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.