You know, in the transitions from VHS to DVD, now to high definition disc media, aside from having to rebuy everything, the purveying feeling of revisiting these films now after not having seen them in awhile is slightly weird. First off, the fact that it's been over a dozen years since Crimson Tide first came out makes me feel just a little bit old. Secondly, what got the film's leads into that submarine in the first place anyway? It was the actions of a charismatic Russian nationalist who was looking to overthrow the government, played by the guy who didn't want to name George Constanza "T-Bone" on an episode of Seinfeld. Oh yeah, there's a lot of now familiar faces in this film too.
But never mind my pedestrian thoughts on the film itself, the fact is that Crimson Tide was written by Michael Schiffer (The Peacemaker) and directed by Ridley Scott's brother Tony (Man on Fire). Lieutenant Commander Hunter (Denzel Washington, American Gangster) is an up and coming Naval officer who is assigned to a nuclear submarine as second in command to Captain Ramsey (Gene Hackman, Hoosiers), an old-school leader of men who was one of the few Naval officers had seen combat. Hunter is brought into an efficient team on Ramsey's sub, the USS Alabama. The Alabama is sent towards Russia to possibly execute a pre-emptive strike in the event that the Russian manages to compromise some of the government's nuclear codes and launch missiles. The Alabama is thrown into great uncertainty as tensions arise and communications from Central Command are cut off, and Hunter and Ramsey find themselves at opposite ends of a heated debate.
There's no doubt that, on the surface, Crimson Tide proves to have a very effective exposition. The fears of starting a nuclear war and the ramifications that come from a pre-emptive attack are done very well, in a way that older Cold War-minded films like Fail-Safe or War Games have done in the past. If you show only one side, without seeing how the others are going to react, it helps to add some tensions to the characters' motivations. And when your two biggest characters are Oscar winners like Washington and Hackman, you can pretty much guarantee that they're going to be a little more than just topically convincing. It's a slow burn that develops as the two gradually bump heads more often and with more ferocity as the film unfolds.
However, the film's tension seems to be diffused by small and slightly handy coup d'etats that occur every twenty-five minutes or so, and it devalues the intentions of the story. "I'm relieving you!" "No You're Not!" "This is a mutiny!" it's almost as if I'm watching West Side Story or something, with a bunch of punk kids who seem to have no real idea of the consequences of their actions, and they simply need to learn to grow up or take a lap. I really had an urge to stop the film after the first hour so I could preserve how much I liked it before it fell off the tracks.
And in seeing this again, it is almost like The Outsiders of big-budget Hollywood films. Past Washington and Hackman, you've got an Oscar nominee (Viggo Mortensen, Eastern Promises), an Emmy winner (James Gandolfini, The Sopranos) and a Golden Globe winner (Rick Schroder, The Champ), all of whom serve as staff officers under Ramsey's command. There's the well-noted and anonymous contributions to the screenplay by Quentin Tarantino (Pulp Fiction), with his Silver Surfer dialogue and other references. In smaller supporting roles are other familiar faces like George Dzundza (No Way Out) as the Chief of the Boat and Ryan Phillippe (Flags of Our Fathers) and Steve Zahn (Rescue Dawn) as enlisted men on the boat. All in all, the cast helps uplift the material to some degree, but it still doesn't take away from the fact that the third act comes off as a little bit on the implausible side.
The Blu-ray Disc:
Compared to films from the same period that have been released on Blu-ray and released with the AVC MPEG-4 codec, Crimson Tide looks very good. Quite a bit of detail can be made out in skin and hair on the close-ups, and the film employs a lot of reds, blues and greens that I don't remember seeing that much of before, but they all have been reproduced very well. There's a presence of film grain in periods of Crimson Tide, but nothing to distract from the enjoyment of the picture. There's some background depth that's a bit lacking and looks muddled and the blacks waver a little and aren't deep enough in some scenes, but this appears to be a solid upgrade from the standard definition disc.
An uncompressed PCM 5.1 surround sound option graces Crimson Tide, and it has to be a worthwhile one, considering some of the best sounding discs (Das Boot, Master and Commander) take place on and under the seas. This is far more bass heavy than I remembered, but its power is evident from the opening sequences on the aircraft carrier, to the sub showdowns in the second act. Dialogue remains pretty well focused and doesn't fade throughout the film, but Kenneth Brown makes a valid observation that it's not a wholly immersive experience. Consider Master and Commander; you can hear the creaking of the floor/ceiling in scenes, even if it's subtle, and you don't get that same type of experience here; everything seems a little bit canned. But if you want a floor rumbler or a filling shaker, this is it.
For as DVD friendly a director as his brother Ridley is, Tony needs a bit more work in this new fangled medium. All the extras are from the standard definition version and are in full frame, and they're pretty bland. The making of featurette (19:57) contains interviews with Hackman, Washington, Scott and producers Don Simpson and Jerry Bruckheimer as they discuss the film, and Schiffer discusses the story as well. There's a little bit of on-set footage included that I wasn't expecting, along with some rehearsal footage, and the cast discuss the characters they play, while the production gets some time to discuss the visual effects and the set. "All Access" (10:18) features Dzundza on set and some general goofiness with the cast and crew, including a tender and albeit staged moment with Dzundza and Mortensen, to name one. It doesn't really cover anything and is more lighthearted than anything else. Seven deleted scenes (6:14) follow, which give Dzundza's character a little more development that wasn't needed at the end of the day, and the Disney/Buena Vista Movie Showcase with the best and brightest scenes in the film that highlighted the best of Blu-ray completes the disc.
Crimson Tide still has some shelf life for the consumer who wants some entertainment in his military-set thriller, even after everything that's occurred over the last decade and change. The performances from the cast are capable, even if the last forty-five minutes take a downturn in storytelling, but technically this is another above average effort from the folks at Disney. If you're a fan of the film, and since there's the likelihood that there won't be a double-dip on supplements anytime soon, this is worth the upgrade. If you're new to the film overall, I'd rent it before making a valued judgment with thirty dollars.