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In 1996, fresh off his film Apollo 13, Ron Howard next turned his attention to the thriller Ransom. With Mel Gibson and Rene Russo as the brought through the ringer parents, it was released on DVD during the infancy of the medium and now Buena Vista has re-released the film (possibly to also cash-in on Gibson’s recent notoriety) in a “Special Edition”.

The Movie
It is a parent's worst nightmare. In a crowded place, as their attention is diverted, their child is kidnapped. They frantically search the area, hoping for any sign of the child...to no avail. For Tom Mullen and his wife, it became reality in the Ron Howard film Ransom. Starring Mel Gibson (long before he made a gazillion dollars with The Passion of the Christ), Rene Russo, and Gary Sinise, the film is the story of just that scenario and what parents will do, and will not do, to get their child back.

Ransom - Special Edition
Mullen is the founder and chairman of Endeavour Airlines, a multi-billion corporation that he built from the ground up. He is married to Kate, and they have a young son Sean. As the three are at a charity event that Kate is hosting, Sean wanders away from his father momentarily and is snatched by two individuals who had been following him. As it becomes apparent what has happened, Gibson and Russo move through feelings of shock, worry, panic and hysteria. They enlist the aid of the FBI to help find their son and get him
back. One of the first questions is whether or not Tom has any enemies. He can think of only one. A few months prior, the machinist's union at Tom's airline had threatened a strike. At the last moment it was averted, but accusations of bribery were leveled against Mullen. Although Tom was acquitted, an associate of Tom's was found guilty and sent to jail. Tom feels he has the motive to kidnap his son.

Eventually the kidnappers call and demand $2 million from Tom, which he agrees to pay. The caller instructs that Tom not involve the authorities nor trace the money, but, as anyone who has seen any of these types of movies know, that is exactly what happens. Mullen is put through a series of tests delivering the money, so as to throw off the authorities tracking his every move and destroy the wire that he is wearing. The first attempt to deliver the money to the kidnappers ends with one of the criminals dead and the mastermind behind the plot growing increasingly more agitated at the situation.

Tom becomes convinced that no matter what he does, the kidnappers will kill his son, and so, in a moment of defiance, he goes on television displaying the ransom money telling the criminals that "This is as close as you will get to it". He then explains he intends to use the money as a bounty on the kidnappers' heads instead. This turn of events astonishes and surprises both his wife and the FBI. As the kidnappers now plan their next move, they continue to try and get Mullen to pay the ransom. They attack his wife telling her she had better get him to pay. Instead, this only makes Tom more determined and he doubles the bounty to $4 million. Tom's hope is that this will turn some of the kidnappers against each other, or lead to their eventual apprehension.

Ransom - Special Edition
Cracks begin to show in the group of criminals, and it is all the leader can do to keep his band together. Eventually all of the subplots of the movie are resolved in one fashion or another, with the exception of one. I won't ruin the ending or give away anything to you, but there is a rather large story point involving the contract negotiations at Endeavour Airlines that is left without resolution. The film ends on a rather bloody note on a New York city sidewalk.

Each of the actors give good enough performances, and there is a particular scene after Gibson and Russo have heard a gunshot over the phone that is particularly emotional. They all play the feelings of desperation and (in the case of the Mullen's) helplessness very well.

Video
Although there is a widescreen transfer present, I am a little perplexed as to why this "Special Edition" of Ransom doesn't include an anamorphic widescreen presentation. Certainly, the colours of the film are done well enough and flesh tones are good, but I couldn't help thinking as I was watching the film "I wonder what this would have looked like in anamorphic widescreen?". It seems unimaginable in todays day of DVD that a non-anamorphic disc would be released. Also, there is a fair amount of film grain and dust which can be observed during the presentation. A little more work on restoring the film seems in order.

Ransom - Special Edition
Audio
A very good presentation here. Using Dolby Digital 5.1, the sound is a big asset to the overall set.  Use of the different channels is found throughout, and you literally feel as though you are in the center of the action. In the scene in the park, you can hear the voices of the patrons coming at you from each side. The vocal and music levels all hit the right spots, and there is no distortion or loss of clarity in the soundtrack at any point. My only minor regret, that something which is billed as a "Special Edition" doesn't include a DTS track. Other than that, a good presentation.

Extras
Compared to the original release, this set does sport some good extras. The first being the feature length commentary by director Ron Howard. He's come a long way from Opie and Richie Cunningham, and developed into one of the most sought after, innovative and respected directors in Hollywood. On top of that, he seems to be such a nice person. His commentary definitely shows how comfortable he is behind the scenes, and how much he enjoys directing. He does not go on about how he “loves this shot or that shot" as some commentaries do, but rather tells in a very casual manner some tidbits about the film and the actors in general. He seems very relaxed during the running commentary and has an appropriate amount of respect for the actors and filmmaking in general. As commentaries go, a very good inclusion.

Some of the other extras, while somewhat brief, do offer a glimpse into some of the behind the scenes items which went into the making of the film. A deleted scenes area (which runs for about 4 minutes) actually includes not only a few short edited shots, but also an extended version of a scene which was left in the film. I'm a sucker for deleted scenes and these real short snippets just left me wanting more. Another 4 minute segment is filmed in a kind of a "home video" fashion.  Entitled "Between Takes", it offers an "uncensored" look at life on the set. It's ironic because at one point Gibson actually displays with an elastic what anamorphic ratio is (okay...okay....I'm beyond it now).

Ransom - Special Edition
Besides the trailer for the film, there is a new featurette entitled “What Would You Do” which stars Howard and his film editor. Recently shot, it also includes some comments that were taken at the time of filming from some of the main actors. Again, Howard holds the whole piece together with easy going and informative manner in which he conducts the piece. If only all directors could be like this when they were doing commentary on their films or being interviewed during a behind the scenes feature.

Overall
The movie itself is certainly two hours of engrossing acting and story. All of the actors (particularly Gibson and Russo) rise admirably to the material and bring about a satisfying experience. However, with the lack of an anamorphic print (okay, I had to go there one more time), a rather small amount of extras, and a transfer which still needs to be cleaned up, this “special” edition of Ransom was actually kind of….well…ordinary.


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