Return To Home Page
April 10, 2007
The Last Samurai Blu-Ray - Movie Review
Cinema Release Blu-Ray Release Distributor Director
15/1/20048/2/2007Warner BrothersEdward Zwick
Video Codec Sound Format OFLC Rating Star(s)
VC-1DD5.1 640kbpsMA15+Tom Cruise

Click To Enlarge Image
The Australian Blu-Ray Packshot.
Love him or hate him Tom Cruise is a major draw card at the cinemas - especially during his pre-couch jumping incident on the Oprah's TV show. The Last Samurai cost $US140 million to make and took a whopping $US456 million around the world. Indeed while Edward Zwick isn't a director that many people would be to familiar with, his directing credits include movies such as Glory, Courage Under Fire, The Siege as well as this years very impressive Blood Diamond. Certainly his most impressive work though is The Last Samurai, the Tom Cruise starring vehicle based on the demise of the Japanese Samurai.

This movie follows the fortunes of two warriors - one from America, and the other from Japan. Tom Cruise plays Captain Nathan Algren a disillusioned soldier from the Civil War. Ken Watanabe plays Katsumoto, the last leader of an ancient line of warriors, the venerated Samurai. The paths of these two warriors converge when the young Emperor of Japan, wooed by American interests who covet the growing Japanese market, hires Algren to train Japan's first modern, conscript army. But as the Emperor's advisors attempt to eradicate the Samurai in preparation for a more Westernized and trade-friendly government, Algren finds himself unexpectedly impressed and influenced by his encounters with the Samurai. Their powerful convictions remind him of the man he once was.

Thrust now into harsh and unfamiliar territory, with his life and perhaps more important, his soul, in the balance, the troubled American soldier finds himself at the center of a violent and epic struggle between two eras and two worlds, with only his sense of honor to guide him.

There is no doubt that this movie has been superbly directed with stunning fight scenes but also decent dialogue and acting throughout. In the end I felt that The Last Samurai felt like an epic movie that ticks all the right boxes, but just manages to miss the mark. That's not saying it's a bad movie, it's certainly not, but it just never quite lives up to its full potential. If you haven't seen the movie it's certainly worth a look, and with this Blu-Ray disc priced as low as it is it's also worth picking up just to see what the format can do.

Click To Enlarge Image
The colours on Blu-Ray are stunning.
There is little doubt that The Last Samurai was one of the most gorgeous movies to look at in the cinemas with some breathtaking scenery (much of the film was shot in New Zealand) and wonderful locations. With an aspect ratio of 2.40:1 the print used to make this transfer is pristine and the disc has been encoded using the VC-1 compression algorithms. For the majority of the movie the bitrate fluctuates between about 15Mbps to 21Mbps, but occasionally jumps higher in fast paced and battle scenes. Given that the movie runs for 154 minutes that's a pretty high bitrate. Throughout the movie colours are vibrant, but quite natural while the action shows no artifacting of any kind.

To check how this movie scrubs up we actually tested it on two different HDTV sets. The first was a Samsung 32" 720p LCD TV and the second was a Sony 52" 1080p Bravia X LCD TV. While the results were astounding on both we can say that even on the smaller TV the difference in quality over standard DVD was quite astonishing. Even from a distance it was clear that Blu-Ray is a vastly superior picture both in terms of colour and clarity over DVD and no matter what TV set you are viewing it on you are certain to be impressed.

Click To Enlarge Image
Tom Cruise and Billy Connolly look on...
Audio is provided via a 640kbps Dolby Digital track which is one of the most effective audio tracks we've ever heard. The bitrate is also quite a bit higher then we've seen on many other Blu-Ray movies and is considerably better then the 384kbps audio on the original DVD release. What really excels in this movie is the clarity of the audio. From the deepest rumbles, to the highest pitch everything is as clear as can be expected. The surround sound is used to effect throughout the movie as well, particularly during the final battle scenes. All-in-all The Last Samurai is one of the best audio experiences we've ever had in our home theatre. It must be noted that the audio in this movie is certainly assisted by a wonderful music score by legendary composer Hans Zimmer. The disc also includes French Dolby Digital 5.1 at 640kbps, and Spanish 2.0 sound at 192kbps.

It's a good thing this is a 50GB Dual layer disc as there are a tonne of extras on this disc to digest. Warner Brothers have essentially transferred all the extras from the 2-disc DVD version with no additional content. Fortunately the extras from that release are all pretty solid and the only disappointment is that they haven't been re-encoded to be in HD. Anyway let's go through what's on the disc...

Audio Commentary by Edward Zwick:

    The Director of The Last Samurai provides a very detailed description of the production of this movie. While interesting Edward is certainly not the most engaging or exciting person to listen to and it will take quite a bit of concentration to absorb all he has to say. This audio track is encoded at 192kbps.

Tom Cruise: A Warrior's Journey (12.55):

    Interviews, primarily with Tom Cruise, about Tom's journey through the film as both a character, and an actor. The documentary shows Tom Cruise training for the movie, and provides insights from other actors about working with Tom.

Edward Zwick: Director's Video Journal (26.18):

    The director offers commentary over a series of production video clips. Edward is quite informative and gives a good idea of the work that goes into shooting a large movie such as The Last Samurai.

Click To Enlarge Image
Tom Cruise and director Edward Zwick.

Making an Epic: A conversation with Edward Zwick and Tom Cruise (17.52):

    A mildly interesting piece in which Tom Cruise and Edward Zwick discuss the film with each other including insights in how they first started to discuss the project.

History Vs Hollywood: The Last Samurai (22.05):

    A documentary from The History Channel that looks at the movie and compares it to real life events. To be honest I was a little disappointed as there was still to much 'promotion' of the movie with interviews with Tom Cruise and not a factual analysis as I expected.

A World of Detail: Production Design with Lilly Kilvert (7.15):

    Looks at the set design including ensure the locations looked authentic to Japan including location scouting in New Zealand. Brief but interesting.

Silk and Armor: Costume Design with Ngila Dickson (6.29):

    A look at the massive number of costumes in the movie, and the way the costumes changed with the changes in time during the movie.

Imperial Army Basic Training (5.42):

    A look at the process of training hundreds of Japanese actors to become soldiers in the movie. Again, brief, but quite interesting.

From Soldier to Samurai: The Weapons (5.10):

    An all to brief look at the weapons in the game from swords, to rifles, and cannons it's all here and gives an idea just how massive the production is overall.

Click To Enlarge Image
Ken Watanabe puts in a great performance.
Rounding out the extras are Bushido: The Way of the Warrior which displays the warrior code over a few pages of text, Deleted Scenes which shows a decapitation scene and how it was filmed as well as a scene discussing honor in battle, Japan Premieres which is a 7 minute look at the Japanese premiere and a Theatrical Trailer.

The original DVD version of The Last Samurai was brilliant, but this Blu-Ray release really highlights the difference between high definition and standard definition video and audio. The clarity of the image and the vividness of the colours on the Blu-Ray version is vastly superior to the DVD, and with all the extras from the DVD version included you can't go wrong. It's an honor to make this the first Blu-Ray movie to undergo a review here at Truly a showcase for High-Definition video and currently one of the cheapest Blu-Ray discs on the market.

Review By: Dave Warner


Note: All images in this article are Copyrightę Warner Brothers Ent. They are only indicative of the movie and not sourced from the vastly superior Blu-Ray disc format.