Steven Seagal's action film career never reached the height of popularity that Arnold or Stallone enjoyed. Instead I would compare him to Jean-Claude Van Damme; another actor whose popularity hit a crescendo in the late 80's/early 90's. Frankly if you have ever seen a Seagal movie you know that you didn't just experience an Oscar worthy masterpiece. Despite that, Under Siege was quite honestly Seagal's best regarded films.
The year was 1992. Blockbusters like Lethal Weapon 3, Aladdin, a Few Good Men, and Basic Instinct were bombarding theaters across the country. Under Siege didn't have the quality it took to go toe to toe with these releases but viewers looking for a mindless popcorn style action flick were well served. Considered by many to be Die Hard on a boat, Under Siege offered many similar thrills but not much of the charm.
When a band of cold blooded mercenaries takes over the USS Missouri and steals its arsenal of nuclear weapons to sell on the black market the world is placed in danger. Led by a crackpot ex-CIA agent named William Stranix (Tommy Lee Jones) the group deceives the ship's crew by using the cover of a rock band. It's kind of a weak way to get the bad guys on board but in the context of the film it works. In no short time they take over the ship and incapacitate just about every navy officer on board.
As the Pentagon puts plans into motion to take down the ship their hopes are placed in the capable hands of Casey Ryback (Steven Seagal). While Ryback is basically the ship's cook, he's also an ex-Navy SEAL whose decorated history was only known by the captain. As things go south he turns into an army of one and literally takes down a carrier full of goons single handedly. Granted he is joined by Miss July 1989 Jordan Tate (Erika Eleniak) when she jumps out of a cake but her characters is little more than eye candy for the testosterone in the audience.
As the movie progresses all of the objectives on the "action movie checklist" are basically met. There's an exploding helicopter (two as a matter of fact), ubiquitous topless scene, hero that ignores all pain, bad guys who make poor tactical decisions, and of course an endless supply of killing. This could be considered a period piece in the action genre with how many clichés there are here. That doesn't make Under Siege a bad movie; it's just one that you can't take seriously.
As the "star" of the film Steven Seagal is a little too standoffish for my taste. He spends most of his time being stone faced and brooding while seeming completely detached. There are few moments where he cracks a joke and even fewer where he shows personality. This may be considered a version of Die Hard on open water but Seagal's performance is by no means comparable to Willis'. Gary Busey and Tommy Lee Jones help add charm to the picture but their characters are too underused and cartoon-like to really carry weight.
In the end Under Siege is an entertaining time warp back to 1992 and the height of Seagal's career. It's arguably the best film on his resume and nearly 15 years later it still stands out as being a lot of fun. There is something lowbrow about the whole affair and the element of cheese is undeniable. But if you want nothing more than to shut your brain off and watch people get killed there are worse pictures out there. There are better action Blu-ray titles out there but few from this time period.
Under Siege is presented on Blu-ray with a 1080p/VC1 HD output and 1.85:1 aspect ratio. It's safe to say that the Blu-ray release for this film is superior to the DVD in terms of video quality. Any flaws that appear here seem to be a byproduct of the original print though I think it's safe to say that Warner Brothers could have done a little more to clean things up.
There is a decent amount of contrast in the image with most of the film taking place at night and in the corridors of the USS Missouri. My only real complaint about this was that many of these scenes came across as flat with the finer details being shrouded by darkness. Scenes where there was more light showed up much better and featured finer color balance and depth. The picture itself remains surprisingly soft during much of Under Siege with only a few moments of absolute clarity. Overall the film looked decent for its age but not nearly as fine as most other titles in the Blu-ray library.
Under Siege is presented with a 5.1 Dolby Digital track for English and French with a 2.0 for Spanish taking up the rear. The sound quality on the English track is decent with a good amount of clarity but is nothing that will be a showpiece for your sound system. The front channels handle most of the dialogue and some light sound effects while the rear gets the most use during action sequences. In that regard the audio is still just slightly better than average with some limited range and bass presence. Subtitles are included for all spoken languages as well.
Disappointingly but not too surprisingly the only bonus feature available on Under Siege is a theatrical trailer that isn't even presented in HD. There are apparently just no extras available for this movie because the regular old DVD got the same treatment.
As a testament to early 90's action films Under Siege stands out as being the feather in Seagal's cap. The plot was straight forward, it took no risks, and it was downright corny at times but there's just something fun about it all. Seagal's stern visage did little to add levity to the script though Jones and Busey definitely provided some of the weight that it needed.
As far as the disc's presentation is concerned the video is fair and the audio is equally so. Neither is entirely impressive and the fact that there is only a trailer present as a special feature doesn't help matters. Blu-ray owners looking for a bit of cheesy action to add to their collection could do far worse than Under Siege. It's not exactly going to be the most dominant title in your library but it's not going to be the worst either. Still, this one may be better served as a rental rather than a purchase.
Check out more of my reviews here. Head on over to my anime blog as well for random musings and reviews of anime, manga, and stuff from Japan!