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Crimson Tide

When a rogue Russian extremist seizes control of enough of Russia's armaments to nuke the US, the USS Alabama, along with other nuclear missile subs, is sent in harm's way as a deterrent or possibly even a first-strike weapon to take out the Russian missiles before they can be launched.

And communications do initially give the Alabama crew the order to launch their missiles. But a subsequent communication that might—or might not, be a change in that order is cut off in mid-sentence by a radio failure (unlikely in reality, as there would be heavy redundancy in so critical a system).

The captain (Gene Hackman, superb as always) and first officer (Denzel Washington, every bit as impressive) disagree to the point of near-mutiny on whether or not to delay the launch until they can verify the content of the second message. The presence of a rogue Russian hunter-killer sub nearby is an added complication.

It may be a little dated, but Crimson Tide has always been one of my favorite films, and by far my favorite from the Jerry Bruckeimer blockbuster production line.

And it's about time we got a good DVD transfer of this film, possibly the second best submarine movie ever made (after Das Boot, with The Hunt for Red October—a strong runner-up and another from that could use an improved video transfer). The original DVD release was from the bad old days when Disney and its subsidiaries (Hollywood Pictures in this case) refused to do anamorphic (enhanced for widescreen) transfers. It was one of the worst DVDs I've ever seen, its mediocre resolution overlaid with painfully obvious edge enhancement. I never watched it again after the first time.

And that was a shame because Crimson Tide is one of the most tightly wound thrillers ever made. This so-called "Unrated Extended Edition" is about seven minutes longer than the theatrical release and the earlier DVD. I didn't compare the two versions scene by scene. But the new version adds material during the sub's departure. It also slightly expands the roles of Viggo Mortensen and James Gandolfini—both considerably bigger stars today than when Crimson Tide was first released. But there's nothing added, as far as I could determine, that would make the movie a harder "R" than it already was (mainly for violence and language), had this new version been rated.

The new DVD is a huge improvement over the old. The enhanced video isn't always razor sharp, and there's still a little edge enhancement here and there. But most of the time this is a first-class transfer. The dark scenes, many of them dominated by a single color, are also handled extremely well, though the shots shot with heavy red emergency lighting still bleed a bit. It will be interesting to see how this film gains from an inevitable (I hope) Blu-ray release.

The audio, while not improved that much over the already good original, sounds just a bit cleaner and less bright. The bass is powerful, the surrounds aggressive when appropriate, and Hans Zimmer's score (one of his best) makes a powerful statement, contributing dramatically to the film's overall impact.

If you've only experienced Crimson Tide via the old DVD, you haven't really seen it at all.

Disney has also released fresh anamorphic transfers of both Enemy of the State and Con Air. While both (also in extended unrated editions) are vastly improved over the earlier releases, neither is quite as well photographed or has as gripping a soundtrack as Crimson Tide. Con Air was never one of my favorite films, though (spoiler alert) the closing crash landing that makes mince meat out of Las Vegas geography is a hoot. And Enemy of the State's NSA- surveillance plotting is eerie enough to have conspiracy theorists and ACLU junkies spinning for weeks.

Video reviewed on a Yamaha DPX-1300 DLP projector, 78-inch wide Stewart Studiotek 130 screen, and Toshiba HD-A1 HD-DVD player set for 1080i upconversion. Audio evaluated via the player's digital output to an Anthem D1 pre-pro, Proceed AMP5 amplifier, and Pioneer EX Series loudspeakers.

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