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Category:    Home > Reviews > Thriller > Drama > Submarine > Cold War > Crimson Tide (Unrated Extended Version)

Crimson Tide (Unrated Extended Version)


Picture: B     Sound: B-     Extras: C+     Film: B+



Disney's new Unrated Extended Edition of Crimson Tide (1995) runs 8 minutes longer than the original theatrical cut, but the film remains a well-oiled suspense machine that's become quite a rarity 11 years later -- R-rated escapist fare with a brain that's populated with real human beings.  In the years since Crimson Tide kicked off the summer of '95, the action/adventure genre has become increasingly overrun by dumbed-down PG-13 action films that often center around invincible comic-book characters and have no connection to reality whatsoever.


But despite the fact that Crimson Tide might be a little too contrived in its outcome for my taste, it plays like an underwater variation of Glengarry Glen Ross compared to the mind-numbingly stupid CGI-fests that have since become the norm.  It ranks as arguably the second-best submarine thriller to date after Das Boot.


Crimson Tide came in the middle of True Romance (1993) and The Fan (1996), which marked an unusually good three-movie stretch for director Tony Scott. The film also marks a career high point for producers Jerry Bruckheimer and Don Simpson -- Simpson died in January, 1996 in the middle of filming The Rock, and Bruckheimer's output since then has continually demonstrated that Simpson was the more talented of the two. 


The Crimson Tide, of course, is the name of the University of Alabama's football team, but it's also the nickname for the state-of-the-art nuclear submarine, the USS Alabama.  The top man on board the Alabama is an old-school veteran named Capt. Frank Ramsey (Gene Hackman), a notorious hard-ass who worked his way to the top as a Navy lifer.  Ramsey's only life outside the Navy appears to be caring for his little pet Chihuahua dog, which accompanies him on the sub.


In 1995, we're informed; only three men in the world could initiate a nuclear launch, the President of the United States, the President of Russia and the commander of a nuclear submarine.


When the Alabama is called into action for an emergency mission after a renegade Russian leader stages a coup d'etat and threatens to nuke America, Ramsey's usual second-in-command isn't available, so Lt. Commander Ron Hunter (Denzel Washington) gets called upon to fill in.  Leaving behind a wife and child, the well-educated Hunter establishes a more crew-friendly style of leadership, which soon clashes with Ramsey's more dictatorial style.


Even though it was promoted as a summer action movie, Crimson Tide is actually a taut suspense film about a moral dilemma that develops during the mission.  After an underwater duel with a Russian submarine, the Alabama sustains damage and has its radio transmissions cut off from the outside world shortly after receiving orders to fire its nukes, and right in the middle of receiving an incomplete second message with further instructions.  Ramsey takes the position that the since the second message was incomplete, they must follow the first message and launch the Alabama's nukes.  Hunter, conversely, takes the more cautious position of wanting to wait until radio contact can be restored and the second message can be fully transmitted.  Both men must OK the orders for the nuclear warheads to fire.


What transpires is an intense battle of wills between two differing philosophies -- both of which are valid -- leading to a mutiny, which divides the crew.  It's never stated in the movie, but Hunter clearly has his family in the back of his mind, while Ramsey doesn't have much of a personal life, giving him much less to lose if indeed this really is doomsday.


Crimson Tide is a gripping, high-testosterone nail-biter that keeps you riveted throughout by way of tense exchanges, intense confrontations and pressure-cooker situations, and Academy Award winners Washington and Hackman both deliver dynamic performances as the dueling commanders.  The rest of the cast does a terrific job of conveying a realistic sense of urgency -- George Dzundza, and two actors who would go on to become much bigger stars in subsequent years, Viggo Mortensen and James Gandolfini, play other officers aboard the Alabama whose loyalties are put to the test.


On a side note, while Michael Schiffer gets sole credit as screenwriter, Quentin Tarantino reportedly did some uncredited work on the script.  How much Tarantino contributed is unknown, but you can bet the exchange about the Silver Surfer was his.


Presented in anamorphic 2.35:1 widescreen, this is a major improvement from the muddy, overly dark transfer we have been suffering with since the early letterboxed, widescreen 12” LaserDiscs and even VHS versions.  Though still offering some detail problems, this new transfer is anamorphic for the first time and a noticeable improvement.  DTS was rumored to be in the cards for this new edition, but we unfortunately get only standard Dolby Digital 5.1 Sound, which just does not do justice to the exceptional sound design of the film.  Originally a Dolby Digital-only theatrical release, a DTS-only 12” LaserDisc was issued and was stunning in its sound fidelity.  I guess we’ll have to wait for the high definition Blu-ray version to get sound that good and maybe even better.


In terms of special features, there are three deleted scenes, which are really extended scenes; a making-of featurette; and some behind-the-scenes tomfoolery hosted by Dzundza.  But the original theatrical trailer is conspicuous by its absence, and an audio commentary by cast and crew would have been a nice addition.


Like Blue Thunder, another summer movie season starter back in May 1983, Crimson Tide is the kind of adult action film I dearly miss.



-   Chuck O'Leary


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