The Hidden Fortress has some major problems with pacing and overlength. The first 15 minutes dealing with the aftermath of a war are great and the last hour is pretty good, but the hour of repetitive bickering and clumsy slapstick inbetween from the film's two unlovable clowns is incredibly grating. Yes, it's a bold move of Kurosawa to give centerstage to a couple of greedy, stupid, duplicitous and all but irredeemable scumbags, but unfortunately he neglected to make them particularly interesting greedy, stupid, duplicitous and all but irredeemable scumbags and there's only so much of them shouting, digging holes and performing pratfalls you can take. It might help if some of it was funny, but it's like watching a Bowery Boys movie from the days when they should have been drawing their pensions instead of still pretending to be teenagers.
Themes of honor and compassion are dealt with in passing as nominal hero Mifune fails to appreciate the preciousness of all life, not just that of the princess he is sworn to protect, but this is pure popcorn fodder with more than a touch of Vera Cruz about it (but none of it's economy of line), as evidenced by George Lucas lifting elements for his first Star Wars film. Oddly enough the influence on John Milius is far more noticeable than Lucas - the scene where Mifune chases two soldiers on horseback and cuts them down without leaving his saddle is clearly the inspiration for the fight on the beach in The Wind and the Lion (even the music is similarly orchestrated). It gets there in the end, but it takes its time about it.
The BFI's UK PAL disc is light on extras - only a very half-hearted appreciation by George Lucas, who obviously doesn't think much of the film these days. Annoyingly, the subtitles are constantly presented over the picture area rather than on the black borders of the 2.35:1 widescreen transfer.