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Ron Howard
Mel Gibson, Rene Russo, Gary Sinise, Brawley Nolte, Delroy Lindo, Lili Taylor, Liev Schreiber, Donnie Wahlberg
Writing Credits:
Cyril Hume, Richard Maibaum, Richard Price, Alexander Ignon

Someone Is Going To Pay.

In this action-thriller, Academy Award-winning superstar Mel Gibson (Best Director, Braveheart, 1995) isiTom Mullen,ia wealthy executive, whose charmed life isisuddenly shattered when his young son isiabducted andiheldifor ransom byia gang of ruthless criminals! That's when Mullen defies theiexperts anditakes matters into his own hands... boldly turning theitables onitheikidnappers inia last-chance effortito rescue theiboy. A critically acclaimed smash from Academy Award - winning director Ron Howard (A Beautiful Mind, 2001) that features Rene Russo (The Thomas Crown Affair) andiGary Sinise (The Human Stain)iin an excellent supporting cast - you'll find Ransom pays off big with unpredictable twists andiunstoppable excitement.

Box Office:
$80 million.
Opening Weekend
$34.216 million on 2676 screens.
Domestic Gross
$136.448 million.

Rated R

Widescreen 1.85:1/16x9
English Dolby Digital 5.1
French Dolby Digital 5.1

Runtime: 121 min.
Price: $29.99
Release Date: 3/23/2004

• Audio Commentary with Director Ron Howard
• Deleted Scenes
• “What Would You Do?” Featurette
• “Between Takes” Featurette
• International Trailer
• Sneak Peeks


Sony 36" WEGA KV-36FS12 Monitor; Sony DA333ES Processor/Receiver; Panasonic CV-50 DVD Player using component outputs; Michael Green Revolution Cinema 6i Speakers (all five); Sony SA-WM40 Subwoofer.


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Ransom: Special Edition (1996)

Reviewed by Colin Jacobson (March 19, 2004)

If nothing else, Ron Howard has proven himself to be a versatile director over the last couple of decades. From romantic comedies to children’s fantasies to historical dramas to biographical studies to westerns, Howard has run the gamut.

Does this make him a Ron of all trades and a master of none? No, for he’s made some pretty solid flicks over the years. Somewhere in between the great ones and the duds we find 1996’s thriller Ransom, a serviceable but unexceptional effort.

At the start of the flick, we meet Tom Mullen (Mel Gibson), the chairman and originator of upstart Endeavor Airlines as he airs a new ad for friends at a party. We also meet his wife Kate (Rene Russo) and nine-year-old son Sean (Brawley Nolte). At the celebration, we hear some rumors that he initiated a bribe to solve a strike, something he denies.

Next the movie shifts to a Central Park science fair hosted by Kate. While the boy plays with his radio control balloon, some thugs abduct Sean. Tom soon receives a ransom video in an e-mail that demands $2 million and tells them not to contact the authorities. However, Tom does immediately call the FBI, and they send a team headed by Agent Lonnie Hawkins (Delroy Lindo).

While they decide what course of action to take, we spend some time with the kidnappers. They include an NYPD cop named Jimmy Shaker (Gary Sinise), his girlfriend Maris Connor (Lily Taylor), tech expert Miles Roberts (Evan Handler), and brothers Cubby (Donnie Wahlberg) and Clark Barnes (Liev Schreiber). We learn about their plans and see how they treat Sean.

Because the movie includes a lot of twists and turns, I won’t get into the storyline more than that. Suffice it to say that we see the interactions between the Mullens and the kidnappers and watch as the case unfolds.

When I saw Ransom theatrically, I intensely disliked it. Why? Frankly, I don’t know. I guess my antipathy didn’t connect with many specifics, for eight or so years later, I can’t recall what about the flick seemed so crummy.

As I watch it now, it seemed like a pretty decent little thriller. Not a flawless one or even anything terribly above average, but definitely a reasonably clever and consistently compelling one. I can’t claim that Ransom featured a slew of strengths, but it also didn’t suffer from any extreme weaknesses.

Granted, it’s manipulative as can be. However, it doesn’t toy with an audience in a cruel or unnecessary manner. Some manipulation comes with the territory, as we expect to be moderately used in this kind of cat and mouse thriller. It usually plays by the rules and doesn’t seem over the top in that way.

One issue stems from the ending, which simply goes on too long. The movie tosses out a fair number of neat twists throughout its running time, but the ending seems a bit too extended. It plods a bit and doesn’t add a lot to the movie. Instead, it appears intended to focus on a heroic conclusion, but it doesn’t come across as a terribly satisfying one.

Poor Rene Russo doesn’t get much to do. This is Gibson’s baby, so she spends most of her time as the Worried Wife. At one point she does get more actively involved in the story, but she almost seems traitorous at that time, as she goes against her husband’s instincts and works behind his back. Otherwise, Russo mainly just cries and looks scared. It’s not exactly a rich role.

Actually, none of the parts seem terribly three-dimensional. Gibson plays the flawed but moderately heroic and dedicated hero, while Sinise is the sleazy cynic with a plan. Both play their roles adequately. Actually, Sinise seems better than that, as he presents a fairly nuanced and slick turn. However, all parts seem underdeveloped and fail to rise above the level of generic stereotypes.

Despite some pedestrian touches, Howard at least spices up the proceedings pretty well most of the time. As I mentioned, the film sags somewhat during the climax, and it tends to get a bit absurd. Perhaps that’s why I thought so little of the movie when I first saw it; the conclusion feels implausible and too long. Still, Howard moves the prior acts well and helps keep us on the edge of our seats. Some of the action seems predictable, but enough appears inventive to make us wonder what path the flick will take next.

Ultimately, Ransom doesn’t come across as a classic, but it offers a fairly entertaining diversion. Despite a problematic ending, it manifests enough stimulation and spark to make it generally solid. Don’t expect a classic and you’ll probably find something to like here.

The DVD Grades: Picture C-/ Audio B/ Bonus C+

Ransom appears in an aspect ratio of approximately 1.85:1 on this single-sided, double-layered DVD; the image has not been enhanced for 16X9 televisions. That latter fact took me by surprise; it struck me as very odd that in 2004, a full-priced DVD from a major studio came without an anamorphic transfer. It suffered from the issues that often affect older transfers, and it seemed generally flawed.

One concern that appeared throughout Ransom came from the edge enhancement. Haloes cropped up around actors and objects during many scenes; they never seemed out of control, but they provided definite distractions on a consistent basis. Underneath all of this edginess, the sharpness seemed to be good, as the movie would have been crisp and detailed without the “enhancement”. Unfortunately, the artificial addition of the edge enhancement occasionally rendered the film softer than expected, especially in wide shots.

More than a few examples of jagged edges and moiré effects showed up during the movie, and the image often displayed a generally “digital” look with some artifacts. It presented a pixilated appearance at times with too many “stair-steps”; it lacked the smoothness we’d get from an anamorphic transfer.

Print flaws caused a few concerns. I noted occasional examples of speckles, streaks, marks and grit. These never seemed intense, but they were somewhat heavy for a fairly recent film. The white flecks presented the biggest intrusion, particularly during a scene at the kidnappers’ hideout around the 59-minute mark.

Colors looked decent. The palette mostly stayed with earthy tones and rarely displayed brighter hues. Even when they did – such as during the science fair – they appeared fairly average. The colors were reasonably accurate but no better than that. Some scenes featured red lighting, and they appeared a bit thick and runny, but not too badly. Black levels seemed to be moderately deep and rich, and shadow detail was passable. Low-light shots came across as somewhat dense, but they generally seemed acceptable. Overall, Ransom remained watchable, but it definitely could use a new transfer. Though I considered a grade below “C-“, I thought Ransom never looked quite ugly enough to fall to “D” level, but it came as a big disappointment, especially from Disney, a studio that usually does good work these days.

While not great, the Dolby Digital 5.1 soundtrack of Ransom improved on the flawed visuals. The soundfield opened up matters moderately but seemed somewhat restricted. The forward channels presented most of the work, as the surrounds generally focused on ambience. A few scenes – like the scene in which the feds chased Cubby – broadened the spectrum, but most of the mix concentrated on general elements. The score presented broad and nicely delineated stereo separation, and effects appeared appropriately placed. They meshed together fairly well to create a decent sense of environment.

Audio quality appeared fine. Speech never betrayed edginess or issues with intelligibility, as the dialogue was concise and crisp. Effects came across as accurate and detailed. No concerns with distortion occurred during this clean track. Music showed nice dynamics and clarity as well. The score presented the best elements of the mix, actually, as the music was bright and distinctive. Bass response appeared firm and warm, without looseness or boominess. Overall, the soundtrack of Ransom seemed unexceptional but more than acceptable.

While the original DVD release of Ransom came with virtually no supplements, this new special edition includes a small roster of them. We begin with an audio commentary from director Ron Howard. He gives us a running, screen-specific discussion. Taped a couple of years back, Howard doesn’t have a lot to say, at least not in depth. Actually, he covers a fair number of subjects that he runs through quickly. He chats about the development of his involvement in the project, the atmosphere on the set, some point of view issues, working with young Brawley Nolte, variations from the script and improvs, shooting in Manhattan, and many other issues.

That sounds great, but it isn’t. When Howard talks, he tends to provide only rudimentary notes about the subject, and an awful lot of the track passes without any information at all; tons of gaps pop up in this slow-paced piece. It comes as a disappointment.

After this we locate a collection of four deleted scenes. Presented fullframe, these last a total of three minutes, 39 seconds. None of them add much to the proceedings. Three of the four show a little bit more with Agent Hawkins as he deals with aspects of the case, whereas the fourth shows some tension between Maris and Jimmy. They seem minor and not very useful.

What Would You Do? offers a 13-minute and 15-second featurette about a mix of topics. We see movie clips, a few shots from the set, and interviews with Howard, editor Dan Hanley, and actors Liev Schreiber, Mel Gibson, Delroy Lindo, Rene Russo, Evan Handler and Gary Sinise. They discuss issues like pacing and rhythm, the use of point of view, the atmosphere on the set, differences between the working styles of Gibson and Russo, and some particulars of one sequence. The program gives us a decent look at the production. It lacks much depth, but it presents some useful information and seems worth a look.

For some more footage from the set, we head to Between Takes. This offers exactly what the title states: video footage of the principals in between shots. We see them chat and clown around a bit. Nothing substantial occurs, but it’s a fun slice of life on the set.

Next we get the film’s international theatrical trailer. Don’t watch this if you want the film’s plot twists to come as a surprise; it reveals some of those elements. The DVD opens with a “Movie Showcase” that touts a bunch of releases. The same ad also appears in the disc’s Sneak Peeks domain.

One definite disappointment: Ransom got a laserdisc release as an extended edition. This added about 18 minutes to its running time. I never saw this version, so I don’t know if it made the movie better or worse. However, it stinks that Disney didn’t see fit to include the elongated version on this DVD, especially since they didn’t bother with a new transfer. If they just wanted to recycle an old non-anamorphic rendition, why not at least provide the one they haven’t already released on DVD?

Although I remembered it as a dud, Ransom actually presents a reasonably exciting and spunky little thriller. It suffers from a mix of modest flaws but seems generally entertaining and engaging. Unfortunately, the DVD simply rehashes an old non-anamorphic transfer that comes riddled with a variety of problems. Audio seems fine, and the set of extras adds a few decent components, though the dull audio commentary comes as a disappointment.

If Ransom came as part of a budget line, I’d probably recommend it, but with a steep list price of almost $30, it seems way too expensive for a disc with such a problematic transfer. The folks behind it should be ashamed of themselves for not bothering to give the movie a fresh transfer; in this day and age, there’s no excuse for such poor treatment, especially when the DVD arrives at a fairly steep price point.

Viewer Film Ratings: 3.3846 Stars Number of Votes: 26
5 3:
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