XenForo Template Ronin Collector's Edition Release Date: May 9, 2006 Studio: MGM Studios Year: 1998 Rating: R for strong violence and some language Running Time: 2h01m Video: 2.35:1 anamorphic (Special Features have a mix of 4:3 and 16:9 formats) Audio: English DD5.1, French DD5.1, Spanish DD2.0 (Commentary and Special Features: English DD2.0) Subtitles: English, French, Spanish TV-Generated Closed Captions: English Menus: Animated menus with some animated transitions Packaging/Materials: Double disc keepcase with cardstock slipcover MSRP: $19.94 The Feature: 4/5 In feudal Japan a masterless samurai, or ronin, had two choices - live as a pariah or reclaim one's 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 glorification. 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. Through 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 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 the course of the film the case will change hands several times. The team's initial attempt for 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. Perhaps some intervention by the French military or NATO? By the film's conclusion viewers may be a little fuzzy on all the details of the plot, but anyone who gets hung up on the issue has clearly missed the point of the film. And that point is of course old school, espionage-flavored action – lots of it – executed with a confident, veteran hand using real cars, drivers, squibs and pyrotechnics. The film is also not without quiet, character building moments and great dialogue, 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 most definitely recommended viewing. Video Quality: 2.5/5 The new transfer appears less sharp than the original – most evident in the crispness of the prologue text. The screenshots at dvdbeaver.com also note a slight decrease in overall brightness, but whether this is an improvement will be up to the viewer's taste (personally I prefer the brightness of the new release and the sharpness of the old). As with the original transfer, edge enhancement is evident, giving the picture a digital or processed look. Many wide shots suffer from a loss of background detail, which is worsened by the softness of the new transfer. This is unfortunate considering the director's favoring of wide lenses and compositions exploiting depth of field. Colors are muted (in accordance with the filmmakers' intent, as explained in the commentary) with decent black levels and shadow detail. Dust and dirt specks are at times visible, with the most distracting occurrence being a scene setting shot that features a large expanse of overcast sky. Audio Quality: 4/5 The Dolby Digital 5.1 audio track seems to be carried over from the first release, which really isn't a problem. There is considerable surround activity with whizzing cars and echoing expressway tunnels and decent LFE when called for. 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. Dialogue is consistently clear and intelligible, which is important given the variety of accents in use. Anyone hoping for the reportedly superior DTS track found in the Region 2 release will still need to look for it there. Special Features (Disc One): 4/5 • Audio commentary with Director John Frankenheimer: A carryover from the first release, Frankenheimer provides a great balance of technical information, production anecdotes and personal philosophy about the storytelling and filmmaking process. • Alternate Ending (1m47s): Preview audiences rejected this ending and I'm glad they did. I'm not a big fan of the existing voice over, but I can accept it as a staple for the genre. The alternate ending is also found on the original release. Special Features (Disc Two): 3/5 The featurettes as a whole are mildly interesting, but may not inspire repeat viewing. • "Ronin: Filming in the Fast Lane" Making-Of Documentary (17m45s): This is a standard promotional piece with basic interviews of the cast, director and producer and behind-the-scenes footage and clips from the film. • "Through the Lens" with Director of Photography Robert Fraisse (17m57s): Fraisse gives a brief glimpse into the roles and responsibilities of a director of photography and comments on some of his favorite "Ronin" setups. • "The Driving of Ronin" Featurette (15m29s): Stunt Car Coordinator Jean Claude Lagniez talks about his background in racing and the film industry and comments on "Ronin's" various car chases. In French with English subtitles. • "Nastascha McElhone: An Actor's Process" Featurette (13m57s): It would have been more appropriate to title it "An Actor's Memories" as it has little to do with McElhone's approach to or preparation for her role. Nevertheless she provides some interesting anecdotes about production and working with Frankenheimer in particular. • "Composing the Ronin Score" Featurette (11m52s): Film composer Elia Cmiral talks about the challenges he faced and choices he made composing the score for "Ronin," his first studio film. • "In the Cutting Room with Tony Gibbs" Featurette (18m55s): Gibbs talks about his start as an editor, shares stories about working with Frankenheimer and comments on the editing process in general. • Venice Film Festival Interviews with Robert DeNiro, Jean Reno and Natascha McElhone (20m40s): The actors talk more extensively about their production experiences, working with Frankenheimer and the "Ronin" characters and plot. • Animated Photo Gallery (3m32s): Slideshow featuring production stills and promotional artwork set to music from the film. • Previews: "The James Bond Ultimate Collection," "Raging Bull Collector's Edition" and "Black Hawk Down Extended Cut" Recap and Final Thoughts The Feature: 4/5 Video Quality: 2.5/5 Audio Quality: 4/5 Special Features (Disc One): 4/5 Special Features (Disc Two): 3/5 Overall Score (not an average): 3.5/5 Owners of the original release will want to hold onto it if picture quality is the priority. Devoted fans will likely want this release's special features, but the slight drop in the feature's image quality will likely make this a begrudging purchase for some. Equipment: InFocus Screenplay 4805 fed a pixel-mapped, 854x480 signal from a Bravo D1 DVD player. Audio evaluation is based on an Onkyo TX-SR502 6.1 AVR running JBL N26 mains, JBL N24 surrounds, JBL N-Center, and Dayton 10" subwoofer.