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Movie: Seven Samurai, Criterion Collection Re-release

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d and I were watching A Bug's Life a couple of weeks ago, which naturally for me brought up the topic of Seven Samurai -- A Bug's Life = Seven Samurai + Three Amigos. Amazon must have been psychic because it was not long after the Seven Samurai Criterion Collection re-release popped into my recommendations window and then seconds later was one-clicked into my possession.

Akira Kurosawa has been a popular director for The Criterion Collection's restorations. Seven Samurai was the second movie that Criterion released* and now, 320+ movies later -- about 12 of them Kurosawa -- they have decided to revisit one of their first restoration efforts with an expanded, 3-disc re-release. This re-release is still labeled Criterion Collection #2, but the original Criterion release looks like a joke in comparison. The most noticeable improvement for me was the reduced flickering, which had bothered me in the original release. Another improvement was the beautiful new packaging, which contains small booklet of essays and stills from the movie. There were clearly other areas of improvement, but I wasn't sure exactly how much better it was. It had been awhile since I watched the film and the new release still has scratches, problems with fades, and other sorts of aging issues.

I popped the original release back in and I felt like I was watching the YouTube version. There were chunky artifacts everywhere and all the details were blown out: expressions on faces, details of costumes, backdrops, all were trash in comparison. The original release was clearly over-compressed to fit on a single disc, which was fixed with the new two-disc version, and the clearly the 320-or-so movies that the Criterion Collection since their original Seven Samurai release has taught them a thing or two about restoration. The only bit of restoration I'm on the fence on is the new opening title sequence. I rather liked the old, faded title sequence of the first release, which set the mood well for an old samurai film. The new title sequence features crisp white-on-black lettering, which is probably closer to the original intent.

To be clear, don't be expecting it to look like the movie on release day: the original master was lost. Have no doubt, though, you will notice the difference if you own the original Criterion release. This is not one of those things were videophiles point out that you can count more hairs on Aragorn's beard.

If you don't own the movie, perhaps you want to give it a shot. At least it will give you a chance to recognize where movies like A Bug's Life and The Magnificent Seven are drawing from, or what Lucas is referencing when Yoda rubs his head in thought. The samurai characters of Kambei, Heihachi, and Kikuchiyo are among my favorites that Kurosawa has created and the tension between samurai and farmer plays out so well in the movie, showing you shades of gray in good and evil that many movies ignore. The good thing about being a newcomer to this film is at least you won't be troubled by the $30 you already spent on the previous release ;).

* A little factoid: Jean Renoir is another popular director for The Criterion Collection. Jean Renoir's Grand Illusion was the first movie released under that label. Renoir's and Kurosawa's versions of The Lower Depths were later released as Criterion Collection #239.

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This page contains a single entry from kwc blog posted on December 25, 2006 1:15 AM.

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