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HTF BLU-RAY REVIEW: Ronin



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#1 of 44 Cameron Yee

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Posted February 23 2009 - 04:06 PM

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MAIN FEATURESPECIAL FEATURESVideo1080p high definition 16x9 2.35:11080p high definitionAudioDTS-HD Master Audio: English 5.1 / Dolby Digital: French 5.1, Spanish 2.1Dolby Digital: English 5.1, StereoSubtitlesEnglish , Spanish, Cantonese, KoreanNone

Note: Portions of this review include material from my HTF review of the 2006 DVD release, the entirety of which can be read here.

The Feature: 4/5
In feudal Japan ronin, samurais without masters, had two choices - operate as mercenaries but live as pariahs, or reclaim their honor through self-administered, ritual disemboweling. Oh how things have changed. And that's a good thing too, otherwise we'd never have a movie like John Frankenheimer's "Ronin" – one of the most exciting entries in the action-thriller genre, filled with merciless gun battles, white knuckle car chases, and the requisite betrayals and divided loyalties. Mercenaries have clearly moved up the social ladder to get this kind of tribute.

When ex-CIA agent Sam (Robert DeNiro) meets up with other shady characters in a Montmartre watering hole, he wastes no time determining who can be trusted. Over the course of the film that proves to be just one person, Frenchman Vincent (Jean Reno), the "tour guide" for a job that will take the assembled crew across much of France. Rounding out the mercenary team are a brash weapons expert (Sean Bean), a disquieting, ex-KGB technology man (Stellan Skarsgard), and a likable vehicle expert (Skipp Sudduth). Their bosses (Natasha McElhone and Jonathan Pryce) bear an unmistakable Irish lilt, which in a movie like this means nothing but IRA. The job they've hired out for is clearly important to them, but also a classic McGuffin - stealing a silver case, the contents of which are never revealed and the intentions of those competing for it never explained.

Over a few days the case changes hands several times. The team's initial attempt to steal it is probably the most well-rounded of action scenes, featuring healthy doses of gunfire, explosions and nailbiting car chases through the countryside and too-narrow streets of Nice. Other exemplary set pieces include a foot pursuit and gun fight in a Roman coliseum and an incredibly tense car chase through Paris roads and expressways. The film is interesting in that it pulls no punches when showing the loss of innocent lives that one would expect from such chaos, but at the same time it effectively ignores the realistic ramifications of such widescale mayhem, like intervention by the French military or NATO?

By the film's conclusion viewers may be a little fuzzy on all the plot details, but anyone who gets hung up on the issue has clearly missed the point. That being old school, espionage-flavored action – lots of it – executed with Frankenheimer's confident, veteran hand and using real cars, drivers and pyrotechnics. Giving a little character to all the flash are some quiet, dialogue-rich scenes bearing David Mamet's unmistakable rhythm and flow (he's credited as Richard Weisz in this case).

In the end it always feels a little funny to describe a movie with so much violence and mayhem as exciting or fun, but mercenary status isn't the only thing that has changed since the days of feudal Japan. For anyone who has no problems with the modern glorification of violence, and a particularly stylish and well done example of it, "Ronin" is a "must see."


Video Quality: 2.5/5
"Ronin" on Blu-Ray has a hard, digitally manipulated look that feels several generations removed from its film origins. Framed at 2.35:1 and presented in 1080p with the MPEG-2 codec, the image exhibits visible patches of compression noise and an obvious processing that robs both wide shots and close-ups of detail and sharpness. As an example, look at the several scenic flyovers, which should have a breathtaking clarity and depth. Instead we get a smudgy, indistinct tableau of city streets and buildings. Close-ups, like during the bullet removal scene, are a little better, but there's such an edgy, unnatural quality to skin textures that it can be a little hard to look at. Contrast can also be rather flat and dull, a byproduct of the film's intentionally muted color palette, I'm sure, but without that knowledge it would be easy to suspect the transfer of robbing the film of its color as well. Add to that some occasional edge haloing and spots of dirt and debris, and you have a disappointing transfer for a film that deserves much better.


Audio Quality: 4/5
The DTS-HD Master Audio track exhibits considerable surround activity with whizzing cars and echoing expressway tunnels, along with deep, if a bit indistinct, LFE with the handful of explosions and crashes. The center channel also gets heavy use as many of the car chases contain shots directly in front of or behind the vehicles' engine compartments. Auto enthusiasts will no doubt be excited by the differing growls of the cars being pushed to their limits, though in general the track might benefit from some RE-EQ treatment if your receiver has the capability (things sound a touch bright most of the time). Dialogue is consistently clear and intelligible, though it can have an occasional hissy edge as if its levels are being boosted. Overall though it's a very good, balanced track that thankfully did not get the same kind of treatment as the visuals.


Special Features: 0.5/5
Sadly, none of the features from the last DVD release have been included. The sole film-related item is the theatrical trailer, in high definition.

Theatrical Trailer (2m28s): Presented in 1080p with the MPEG-2 codec, with Dolby Digital 5.1 audio.

Trailers (5m48s): "The Usual Suspects," "Walking Tall" (2004), and "Out of Time" presented in 1080p with the MPEG-2 codec, with stereo audio for the first and Dolby Digital 5.1 audio for the second and third.


Recap

The Feature: 4/5
Video Quality: 2.5/5
Audio Quality: 4/5
Special Features: 0.5/5
Overall Score (not an average): 2/5

Could this be 2009's worst Blu-Ray release? It's still too early to tell, but it's definitely a contender. Sporting a mediocre transfer and next to zero special features, "Ronin" on Blu-Ray provides few incentives for DVD owners to upgrade let alone to entice new purchasers. If the title were reasonably priced I could maybe make the case for it being "cost-appropriate," but at a street price of around $28, it's far beyond what anyone would ever pay for a barebones release, even if it had stellar technical qualities. Personally, I would not pay more than $12 for this release, so if you really want it, wait for the price to come down. Unfortunately I doubt the film will be revisited for an improved transfer or expanded special features package any time soon.
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#2 of 44 Brent M

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Posted February 23 2009 - 04:11 PM

Maybe I'll just stick with the HDNet airing that's saved on my DVR and keep the $30 in my pocket since this release sounds like such a disappointment. Posted Image
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#3 of 44 DavidJ

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Posted February 23 2009 - 04:20 PM

What a disappointment.

#4 of 44 PaulDA

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Posted February 23 2009 - 04:31 PM

Very sad. I may even buy the second SD release instead (I'm a big fan of this film--I've had lunch at the bistro seen from the aerial shot over the mini-coliseum in Arles and I use the film to show people where I was back in the summer of 2000) for the extras as I only have the bare-bones first edition. I will likely rent it to do a comparison, but I'm quite disappointed.
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#5 of 44 Edwin-S

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Posted February 23 2009 - 06:53 PM

Well, this news sucks. I was looking forward to replacing my DVD with a Blu-ray copy of the film. It sounds like this isn't much better than what I have already. Wow. What shabby treatment for a great old school spy/action film. Bloody good job MGM. What do your initials stand for? Movies Ghastly Mastered?
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#6 of 44 Chris S

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Posted February 24 2009 - 01:34 AM

Quote:
Originally Posted by Cameron Yee
Could this be 2009's worst Blu-Ray release? It's still too early to tell, but it's definitely a contender.

No, no, no.... sigh...... This just ruined my day. Posted Image On the plus side I'm glad I held off on a pre-order.
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#7 of 44 Frank Ha

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Posted February 24 2009 - 02:00 AM

That's a shame. Thanks Cameron for the review. You saved my wallet a few dollars.
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#8 of 44 Adam Gregorich

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Posted February 24 2009 - 02:11 AM

Quote:
Maybe I'll just stick with the HDNet airing that's saved on my DVR and keep the $30 in my pocket since this release sounds like such a disappointment.

I think this will be my plan too. Its too bad. Thanks for the heads up Cameron.

#9 of 44 John Nelson

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Posted February 24 2009 - 03:01 AM

Yes, what a disappointment.
I've been waiting for this movie to appear on Blu-Ray, but MGM will have to do better than this to earn my dollar.
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#10 of 44 michael deakin

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Posted February 24 2009 - 03:26 AM

Thanks Cameron.
You just saved me my cash, My old dvd will do for now.
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#11 of 44 AL KUENSTER

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Posted February 24 2009 - 03:51 AM

Well I guess I will stick with my SDDVD and my DTS LD, I was really looking forward to this one, too bad.
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#12 of 44 David Wilkins

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Posted February 24 2009 - 04:04 AM

Oouch.

#13 of 44 Scott Merryfield

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Posted February 24 2009 - 04:13 AM

Thanks, Cameron. This is one instance where a studio's high initial release price has saved me. I was planning on waiting for a price drop before upgrading this title to BD, but now will just plan on hanging onto the SD-DVD.

#14 of 44 Matt Butler

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Posted February 24 2009 - 08:05 AM

Unless I can find this cheap Im not buying this release

I have the SD bare flipper w/commentary which Im holding on to regardless unless they rerelase this Blu w extras and better PQ.
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#15 of 44 Ron-P

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Posted February 24 2009 - 11:13 AM

Wow, crappy picture quality and over $40 for the Blu-ray. Those over at MGM need a serious head examination. What a way to fuck up a great film, thanks MGM!
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#16 of 44 Joseph J.D

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Posted February 24 2009 - 02:27 PM

It's bad enough that they don't provide extras on the disc, but to screw up the transfer too and all for a ridiculous price......that's just pitiful. I'll be keeping my original SDDVD release thank you very much.
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#17 of 44 Robert Crawford

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Posted February 24 2009 - 10:26 PM

Quote:
Originally Posted by Ron-P
Wow, crappy picture quality and over $40 for the Blu-ray. Those over at MGM need a serious head examination. What a way to fuck up a great film, thanks MGM!
That $40+ BRD on Amazon is not the MGM/Fox release.

Product Details

Actors: Robert De Niro, Jean Reno, Natascha McElhone, Stellan Skarsgård, Sean Bean

Directors: John Frankenheimer

Format: Dolby, NTSC, Widescreen, Import

Language: Japanese (Dolby Digital 5.1)

Subtitles: Japanese, English

Region: Region 1 (U.S. and Canada only. Read more about DVD formats.)

Aspect Ratio: 2.35:1

Number of discs: 1

Rating: R

Studio: BMG/Arista

DVD Release Date: September 29, 2008

Run Time: 122 minutes

Amazon.com: Ronin [Blu-ray]: Robert De Niro, Jean Reno, Natascha McElhone, Stellan Skarsgård, Sean Bean, John Frankenheimer: Movies & TV

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#18 of 44 Ron-P

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Posted February 25 2009 - 08:49 AM

Quote:
Originally Posted by Robert Crawford
That $40+ BRD on Amazon is not the MGM/Fox release.
Ahh, I dug a little deeper on Amazon and found the MGM release for $23. So, why no review of the one from BMG? How's the PQ and SQ on that disc and is it worth the price of $45?
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#19 of 44 Cameron Yee

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Posted February 25 2009 - 09:22 AM

Quote:
Ahh, I dug a little deeper on Amazon and found the MGM release for $23. So, why no review of the one from BMG? How's the PQ and SQ on that disc and is it worth the price of $45?
I believe the $45 one distributed by BMG is a Japanese import that is pretty much identical to the one released by MGM. There's a comparison on dvdbeaver.com Ronin Blu-ray - Robert De Niro
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#20 of 44 Ted Kontos

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Posted February 25 2009 - 11:34 AM

Have any of you (aside from Cameron) watched this yet or are you going by screenshots/reviews? I just picked it up today since it's one of my favorite movies and I have to say that the presentation is light years ahead of the SD version. Is the BD all it could be? No. But I couldn't care less about the extras. The film looks very good on my 61" Samsung and I'm very happy to have this movie on BD.
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