Crimson Tide (Unrated Extended Version)
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
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
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 well 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