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Ronin
SPECIFICATIONS
  • 2.35:1 Widescreen
  • English PCM Stereo
  • English DTS-HD 5.1 Surround
  • English subtitles
  • 1 Disc
FEATURES
  • Audio commentary by director John Frankenheimer
  • Brand new video interview with director of photography Robert Fraisse
  • Paul Joyce documentary on Robert De Niro
  • Ronin: Filming in the Fast Lane, an archival behind-the-scenes featurette
  • Through the Lens, an archival interview with Robert Fraisse
  • The Driving of Ronin, an archival featurette on the filmís legendary car stunts
  • Natascha McElhone: An Actorís Process, an archival interview with the actress
  • Composing the Ronin Score, an archival interview with composer Elia Cmiral
  • In the Ronin Cutting Room, an archival interview with editor Tony Gibbs
  • Venice Film Festival interviews with Robert De Niro, Jean Reno and Natascha McElhone
  • Alternate ending
  • Theatrical trailer
  • Reversible sleeve featuring original and newly commissioned artwork by Jacob Phillips
  • FIRST PRESSING ONLY: Collectorís booklet illustrated by Chris Malbon, featuring new writing on the film by critic Travis Crawford

Ronin

Blu-ray
Reviewed by: Chris Galloway

Directed By: John Frankenheimer
1998 | 122 Minutes

Release Information
Blu-ray | MSRP: $39.95 | Series: Arrow Video
MVD Visual

Release Date: August 29, 2017
Review Date: August 21, 2017

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amazon.com  amazon.ca

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SYNOPSIS

From director John Frankenheimer (Reindeer Games, The Manchurian Candidate) comes Ronin, a pulse-pounding, action-packed crime thriller featuring an all-star cast headlined by Robert De Niro (Taxi Driver, Heat) and Jean Reno (Leon: The Professional). On a rain-swept night in Paris, an international crack team of professional thieves assembles, summoned by a shady crime syndicate fronted by the enigmatic Deirdre (Natascha McElhone, The Devil's Own). Their mission: to steal a heavily guarded briefcase from armed mobsters, its contents undisclosed. But what begins as a routine heist soon spirals into chaos, with the group beset by a series of double-crosses and constantly shifting allegiances, and it falls to world-weary former CIA strategist Sam (De Niro) and laconic Frenchman Vincent (Reno) to hold the mission together. A latter-day return to form for Frankenheimer, the film evokes the same gritty milieu as classic 70s crime fare like The French Connection, in addition to anticipating the early 21st century trend towards more grounded, realistic action movies, exemplified by the likes of the Bourne franchise. Arrow Video is proud to present Ronin in a brand new, cinematographer-approved 4K restoration, allowing this jewel in the crown of 90s thriller cinema to shine like never before.


PICTURE

John Frankenheimerís chase-thriller Ronin receives a new Blu-ray edition from Arrow Video, presented in its original aspect ratio of about 2.35:1 on a dual-layer disc. The new 1080p/24hz high-definition presentation comes from a new 4K restoration conducted by Arrow, scanned from the original 35mm negative.

For me this release is a very welcome and pleasant surprise after Fox/MGMís mediocre Blu-ray, which used a rather dated just-a-wee-bit-better-than-DVD MPEG2 encode. Arrowís new restoration unsurprisingly surpasses that release to an astounding degree, giving the film the life itís so far been missing on home video. Film grain is better rendered and clean and detail levels have also been drastically improved upon, with the particulars of the city streets and various surfaces popping that much more. Also of note is the improvement in colour. Itís not a very bright or dynamic film colour wise, it being mentioned that they tried to avoid primary colours, but colour saturation is noticeably better, dropping that murkier look the old Blu-ray had. An improvement in black levels and shadow details also aids the look in this respect. I think the best area to compare is the sequence in the coliseum, where the background objects and people are all fairly murky and fuzzy on the old edition but far sharper and more distinct in this new edition.

The old Blu-ray also had some damage present, limited to bits of dirt and the like, and Arrow has removed all of that here. Altogether itís a rather remarkable looking image, the best Iíve seen it since the filmís theatrical run. Thereís just a far more natural, crisper look to the film, with more a film-like texture than the previous Blu-ray edition. Itís a drastic improvement.

10/10

All Blu-ray screen captures come from the source disc and have been shrunk from 1920x1080 to 900x506 and slightly compressed to conserve space. While they are not exact representations they should offer a general idea of overall video quality.

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AUDIO

Arrow includes a DTS-HD MA 5.1 surround track and linear PCM 2.0 stereo surround track. I only listened to the 5.1 track.

I canít say much has changed really and the notes suggest Arrow is just using what MGM has supplied to them, not modifying or restoring it any way, but this is fine as the soundtrack has always been pretty great, even on the original MGM DVD. Itís a very dynamic soundtrack with an excellent bit of range between the lows and highs and thatís still perfectly replicated and handled here. Despite the fairly sparse plot the film is rather talky but dialogue is crisp and clear, likewise the filmís great score, which moves nicely around the viewer through the surround speakers.

Where the soundtrack shines, of course, is during the filmís lengthy and rather intense action scenes. There are gunshots and explosions and they can be quite loud, but I didnít detect distortion and the mix made sure nothing significant was drowned out. I maybe expected more from the bass, which is serviceable, but at the very least itís not overdoing it and still serves the filmís gun shots, explosions, and other loud effects. Direction between the speakers is quite good, with cars whizzing left-to-right and/or front-to-back, and the gunshots (which again are quite loud) are coming from every which way, with a nice echo at times (the first shoot-out, the tunnel chase). Movement between the speakers also sounds excellent and natural. It sounds quite good.

10/10

SUPPLEMENTS

So after greatly improving upon the previous Blu-rayís video presentation (and keeping the soundtrack par for the course) Arrow corrects one of the most egregious and annoying aspects of the previous Fox/MGM Blu-ray: the lack of special features. This was especially obnoxious since not only had MGM previously released a 2-disc DVD special edition packed with a number of features, the first DVD (a flipper disc with widescreen on one side and full-screen on the other) even had, at the very least, an audio commentary and an alternate ending. Other than trailers for Ronin and other MGM films there was nothing else on the Blu-ray and they couldnít even be bothered.

Arrow has managed to, as far as I can see, pull all of that previous material onto this edition while adding some of their own. The audio commentary featuring John Frankenheimer, recorded for the original DVD edition, has found its way back. Like a majority of his commentaries that Iíve listened to this one is a very technical one, Frankenheimer talking about the filmís look, cameras and the lenses used, capturing the action scenes and car chases, and the filmís editing. He does talk about the production history and working with the actors a bit but again he is more concerned with technical aspects. As he strains for subjects to cover he can go off a bit and there are dead spots in a few places. Itís not one of his best tracks itís still fairly interesting to listen to.

Moving on, Arrowís one sole newly produced feature made for this edition is a new 31-minute interview with cinematographer Robert Fraisse, who also appears elsewhere on the disc in an older interview. This interview is somewhat more career spanning, Fraisse talking about early grunt work and the lessons he picked up before becoming a cinematographer and working on films like The Story of O and Emmanuelle II. Those films somewhat pigeonholed him into more erotic cinema though an Oscar nomination for Jean-Jacques Annaudís The Lover helped him quite a bit. Talking about Ronin he focuses on the look he likes to get in a film, one rule being that he doesnít like centering anything in the frame, which he thinks keeps the film moving. He also talks about camera positioning and placement, something that becomes more difficult when working with a large number of cameras when filming an action scene. Itís a rather wonderful interview.

An interesting inclusionóand new to this releaseóis what appears to be a 1994 episode from a show called Cinefile. Called You Talkiní to Me? it features director Quentin Tarantino talking about De Niroís early career and his stand-out roles, from Mean Streets and The Godfather II through Once Upon a Time in America. He admits, though, that his latest work doesnít grab him and he figures De Niroís now working just for the money, being less discriminating (this would of course be before he cast De Niro in Jackie Brown). I think heís a little unfair there, especially since he overlooks Goodfellas, but then looking at De Niroís career now itís really not hard to see where heís coming from. I know Tarantino can annoy some because when he talks about film it can come out like ďword vomitĒ but I admit Iíve always been amused and fascinated when he talks about films, his geeky passion eventually winning me over. I also enjoyed dated elements to the program, like his comments about the ultimate dream pairing of De Niro and Al Pacino, pre-Heat (and the awful Righteous Kill). It runs about 27-minutes.

Also from the original DVD is the filmís alternate ending, which clarifies the fate of one of its characters. Basically itís the final scene between Reno and De Niro with some added insertions, running under two-minutes altogether. Itís presented the same as it was one that DVD, in standard definition and time-codes left in.

Following that is then the filmís original theatrical trailer and then a gallery (navigable using the arrows on your remote) featuring the filmís poster art and then a number of production photos, including a few featuring Frankenheimer.

Arrow then packages material available on the previous MGM special edition DVD, released around 2006, under the heading ďArchival Features.Ē I have not seen that DVD so all of this material is new to me. The first feature is a general 18-minute documentary about the making of the film called Ronin: Filming in the Fast Lane. It first offers a few interviews with Frankenheimer and other members of the cast and crew recorded on set, talking about what attracted them to the film. It gets more interesting when it gets into the more technical details of the action scenes, particularly the car chases which used specially rigged cars that allowed the actors to appear to be driving while the real driving was done by professionals out of view in the trunk of the car of all places. Despite all of the difficult aspects of filming the action in the film Frankenheimer amusingly states that this is one of the least stressful pictures heís worked on.

I was unexpectedly impressed with that feature: I was expecting a lazy promotional documentary but instead got an engaging overview of the filmís production. Though it was brief and still not terribly in-depth it did manage to focus on some of the more interesting aspects of the production. Thankfully this carries through the remaining features, starting with another interview with Fraisse under Through the Lens. This one is definitely more specific to Ronin (whereas the newer one from before had more of a career overview) and Fraisse talks a little more about the car chases, issues with camera placement, the look Frankenheimer goes after, and even his favourite moments.

More interviews follow, like The Driving of Ronin featuring stunt-car coordinator Jean-Claude Lagniez talking about the rigged cars used for the chase sequences and pulling off some of the more complex moments, like that chase going the wrong way through a tunnel (apparently they only had a few hours to shoot the wrong-way portion of the chase). An Actorís Process then features Natascha McElhone talking about her character and performance, what it was like being the only woman in the main cast, and the experience of working with De Niro. These segments run 15-minutes and 14-minutes respectively.

Continuing on are even more technical interviews. Composing the Ronin Score has Elia Cmiral talks about the filmís score for 12-minutes, covering its structure and influences (and the score is even more impressive when Cmiral notes it was his first film score and he had a short schedule to write it). In the Cutting Room then features editor Tony Gibbs talking about his first Frankenheimer film, finding the appropriate rhythms, and how he was able to create a lot of the sequences he did because Frankenheimer shot a large variety of footage that gave him a lot of options. It runs 19-minutes.

The most disappointing feature may be the interviews from the Venice Film Festival, running about 21-minutes total. This is just a compilation of interview excerpts with De Niro, Jean Reno, and McElhone. The interviewees answer questions (shown in text) and cover topics from working with Frankenheimer to the relationships between their characters. Renoís contribution is probably the best with McElhoneís in second (De Niro rarely seems like heís enjoying himself during interviews) but on the whole they donít offer much. Itís a shame neither MGM or Arrow were able to get new interviews with members of the cast.

Closing off the release is a booklet available only with first printings, featuring an essay by Travis Crawford. Crawford writes about the filmís action, which seems more classic and un-ironic in comparison to todayís action films. He also looks at Frankenheimerís career around this time, this film following the disastrous Island of Dr. Moreau, even offering a brief bit of detail on that troubled production.

Seeing Arrow recycled most of the material from previous editions was a little disappointing initially but I must say that I was pleasantly surprised by the older features with a lot of it covering a number of fascinating subjects. Adding on their new Fraisse interview, De Niro tribute, and then excellent booklet nicely rounds out this release wonderfully.

8/10

CLOSING

Itís a very sharp edition. Improving drastically over the previous MGM/Fox Blu-ray in just about every regard it comes with a very high recommendation.




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