Ron Howard’s action-thriller "Ransom" is an exciting ride with some wild and unexpected twists and turns, a wickedly exhilarating movie experience. Although the movie exhibits some weaknesses in the script and in its elaboration of the story’s characters, its front-loaded story and pace, not to mention Howard’s excellent directorial style, easily make up for it, propelling the movie forward at a breakneck speed.
Tom Mullen (Mel Gibson) is a successful, self-made executive. He is the wealthy and powerful owner of an airline, covering some of his darker business practices with charming and streamlined commercials that reinforce his nice-guy image for the public eye. When his son is kidnapped during a public science contest fair, he and his wife (Rene Russo) are shattered. The kid is in the hands of a bunch of ruthless criminals, trying to extort a $2 million ransom from the wealthy tycoon. The FBI advises the family to pay the ransom in order to get the boy back. They entangle Mullen in a foul play using him as bait in a stunt that almost causes his son’s death. Mullen decides on a self-determined, radical change in action and by turning the power of television to his advantage, he turns the tables on the kidnappers, who find themselves threatened and hunted, with no apparent way out.
"Ransom" is based on a racy and inventive script with plot twists that are dramatic and will keep you on the edge. However, the story is not entirely cohesive and the characters are somewhat one-dimensional throughout. These elements are enough to drive the story forward, but the movie never really reveals much of the characters’ backgrounds, motivations, or their true feelings. Still, they are believable and at any rate, the story’s pace doesn’t allow for much depth.
Mel Gibson’s portrayal of the feverishly determined Tom Mullen is brilliant and convincing. He is a man used to making decisions, and he allows this notion to infect his character throughout the movie, giving the character strength and believability - this allows him to avoid being sidetracked by the FBI officers’ well-meant counseling, the outcome of which is just as uncertain as his own. While I would not want to advocate self justice by any means, his actions make perfect sense in this movie’s context and the fact that he gets directly entagled with the kidnappers in the end, is not necessarily to his own liking. Gibson also manages successfully to bring across that under the polished, shiny surface of the self-made millionaire, there is a darker side to Mullen - a ruthless businessman who is willing to pay his way out of trouble, a fact of which the kidnappers are well aware. Rene Russo’s performance is a little too controlled, making it hard to buy her part as a mother afraid for her child’s life. Gary Sinise once again puts in an excellent performance, portraying the bad temper and despair building when the kidnapper finds the tables turned and himself hunted like an animal. He begins to mistrust everyone around him and keeps a constant eye on his accomplices.
"Ransom" is presented only in its 1.85:1 widescreen aspect ratio on this DVD from Buena Vista Home Entertainment. Inexcusably, this is NOT an anamorphic transfer and Buena Vista Home Entertainment has simply reused the same transfer of the movie’s previous DVD release. While that one is not bad, the lack of the full anamorphic resolution is noticeable, giving the image a coarse look with a noticeable lack of definition. The transfer itself is very clean and virtually free of defects or blemishes. The movie contains a wide range of lighting conditions from broad daylight scenes to somber and murky interiors. The image quality of this disc is generally good throughout those varying lighting conditions, exhibiting sharpness, and stable color. Skin tones are natural and overall colors are nicely saturated without any hint of noise or pixelation in the image.
The movie comes with an English and a French audio track, as well as Spanish subtitles, and the Dolby Digital mix is aggressive and superbly delineated. Surround channels are engaged frequently, always creating a sound stage that is bustling and active. James Horner’s atmospheric music score adds a lot to "Ransom’s" suspenseful and tension-packed atmosphere. Like in his earlier genre work in "The Pelican Brief", Horner’s score for "Ransom" does not rely on a leitmotif very much, but rather makes use of different phrases, individual motives, and percussive orchestration for the various settings. Much of the musical vocabulary he uses intrinsically helps to intensify the impact of the images you see on screen, and the wide frequency response and dynamic range of the disc’s Dolby Digital soundtrack give it the visceral impact needed to drive some of the action scenes home.
A commentary track by director Ron Howard is included on this Special Edition release of the movie, and as in previous commentaries, Howard is very open and candid, talking about many of the aspects of the film’s production, the characters and his cast. It is an enjoyable commentary that is conversational and entertaining, yet never loses depth. The information relayed in the track is definitely worth listening and helps understand the dynamics in such a film much better.
Four deleted scenes are also included on the DVD, all presented in a fullframe format. For the most part however, it quickly becomes evident why they have been removed from the film, as they have little to add.
"What would you do?" is a featurette in which the cast and crew members discuss the topic of the film and hypothesize how they and others would react if confronted with such a situation.
"Between Takes" is a 4-minute collage of footage taken on the set as the cast and crew members goof around or just do their own thing. While it doesn’t’ really add anything of value to the DVD, it is always nice to see the more personal side of actors and directors, which this clip offers up nicely. The movie’s international trailer rounds out this DVD release.
The movie tries hard to take a different approach and successfully avoids many of the genre’s clichés. There are many unexpected plot twists and subtleties that give "Ransom" a rather unique feel. While this is a top of the line thriller, the fact that Buena Vista Home Entertainment has not even remastered this movie to give it an anamorphic transfer makes this DVD a recommendation for fans only, as only the newly added bonus materials make any improvement over the previous DVD version of this movie. Non-anamorphic DVD releases are simply a big no-no these days, and Buena Vista Home Entertainment should be – and is - very well aware of that!