Ransom review by Mike Long

No matter what you think of his body of work, one must give Ron Howard credit for trying different things. From westerns to broad comedies to historical dramas, the child-actor turned director may always make large-scale Hollywood films, but he doesn't allow himself to be pigeonholed in any one genre. In 1996, Howard entered the crime-drama/thriller genre with Ransom, which has now been re-released on DVD.

Mel Gibson stars in Ransom as Tom Mullen, a wealthy and successful owner of an airline. Tom is an amiable man, who appears to have the perfect life with his wife, Kate (Rene Russo) and their son, Sean (Brawley Nolte), despite the fact that he has recently been in the news due to an investigation into a union pay-off scandal. Tom and Kate's lives are turned upside-down when Sean is kidnapped. The Mullens are contacted by the kidnappers, who demand a $2 million ransom. Tom contacts the FBI, who send a group of agents, led by Lonnie Hawkins (Delroy Lindo), to the Mullen's apartment. Following Hawkins' instructions, Tom attempts to pay the ransom, but the money exchange goes wrong. This convinces Tom that the kidnappers had no intention of returning his son, so he turns the ransom money into a reward for anyone who has information concerning the kidnapping. This put the kidnappers, who are led by Jimmy Shaker (Gary Sinise), in a jam, and places Tom in control of a precarious situation.

Ransom is an interesting film. The first half of the film is a well-made, yet strictly by-the-numbers kidnapping film. Once the idea of Tom withdrawing the ransom is introduced, the movie becomes much more interesting, as the audience has now been lead into a new place where anything can happen. The story gets an added boost from the mysterious and unpredictable behavior of Gary Sinise's character. Ransom's twist-laden story is given an extra boost by the fine acting which is on display in the film. Mel Gibson is forced to reel-in his usual heroic shenanigans and go for a more emotional spin. This works, for the most part, and we buy him as the panicked father. At the other end of the spectrum, we have the typically gentle Sinise playing a ruthless thug. Delroy Lindo adds depth to the film as the calming FBI agent.

However, with all of these positive aspects, Ransom is still a flawed film for one simple reason; it's too long. This is yet another Hollywood film which has multiple endings, and doesn't seem to know what to do with itself. It's so ironic that Howard and one of his editors are featured in the DVD extras, as these are the two people who are responsible for keeping Ransom from being a very good movie. The last 1/3 of the film should be suspenseful, but things get dragged out way too far, and the last two major scenes feel as if they will never end. If Howard could've cut the film down to a trim 90-minutes, he could've had a classic on his hands. As it stands, Ransom is a thriller which has an original plot...which it then proceeds to drag out forever.

Ransom comes to DVD courtesy of Touchstone Home Entertainment. Touchstone originally released Ransom to DVD in January, 2002, and they are now bringing us a new "Special Edition" DVD. The problem is that this new release isn't very special. For this new DVD, the film has been letterboxed at 1.85:1, but the transfer has not been enhanced for 16 x 9 TVs. Why re-release a film to DVD in 2004 and not include an anamorphic transfer? The recently re-released Splash got the 16 x 9 treatment, why not Ransom? As it stands, the image is sharp but visibly grainy at times. The transfer shows some minor defects from the source print, such as black spots. The colors are good, and the dark scenes are never overly dark. However, the picture does show some signs of artifacting, and the flesh-tones are somewhat blurred at times. The DVD carries a Dolby Digital 5.1 audio track which provides clear dialogue and musical reproduction. The stereo effects are quite well done (note how they come to life during the "city street" scenes) and the surround speakers provide excellent delivery of musical cues. The subwoofer effects are good, but very erratic.

This new "Special Edition" DVD contains a few extra features. We start with an audio commentary from director Ron Howard. Howard makes some interesting observations during his chat, but he simply doesn't talk enough. There are several long stretches of silence, where one gets the feeling that Howard is either engrossed in the movie, or simply has nothing to say. He does share a few anecdotes concerning the crew and the production which are worth hearing, but be prepared for the dull patches. "What Would You Do?" is a 13-minute "making of" featurette, which is guided by Howard and editor Dan Hanley. These newly shot comments are mixed with on-set moment from 1996 in which the cast shares their views on the film. We get more on-set antics with "Between Takes", a 4-minute segment which shows the cast and crew cutting-up during production. There are 4 deleted scenes offered here, with a "Play All" feature. Finally, we have the International Theatrical Trailer for Ransom, which is 1 minute long.

6 out of 10 Jackasses

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