34 of 37 people found the following review helpful
Legendary Film, Early DVD,
This review is from: Seven Samurai (Criterion Collection Spine #2) (DVD)
To get this out of the way right now, "Seven Samurai", as a film, is a 5-star picture. Provided the audience has an inkling of what they're getting into, this movie can be easily considered one of Akira Kurosawa's best efforts. The expert directing, multi-layered story, and mounds of social commentary make for a film that sits up there with "Citizen Kane" at the top of many critic's "top 10" lists. It's a truly outstanding film, and one that holds up to many repeat viewings and careful analysis.
As an aside, this movie will be quite lost on those raised on modern-day Hollywood films. Anyone going into it expecting a shallow, sword-swinging thrill ride will come away confused (and probably angry) at the "slow" pace, the three-hour runtime, the subtitles, the fact that it's in black and white, the fact that it's not particularly violent, the fact that they talk so much, etc. etc. ad nauseam. I'd figure this would go without saying, but there it is again, just in case: If your idea of a fantastic movie is "The Fast and the Furious", run away right now; what you're looking at now is the movie version of Kryptonite.
Assuming the audience has some depth perception, this becomes THE film to own, and should be a cornerstone in any great DVD collection. Fans will recognize the label of the famous Criterion Collection displayed proudly across the disc case, and under normal circumstances that's indicative of a DVD packed to the gills with extras for the real film fan. The only issue with this disc (and hence the 4-star rating) is that the DVD is VERY slight on the extras, essentially giving you the film and that's it.
Normally, this wouldn't be worth docking a point, given that this is both a very early DVD, and also given that this is the only place to get the genuine, 3+ hour Japanese version of the film. When it was picked up by RKO for it's first U.S. release decades ago, the film had been greatly reduced in length, and there have been various other cuts throughout the years. This version is easily the most complete, and that alone is quite substantial.
In all honesty, it's BECAUSE of the importance of the film that I feel like I got a little cheated with this disc. Were this a film of any lower calibur, I think I'd be fine, but this is SEVEN-FREAKING-SAMURAI we're talking about! If you're a Kurosawa fan, you really, really want to get as much as possible out of this film. As it stands, a real fan is forced to go to external sources on the film (not hard to find) to get all the juicy extra information that compliments it, which really isn't so bad, but the thought of what could have been had this film been released a year or two later on DVD makes me winsome.
What's crucial to point out, however, is that this shortcoming is really in no way the fault of Criterion, who have always had the utmost respect for the films they produce. It's much more a time factor: This is disc #2 in the collection (they're well beyond #200 by this point) and at the time, the special editions as we know them did not exist. Packing the entire film onto a single disc was a feat in and of itself, and taking into account where the technology was at the time, this really is the best the fans could have hoped for: Seven Samurai, uncut, looking and sounding as good as it was ever going to.
So, think of the 4-star rating as a time-adjusted thing. This movie is still required, but know what you're getting so there's no dissapointment.
And Kurosawa fans, take heart: Criterion's putting out a fantastic-looking version of "Ikiru", which is arguably the best Kurosawa film ever, and they're bringing all the fans' expecations to bear. It looks like it's going to be perfect.
In the meantime, Seven Samurai is a no-brainer for any film fan.
It's an honest-to-God classic, and one of the best films ever made.