47 Ronin: Keanu Reeves as half-breed samurai in trailer

47 Ronin: The new trailer highlights the Keanu Reeves character and the fantastical creatures that inhabit the film’s setting. 47 Ronin is scheduled to be released Dec. 25.

Yesterday, we got four characters posters for 47 Ronin, and now we can offer the first trailer to boot. The film is a (very) loose adaptation of the real-life story – a touchstone of Japanese history and society/cultural values - about how forty-seven samurai track down the warlord responsible for murdering their master: a task for which (spoiler?) they honorably sacrifice their own lives, in order to complete.

In the Hollywood version, the protagonist is Kai (Keanu Reeves): a “half-breed” who was rejected from Japanese society. Kai has long been enslaved and forced to participate in arena battles with many of the dangerous supernatural creatures that roam the countryside. However, it turns out that Kai is destined for a higher calling, when he is recruited by forty-seven ronin (re: samurai without a master) to help them defeat an evil witch and avenge the death of their leader.

The 47 Ronin trailer, much like the recently-unveiled posters, highlights the fantastical creatures that inhabit the film’s setting – ogres, giant horned beast and sorceresses who can transform into dragons – in addition to laying out the basics of Reeves’ character’s history and relevance to the story. Visually, everything looks quite impressive, be it glimpses of smoothly-shot action sequences or panoramic-style imagery that was designed with the 3D format in mind. You can tell that first-time director Carl Rinsch learned a thing or two about how to make a shiny movie from his mentor, Ridley Scott.

Having said that, the movie seems a bit hectic – which, to be fair, could just be the result of how the trailer is constructed. Still, it’s hard to shake off the feeling that, while the final result could easily be watchable, the film will fall short of realizing its full potential: to give the samurai sub-genre a genuine epic treatment with a budget close to $200 million. (That worry is all the more justifiable because of the longstanding rumors about creative control problems behind the scenes.)

The bigger concern, from a storytelling perspective, is that the important themes and ideas inherent to the 47 Ronin tale will be overwhelmed by special effects and extraneous action scenes. The script blends the complimentary talents of Oscar-nominee Hossein Amini (Drive) and Chris Morgan (Wanted, Fast & Furious 3-7), in an attempt to produce popcorn entertainment with substance.

Will that work? Or will 47 Ronin feel like two movies – a kick-ass samurai fantasy and a parable for Eastern beliefs and philosophy – that’ve been awkwardly cobbled together? Be sure and let us know what you think in the comments section!

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47 Ronin opens in 2D/3D theaters in the U.S. on December 25th, 2013.

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