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After watching THE ISLAND OF DR. MOREAU, I began to wonder whatever happened to John Frankenheimer? Was this the same man who directed THE MANCHURIAN CANDIDATE? Well, after watching Frankenheimer's latest film, RONIN ($25), I can honestly say that the director is back in top form. RONIN is an outstanding action/thriller, filled with some of the most thrilling car chases ever committed to celluloid. So, with that said, I am going write off THE ISLAND OF DR. MOREAU as nothing more than an easy payday for seasoned director.

RONIN follows a team of mercenaries that have been brought together to ambush a small, but heavily armed security force and hijack a small metal suitcase. While absolute strangers, each member of the team has been selected for a special skill that they will bring to the mission. As with any good thriller, things in RONIN are never what they seem and twisting plot is certain to keep its audience on the edge of their seats. RONIN stars Robert De Niro as Sam, a former CIA operative selling his loyalties to the highest bidder. As his fans have come to expect, De Niro is nothing short of astonishing in the role. What's even more astonishing is that Jean Reno almost steals De Niro's thunder as French mercenary Vincent. Natascha McElhone is not only beautiful; her ballsy portrayal of Dierdre is totally credible and completely captivating. Stellan Skarsgård, Sean Bean and Michel Lonsdale all turn in superb supporting performances, as does Jonathan Pryce with his all to brief role. As I said above, director John Frankenheimer is back in top form. His direction is assured, squeezing every bit of tension from the film's intense situations and staging the fantastic car chase sequences with gusto.

MGM Home Entertainment offers RONIN on DVD in both full screen and wide screen presentations on opposite sides of the DVD. Since RONIN was filmed in the Super-35 format, the full screen edition is almost tolerable. Compositional balance is thrown off by adding a lot of dead space to the bottom of the frame, and cropping just a bit from the sides. Image quality is superior to the best cable or satellite broadcasts, but for my money, this presentation is still like watching the movie on cable. If you want the cinematic effect, flip the DVD over to the 16:9 enhanced wide screen version of RONIN. The wide screen version restores the film's 2.35:1 theatrical aspect ratio, as well as the compositional balance absent from the full screen presentation. Aside from recreating the proper aspect ratio, the Letterboxed transfer is simply gorgeous, offering a sharp well-defined image, superb contrast and smooth color reproduction. The colors are presented with a more natural saturation than most films, however the effect is in perfect keeping with the style of this movie. Chroma noise is completely absent from the carefully reproduced hues. Digital artifacting was almost completely indistinguishable thanks to a top-notch compression job.

Equaling the superior image in every way, is the knockout Dolby Digital 5.1 channel soundtrack. Channel separations create a wide-open soundstage in which individual sounds are precisely reproduced without the muddiness of an overwhelming wall of sound. The surround channels are deployed very effectively to create realism during the film's mind shattering car chase sequences. Bass reproduction is full and rich, while the actor’s voices are recreated with a natural timbre. The DVD also includes a French 5.1 channel soundtrack, plus English and French subtitles.

The interactive menus contain full motion video and sound, in addition to offering access to the standard scene and language selection features. Also available through the menus is an audio commentary featuring director John Frankenheimer. Frankenheimer fans will enjoy the talk, as the director covers a good deal of ground surrounding the production of the film. An alternate ending to RONIN is also supplied. Personally, I didn’t like the other ending and can see why it didn’t do well with test audiences. The RONIN DVD also offers PC Friendly features that are accessible with a DVD-ROM drive and will allow access to special on-line content.

RONIN is a great movie and a great DVD, don’t miss it. Recommended.




DVD reviews are Copyright © 1999 THE CINEMA LASER and may not be copied or reprinted without the written consent of the publisher.
THE CINEMA LASER is written, edited and published by Derek M. Germano.



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