Under the Radar

'Saving Private Ryan' Leads New Blu-Ray Releases

Saving Private Ryan leads a trio of new Blu-ray releases from Paramount, along with an early classic from the director of The Hurt Locker and an energetic if sloppy sequel starring Kurt Russell.

SAVING PRIVATE RYAN

Saving Private Ryan just might be the modern Blu-ray equivalent of those stereo demonstration records some of us remember from the Fifties and Sixties. If your dad had an expensive hi-fi setup, he usually had one of those LPs that was specifically recorded to show off the modern two-channel audio separation so prized in those early stereo units.

If you have a 58-inch 1080p flat screen television with a monster surround-sound audio setup, Saving Private Ryan is the movie you want when showing off your TV to friends and family. The film's legendary opening D-day invasion delivers on everything the studios have promised from this new technology. The movie's still as great as ever and the new transfer is absolutely beautiful.

A second disk recycles previously-released special features in standard definition. If you've got the right equipment, you'll definitely want a copy of this release.

K-19: The Widowmaker

Kathryn Bigelow's film was a certified bomb at the box office upon release in 2002, so much that she didn't direct another film until she made the ultra-low budget The Hurt Locker. K-19 also represented the biggest flop to date in Harrison Ford's career.

The film is based on the 1961 true story of a Soviet nuclear submarine crew faced with systems failure. If the sub explodes in NATO waters, the blast might set off a nuclear retaliation from the United States. Buried in the archives for over thirty years, the full story didn't emerge until after the fall of the Soviet Union and inspired this film, which was partly financed by National Geographic magazine.

Maybe we weren't ready for Soviet heroes in a film, because otherwise it's hard to understand why the film underperformed so badly. Ford's great work is matched by the performances of Liam Neeson and Peter Sarsgaard; Bigelow shows the same directing talent on display in Near Dark, Point Break and Strange Days.

The Blu-ray transfer looks great, even if it's not quite as eye-popping an upgrade as Saving Private Ryan.

Escape from L.A.

John Carpenter's sequel to Escape from New York shows all the strengths and weaknesses that have informed his work from Halloween to The Thing, Starman and the underrated Ghosts of Mars. Co-written with star Kurt Russell, the film revives the Snake Plissken character sixteen years after his NYC adventure.

The movie's always been a blast and features Pam Grier, Stacey Keach, Cliff Robertson and Steve Buscemi, all having a great time playing off Russell's Plissken deadpan.

Unfortunately, the high-tech Blu-ray transfer sharpens up a lot of low-grade special effects. They weren't state-of-the-art in the original film but they were close enough for analog projection. Blu-ray makes some action scenes look alarmingly like outtakes from Plan 9 from Outer Space.

Escape from L.A.'s definitely worth your time, but you might want to catch it or Spike TV or add the standard DVD to your Netflix queue rather than spend your cash on this release.

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