First off, I quite approve of the extended edition. The new stuff was rather funny and added some character development. I can see why they cut it, and as Ryan correctly point out a few of the cuts to the new material weren't that great, but I'm well pleased. Quite looking forward to third one. I've also heard that this cut was different then the DVD extended edition. Guess I'll find that out tomorrow.
Quite a well put together movie I think. It managed to be quite moving and the conversations that irked many reviewers didn't bother me at all. It also often managed to be beautiful, though Laura knocked the CG and I think she has a point.
Anyways, I think the movie shows Zwick could really be a terrific propagandist if he so desired. I never bought into the core message of the movie, but still thought it was quite affecting.
The movie has a fairly interesting meta-narrative in that it tells at the same time how the hero and the director bought into the romanticism of Bushido. I don't buy into Bushido, not at all really. I think it can be quite beautiful and part of great stories, but for reasons I'm happy to discuss but are neither original nor all that insightful, so I'll leave them out.
Ultimately though, the story really doesn't ring true to me. It keeps referring to the Samurai as a tribal group and comparing them to the Native Americans, but that's really not the case. There were clans certainly, but it was a class/caste not a tribal or ethnic group. Similarly, his bad guys are overdone and his Samurai heroes are given a pass on having major flaws. Read a few different reviews of the movie, and I tend to find Ebert's most appealing, I don't think it sucked, as the Washington Post reviewers thought it did, but I do think that the ending keeps this from being a great movie. Although, I do wonder if Zwick so bought into the themes of the movie that he doesn't see the problem with the end.