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Reviews » DVD Video Reviews » Ransom: Special Edition
Ransom: Special Edition
Walt Disney Studios Home Entertainment // R // March 23, 2004
List Price: $29.99 [Buy now and save at Amazon]
Review by Holly E. Ordway | posted April 5, 2004 | E-mail the Author
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The movie

Ransom is one of those "Hollywood style" movies that actually delivers on its promises: it's a thriller that balances an interesting plot with well-handled action to create an entertaining roller-coaster ride of a viewing experience. Mel Gibson stars here as Tom Mullen, the wealthy owner of an airline who has been accused in the past of shady business dealings. All that becomes a secondary issue, however, when his young son is kidnapped and held for ransom... and Mullen becomes convinced that a conventional approach to recovering his son is doomed to failure.

Ransom taps into a powerful vein for its material: any viewer can imaginatively identify with the horror and fear of having a loved one snatched away and threatened with harm. While a film about, say, a child being struck by lightning would likely evoke a reaction of "oh, how tragic, but really pretty unlikely in the real world," the idea of a child being snatched by strangers hits a note of "how terrible – and it could happen to my child." It doesn't really matter that kidnappings like those in Ransom are, in real life, vanishingly rare (most real kidnappings involve custodial disputes): the point is that in terms of emotional impact, it's right up there at the top of the list. (Interestingly, a quick search for the numbers on Ransom-style kidnapping and lightning strikes indicates you're about ten times more likely to be hit by lightning than have your child snatched. But it's amazing how much more of a visceral impact the one threat has than the other, isn't it?)

What makes Ransom work so well is in large part its well-thought-out plot. Without giving anything away, I can say that there are several twists in the plot, making it more than a simple law enforcement vs. kidnappers setup. And even after the main part of the film has concluded (twists and all), there's still a decent chunk of running time left. Is this devoted to sappy emotional reactions? Not at all! It turns out that there's one more twist left in the story, providing a nice final bit of punch for Ransom.

It undoubtedly works in Ransom's benefit, as well, that the cast is quite solid. Mel Gibson turns in a very good performance here, with excellent support from Rene Russo as his wife and Gary Sinise as another key character.

The pacing is handled effectively throughout the film. The threat is made clear almost immediately, but the actual development of that threat is held off a little bit, just long enough to establish some context for the Mullen family and the potential motivations behind the plot. Once the major events of the film are underway, we get a nice balance between anticipatory tension and all-out action: the intense ransom/chase/action sequences are all the more effective because they're built up to gradually and not piled on on top of the other.

The DVD

Video

While the DVD is labeled a "special edition," there's nothing special about the image quality here. The widescreen 1.85:1 image is not anamorphically enhanced, which is really unacceptable for a major release at this point.

As for the image quality, it starts out shockingly bad in the credits (brutally edge-enhanced and with a lot of print flaws and noise), but fortunately it shapes up once the film itself gets going. Colors and contrast are handled reasonably well, and some close-up scenes look fairly solid. Edge enhancement remains present throughout the film, but never as strongly as in the credits; it's mostly noticeable in scenes with high contrast. While the image quality never rises above "adequate," in the end it's watchable.

Ironically, the menu is anamorphically enhanced, though the film isn't.

Audio

The Dolby 5.1 soundtrack offers a pleasing audio experience for the film. Dialogue is clear and crisp, and the surround sound is used reasonably well to create a sense of immersion in the film. The volume levels are, I think, a little unbalanced, in the sense that the "action" scenes crank up the volume more than is warranted by what's happening on-screen. Of course, if you don't have neighbors, this isn't necessarily a problem. Overall, it's a solid soundtrack.

A French dubbed track, and Spanish subtitles, are also included.

Extras

The main special feature here is an audio commentary track from director Ron Howard. Four deleted scenes are included (with a convenient "play all" feature); they're only mildly interesting and it's clear that trimming them was a good move in keeping the tight pacing of the final cut. Of somewhat more interest is a featurette called "What Would You Do?" Despite its name, which suggests that it's going to focus on the topic of kidnapping rather than the film itself, this is a fairly standard promotional-style featurette, with interview clips from the director, the editor, and various members of the cast. The interviews are reasonably interesting (avoiding the "I play a character who.." trap) but the featurette drags on longer than it needs to, due to a superabundance of clips from the film. Finally, we get a section of "Between Takes" clips, which are some mildly amusing snippets of silliness behind the scenes, a theatrical trailer, and a generic "films from Touchstone" promotional trailer.

Final thoughts

Ransom is a highly entertaining film that could easily have gotten a "highly recommended" if the DVD transfer were better. As it is, the "special edition" is just the same as the earlier release, but with more special features. The lackluster non-anamorphic transfer is a big let-down here, but it's watchable. Overall, I'll give Ransom: SE a "recommended": in my opinion it's not worth upgrading from the earlier release just for the special features, but it's worth picking up in order to see the film.

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