles with what to make of his own double B-4.
Stewart's Picard faces his most personal enemy here in Shinzon and must grapple with heavy moral issues. Although Shinzon is maniacal and antagonistic Picard cannot help but wonder if he would have turned out the same way had his life been like Shinzon's. Stewart delivers a great performance as his character finds his judgement clouded by Shinzon. Shinzon as played by Hardy (Black Hawk Down) with a shaved head and a sculpted latex nose and chin is believable as Picard's doppelganger (although I hate to say that with the pale skin and scarred lip he looks an awful lot like Mike Myers's Dr. Evil). While Picard and Shinzon are dealing with their own issues Spiner's Data is going through his own personal turmoil. His prototype recovered on Kolaris III B-4 is not as advanced as he is prompting Data to turn him into a better android. Not since the Star Trek TNG episode "The Measure of Man" has Data's character been explored so in depth. Cast members Frakes Sirtis Burton and Michael Dorn (Worf) take a back seat in Nemesis allowing the film to focus on the main story line involving Picard Shinzon and Data.
Nemesis was directed by Star Trek newcomer Stuart Baird who stays true to the franchise's tradition by delivering a film that encapsulates a good story with great dialogue without going overboard on the special effects. As the film opens for example the crew has been forced to land on Kolaris III the old-fashioned way since an ion storm has disrupted transporting capabilities. Baird provides some great footage of the planet's surface which is bathed in sepia-toned light complete with the some great shots of the crew riding around in the Argo a sort of high-tech dune buggy. Scribe John Logan (Time Machine) introduces an interesting new race the Remans and a personal foe with Shinzon who although not as menacing as the Borg or as complex as Kahn is just as warped. The most compelling aspect of the film however has to do with Data and his desire to be the best "person" he can be. Nemesis encompasses the kind of dramatic storytelling that made the series created by Gene Roddenberry more than 25 years ago so intriguing. It is also a reminder of what the series was all about: "To explore strange new worlds to seek out new life and new civilization..."