The Last Samurai Blu-ray Review
PictureThe disc presents a widescreen 2.40:1 1080P transfer that has been VC-1 encoded. First up the detail is quite excellent throughout from the closest detail of the Samurai armour to the distant snow-capped mountains, from the blades of grass on the battlefield to the leaves on the forest trees, all look clear and beautifully defined. Colours too hold true, strong reds and natural greens without any hint of fade or bleed, all is as it should be. Brightness and contrast are set to give solid, true blacks, shadow detail is maintained throughout and there is real depth to the picture. But, and this is such a shame, the picture does suffer from a few problems, firstly there is some edge enhancement and film grain and when these two problems converge, as is often the case, the picture quality drops significantly. This tends to be, but is not limited to, night shots and it is such a jar that it stands out. The original print itself is very clean, and there are no other digital aspects to contend with.
SoundThere are five Dolby Digital sound tracks to choose from, English, French, German, Italian and Castilian Spanish 5.1, reviewed here is the English. To accompany the picture we have a scorching sound track and one that makes full use of the sound stage. There is some wonderful separation, taking Katsumoto’s death scene once again, there is the underpinning of LF effects, the rumble of the horses, the thumping of the cannons, there is Zimmerman’s score from all the speakers surrounding the room, and finally there is the action happening on screen, shouts, dialogue etc. which sit firmly on top. It is a wonderful mix in that respect; perhaps a little more front to rear effects would be my only criticism. The range is very good, top middle and bass allowing for natural sounding dialogue and action sequences alike. But, with all this going for it, it pains me to say that the volume level is painfully low. You really have to pump up the amp to get any kind of feeling from the speakers, once you do there is nothing to be disappointed from, but I had to listen at a five decibel higher level to get anything anywhere near decent. But if turning it up is the only complaint, then this too is a fine example of how an audio track should sound.
First up there is an audio commentary from director Edward Zwick. He is very passionate and enthusiastic about his film and he manages to convey a lot of information, but I’m not a huge fan of single commentaries, I feel there is so much more given when there is at least two people bouncing ideas from each other, and this one is no exception. Both he and Cruise have a video ‘conversation’ in another extra and the pair would have made an excellent commentary as that team.
There are four short featurettes entitled A World of Detail which delves into the production design with Lilly Kilvert, Silk and Armour looks at the costume design with Ngila Dickson, Imperial Army Basic Training concentrating on the training of the extras as an army and finally From Soldier to Samurai is an inspection of the many the weapons used in the film. These are short and to the point featurettes, interesting for a time and they don’t outstay their welcome.
The Making an Epic: A Conversation with Edward Zwick and Tom Cruise is just that, they enthuse about the film and the beginnings of the project, as I said above would have made a good commentary team.
Tom Cruise: A Warrior's Journey is a continuation of the above conversation, but concentrates on Cruise and his training.
There are two deleted scenes with optional commentary from Zwick, one with a beheading in the street the other an extended conversation with Algren and Katsumoto. Full reasons for the excise are given and I fully endorse them, neither add much to the film, with the first being completely unnecessary.
Edward Zwick: Director's Video Journal is an interesting little feature; Zwick comments on an amount of video footage taken during the shooting of the film, in actual video diary, imagine that!
Next up, and for me the best extra on the disc, is The History Channel’s History vs. Hollywood; a popular series of shows showcasing Historic fact against the Hollywood story. The Last Samurai is pretty close to the mark with its facts even if the names have been changed and some dramatic licence has been employed. I really enjoyed this feature, gaining some perspective to the truth behind the Hollywood glitz. Its only downside was the constant fading for ad breaks and the padding from film clips, but otherwise a terrific little feature.
Rounding out this set of extras is a section on the Japan premieres of the film and the theatrical trailer.
VerdictThe Last Samurai is a sweeping epic that contains many more elements than one might think from a ‘Hollywood/Cruise’ film. The small scale central relationship within the confines of civil unrest and war makes for compelling viewing, with even the odd sugar coating managing to remain watchable. As a Blu-ray package the slight problems with an otherwise excellent picture, are backed up by terrific, if quiet, sound and a full extras package.
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