K-19: The Widowmaker (2002)

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Released 8-Sep-2003

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Details At A Glance

General Extras
Category Drama Main Menu Audio & Animation
Audio Commentary-Kathryn Bigelow (Director),Jeff Cronenweth (Cinematographer)
Featurette-Making Of
Featurette-Exploring the Craft: Make-up Techniques
Featurette-Breaching the Hull
Featurette-It's in the Detail
Theatrical Trailer
Rating Rated M
Year Of Production 2002
Running Time 132:24
RSDL / Flipper RSDL (70:33) Cast & Crew
Start Up Subtitle Select Then Menu
Region Coding 4 Directed By Kathryn Bigelow
Studio
Distributor

Paramount Home Entertainment
Starring Harrison Ford
Liam Neeson
Peter Sarsgaard
Case Amaray-Transparent-Secure Clip
RPI $35.95 Music Klaus Badelt


Video Audio
Pan & Scan/Full Frame None English Dolby Digital 5.1 (448Kb/s)
French Dolby Digital 5.1 (448Kb/s)
English Audio Commentary Dolby Digital 2.0 (192Kb/s)
Widescreen Aspect Ratio 2.35:1
16x9 Enhancement
16x9 Enhanced
Video Format 576i (PAL)
Original Aspect Ratio 2.35:1 Miscellaneous
Jacket Pictures No
Subtitles English for the Hearing Impaired
French
Dutch
English Audio Commentary
French Audio Commentary
Smoking Yes
Annoying Product Placement No
Action In or After Credits No

NOTE: The Profanity Filter is ON. Turn it off here.

Plot Synopsis

    Every director who takes on the task of making a submarine film faces an uphill battle from the very start, knowing full well the benchmark was set way back in 1981 by the Wolfgang Petersen classic drama Das Boot. Nobody has really come close to matching this effort since, despite several attempts such as U-571, The Hunt For Red October, and Crimson Tide in recent years.

    Director Kathryn Bigelow has a pedigree for action films such as Point Break and Strange Days, and she again tackles a film with plenty of crash and bang but with a far more human elements, and the only aggressor or 'bad guy' being fear itself. She also takes great pains to create a high level of realism on the sub and this certainly gets the film off to a good start.

    Based on a true story, the year is 1961, the cold war is at its most chilling, and in response to the Americans having nuclear missiles within firing range of the motherland Soviet Union, the Russians decide to make a countermove. Constructing their biggest submarine to date and their first with nuclear power, Moscow plans to position the boat, named K-19, off the coast of the US with its nuclear warheads at the ready. Now, the sub has been unfortunately dubbed the Widowmaker, since 10 men lost their lives during its construction alone, before it was commissioned. When the obligatory champagne bottle fails to break on the bow during the launching ceremony, the crew believe they are cursed before they even leave. How right they are.

    Initially the commander of the K-19 is Mikhail Polenin (Liam Neeson). He is much respected and loved by the men on board. But when the first series of tests during commissioning go awry, the naval commanders decide he is not tough enough for the job of leading the pride of the motherland, and decide to bring in the toughest and most determined commander they can find. Alexei Vostrikov (Harrison Ford) is made commander, while Polenin is kept on as executive officer, much to the dismay of the men onboard. Vostrikov wastes no time in making his presence known, and after setting sail for the first time he leads the men through a series of demanding and dangerous drills. Finally the boat is proved seaworthy and the crew prepare to launch their test nuclear missile, which they accomplish without incident. The mood aboard is buoyant.

    But this is where the troubles begin for the crew of 120 men. On the way to their position off the coast of New York, a malfunction in the brand new nuclear reactor sees a leak occur and the possibility of a meltdown happening. Faced with the impossible task of repairing the leak or scuttling the pride of the Russian fleet, tough-as-nails Vostrikov decides on the former and prepares a small band of men to undertake the ultimate sacrifice and enter the reactor room to repair the leak. From this point on the film deals with the harsh realities of fear, heroism and the lengths men will go to follow a respected leader.

    An enjoyable film that while a little slow to get going, rewards the viewer with some fine performances from the crew members when faced with the possibility of the nuclear meltdown. The way the unseen enemy (radiation) slowly creates a feeling of dread among the crew is handled very effectively. Of course the film is not without its faults. The ending smacks of the Hollywood maxim - Let's make sure everyone leaves the cinema happy so they keep coming back, and it includes a couple of tired old clichés. For example, you just know something is going to happen to the reactor when early on, one of the engineers walks past a gauge that isn't reading quite the right figure. The solution - give it a tap and it suddenly flicks to the right reading - for now, but surely we don't need such obvious pointers as to what is going to happen. The accents from the lead actors are a little too ridiculous to be taken seriously, especially Harrison Ford's.

    This is well worth a rent at least, but if you want a good demo disc, read on and consider a purchase.

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Transfer Quality

Video

    All up this is a rather nice transfer with basically no faults to identify.

    Presented in the original theatrical aspect ratio of 2.35:1, this transfer is also 16x9 enhanced.

    The transfer is very sharp and detailed throughout, with no evidence of any edge enhancement. Shadow detail is handled very well and grain is virtually non-existent. There is no low-level noise.

    Colours are not exactly vibrant - at sea in the north Atlantic there are only so many shades of cold blue, grey, white, and more grey, but the interior of the sub is rendered in a deeply ominous way for certain scenes (most notably those involving the nuclear reactor) so that the sense of dread is quite overwhelming. Skin tones are well rendered, with the effects of radiation burns being highlighted extremely well. There are no problems with bleeding, oversaturation, or chroma noise.

    I saw no MPEG artefacts. Being a new film, I hoped there would be few, if any, film artefacts. I was not disappointed, as this is a very clean and near-pristine transfer in that regard, with only a handful of small white specks scattered here and there.

    There are several subtitle options. I sampled the English for the Hearing Impaired track. They are mostly accurate and well positioned on screen. I watched the film completely with them on during the director's commentary and found them to be adequate for the job.

    This is a dual-layered disc with RSDL formatting. The layer change is at 70:33. It is noticeable but it occurs at a quiet moment, so the disruption is minimal

Video Ratings Summary
Sharpness
Shadow Detail
Colour
Grain/Pixelization
Film-To-Video Artefacts
Film Artefacts
Overall

Audio

    This is a pretty decent soundtrack that features some of the best subwoofer use I have heard to date. The submarine sub-genre is filled with films such as Das Boot, U-571, and The Hunt For Red October which seem to be among the very best for sub use. All puns aside, these sorts of films are ideal for showing off your audio setup, and this one is no exception.

    There are a total of three audio soundtracks on this disc. There's two Dolby Digital 5.1 tracks in both English and French. These are encoded at the higher bitrate of 448 Kb/s. Rounding out the selection is the Dolby Digital 2.0 commentary track in English.

    Despite the presence of some really dodgy Russian accents from the lead actors, the dialogue is easily understood, clear, and in sync at all times.

    The score is credited to Klaus Badelt. It is a little clichéd for what you'd expect a film about Russian sailors to contain, but it is also mostly restrained and seldom over-the-top.

    There is some highly effective surround channel use featured here. When K-19 sails on her maiden voyage at 24:36, and during an extended period between 37:58 and 42:16 when it is diving deep for the first time, all manner of clangs, bangs and alarms ring out from all corners of the room.

    I promised I would avoid making any more silly references to the sub, so all I'll say here is that this is one of the better subwoofer demonstration discs I have heard to date. Lots of low-end rumble and warble here as the sub (the one on the screen that is) dives and then crashes through the ice on its ascent. Very nice indeed and one I'll be showing off a few times, I think.

Audio Ratings Summary
Dialogue
Audio Sync
Clicks/Pops/Dropouts
Surround Channel Use
Subwoofer
Overall

Extras

Main Menu Audio & Animation

Audio Commentary - Kathryn Bigelow (Director) & Jeff Cronenweth (Cinematographer)

    This is possibly the dullest commentary track I have ever listened to. Director Kathryn Bigelow and cinematographer Jeff Cronenweth spend so much time discussing just how difficult it was to recreate the realistic look of the K-19 that they forget virtually everything else. They appear to be watching the film at the time, but you could hardly call this commentary screen-specific, as they barely respond to what is going on and keep talking about the sub. This is really one to avoid for anyone but die-hard fans.

Featurette - Making Of

    Running for 20:14 minutes, this one starts out like every other fluff making-of piece we have seen. You know the stuff - all the actors stating "this is the reason I worked with so and so", "the script really grabbed me like no other", blah, blah, blah. It is also spoiled by just too many images from the film - probably a third of the running time is taken up by film shorts and that's just a little too much of a cop-out in my opinion. It does improve dramatically when it starts to discuss the logistics and difficulties encountered in building the sub, and the use of real footage as opposed to the reliance on any CGI.

Featurette - Make-up techniques

    A brief featurette running for just 5:26 minutes that deals with the makeup techniques used to age Harrison Ford's character, and to make those crew members affected by radiation burns look like they have sat too close to a bar heater. Interesting and straight to the point.

Featurette - Breaching the hull

    Another brief 5:10 minute featurette dealing with the production of the scene where the K-19 bursts through the ice sheet in preparation for launching it's missile.

Featurette - It's in the Detail

    This one is probably the best of the bunch. It runs for a longer 11:48 and deals with the efforts the production team went to in order to recreate the K-19 as close as possible to the original.

Theatrical Trailer

    A fairly decent trailer this one. It is presented in the modified aspect ratio of 1.78:1 and is not 16x9 enhanced, but does come with full Dolby Digital 5.1 audio. Doesn't give away too much plot.

R4 vs R1

NOTE: To view non-R4 releases, your equipment needs to be multi-zone compatible and usually also NTSC compatible.

    The Region 1 release is virtually identical to the local disc save for a minor soundtrack difference.

    The Region 4 disc misses out on:

    The Region 1 disc misses out on:

    The presence of the stereo English soundtrack on the Region 1 is of little importance to me, so I'm favouring the Region 4 disc. You may see it differently.

Summary

    K-19 is stuck somewhere between The Hunt For Red October, with which it shares many similarities, and the doyen of all submarine films, Das Boot. The level of realism leans towards the German masterpiece, but the sugar-coated ending leans more toward the endings of so many other Hollywood films that have come before it. It should still entertain, but it could have been so much more.

    The video is excellent and without major fault.

    The audio is superb. Plenty of directional effects and rear channel use, but it is the subwoofer workout that puts this one into my demonstration disc category.

    Worth a look.

Ratings (out of 5)

Video
Audio
Extras
Plot
Overall

© Darren Walters (It's . . . just the vibe . . . of my bio)
Saturday, September 13, 2003
Review Equipment
DVDLoewe Xemix 5106DO, using RGB output
DisplayLoewe Calida (84cm). Calibrated with Video Essentials. This display device is 16x9 capable.
Audio DecoderBuilt in to amplifier/receiver. Calibrated with Video Essentials.
AmplificationHarmon/Kardon AVR7000.
SpeakersFront - B&W 602S2, Centre - B&W CC6S2, Rear - B&W 601S2, Sub - Energy E:xl S10

Other Reviews NONE
Comments (Add)
Horrible, Horrible Commentary - Trigger Mike (The Bio Of An Egomaniac) REPLY POSTED
Kathryn Bigelow Commentaries - capone (they're some fine antibiotics you got there..)