Hollywood Pictures // 1995 // 116 Minutes // Rated R
Reviewed by Judge Norman Short (Retired) // April 14th, 2000
Danger runs deep.
A surprisingly intelligent action thriller with a conscience, with a great score and nominated for Academy awards for Best Sound, Sound Effects Editing, and Film Editing. One of Disney's earlier DVD efforts, it has an excellent soundtrack and good video. Alas, not anamorphic, and no supplements.
Crimson Tide had a lot going for it. Director Tony Scott (Top Gun, The Last Boy Scout, Enemy of the State) certainly knows how to do an action thriller, producers Jerry Bruckheimer and Donald Simpson are no strangers to it, and they had Denzel Washington (The Hurricane, Courage Under Fire, Malcolm X) and Gene Hackman (BAT 21, The Package, Enemy of the State) as the main talent. Still, I was surprised at how intelligent and intense it was.
The story in a nutshell is that Lt. Cmdr. Hunter (Washington) is assigned as the replacement Executive Officer (XO) of the U.S.S. Alabama, a nuclear missile submarine. Gene Hackman plays Captain Frank Ramsey, an old school sailor who believes in strict obedience to orders, without any philosophical bent on the ethics of such orders. In the midst of a global crisis, the USS Alabama receives an unconfirmed order to launch its nuclear missiles-signaling the start of WWIII. Rebels had taken over a Russian nuclear base and a submarine base; and the Alabama was sent to be the vessel responsible for a pre-emptive nuclear strike if it looked like the rebel leader was going to launch. They get the order releasing the use of nuclear weapons, but before the order to launch can be confirmed, they are damaged by a rebel Russian attack sub, and lose communications. The Captain is determined to launch, while Hunter wants to wait until they can restore communications. Unfortunately for the captain, he needs Hunter to agree to it before the missiles can be launched, and he won't give it. This leads to mutiny, and a crew divided while at the pinnacle of tension; after all it's not everyday you're asked to start a war that can kill billions.
On another level, and a most enjoyable one, it is the conflict between the old Navy and the new; the Annapolis and Harvard educated Hunter is taught to think about the ramifications of war, and does not have the old school "Lets win one for the Gipper" attitude. The confrontation scenes between Denzel Washington and Gene Hackman are intense and thought-provoking. A mistake will certainly cost millions of lives, and one of the two are sure to be wrong. The tension is heightened by the claustrophobic setting inside the submarine, the pulsing sound of the engines, and the feeling that the viewer is as cut off from the truth as the submarine officers are. Unlike most Bruckheimer films (Con Air, The Rock, Armageddon) the "bad guy" (or bad asteroid) isn't so easy to place; even though the captain appears to be the more irrational and rash of the two, he has his points, and he could be right about what he thinks needing done. Instead, war itself becomes the enemy, at least to Hunter.
It is a little difficult to judge this disc; because it does some things so well, but pulls up short. The engaging cinematography is given a superlative medium with the transfer; on my 4:3 direct view television it looks great; without artifact, well-saturated colors without bleeding, and even the numerous colored lighted scenes hold up extremely well. This begs the question of why an anamorphic transfer was not done. This is one of the main gripes the public has with Disney, and this disc is one of the ones which created those bad feelings. Here is a great picture, with a well-done transfer, but they couldn't go the extra mile and make it future-proof by going anamorphic. At least the soundtrack was done right; in early '98 when this disc was released it was considered of reference 5.1 surround quality. While some discs have surpassed it since, it's undoubtedly among the best still. Surrounds get a workout with the ambient submarine noises, and the engines throbbing bring your subwoofer to life throughout. If I had any complaint it would be that the score doesn't use the surrounds enough, I believe it would have given a more personal experience with the film if we had been in the middle of it. This is a very small complaint, hardly worth mentioning.
Now we come to the other gripe about Disney; it's lack of supplemental materials. There are none. Nada. This is another example where the laserdisc or even VHS comes with supplements left off the DVD, and is inexcusable. The laserdisc of Crimson Tide came with a documentary and trailer, and neither are on this disc. The only so-called extra is an ad for other Disney movies you might like if you liked this one. Thanks. And all for the $29.95 price, five bucks more than New Line charges for anamorphic transfers with extensive extras. Disney now says they are listening to the consumer (read back-pedaling fast in the face of consumer discontent and falling sales) and we will see better efforts in the future. So far we have little to base that on, but I'm willing to cut them a break. Once more. I ask Disney to start sending us the discs that are the result of this new attitude, and I promise to give them a bias-free appraisal. I'd like nothing more than to be able to include Disney amongst the great companies supporting DVD.
This is a great film, and it looks great on DVD, so long as you don't plan on buying a widescreen TV. The problem is whether you think you will or not, within the next several years that WILL be what you are buying. The sound is great regardless, but I have a hard time recommending the purchase price without the supplements or anamorphic transfer. Certainly worth a rental; and for people who want to watch this over and over, and don't care about extras, a purchase.
The director, actors, producers, and the film itself are all released, with commendation. Disney is sentenced to doing a true special edition of Crimson Tide, with an anamorphic transfer and supplements, and without charging any more than this one cost.
Review content copyright © 2000 Norman Short; Site layout and review format copyright © 1998 - 2013 HipClick Designs LLC
Scales of Justice
Studio: Hollywood Pictures
* 2.35:1 Non-Anamorphic
* Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround (English)
* Dolby Digital 2.0 Surround (French)
Running Time: 116 Minutes
Release Year: 1995
MPAA Rating: Rated R