Ronin appears in an aspect ratio of approximately 2.35:1 on this single-sided, double-layered DVD; the image has been enhanced for 16X9 televisions. The film presented a rather mediocre transfer.
Sharpness was inconsistent. Due to some moderate edge enhancement, wide shots tended to look a bit soft. Much of the movie seemed reasonably concise, but too many exceptions occurred. I saw a few examples of jagged edges and shimmering, and I also noticed periodic instances of source defects. The film demonstrated periodic specks, marks and streaks.
The low-key palette of Ronin never went much beyond those restrictions. A few slightly bright hues showed up along the way, but the majority of the movie stayed with gray tones. The colors we saw looked decent but somewhat bland. Blacks were acceptably deep, but shadows tended to appear a little dense. The low-light shots could have offered better clarity. This all ended up with a “C+” image.
Similar ups and downs stemmed from the Dolby Digital 5.1 soundtrack of Ronin. My main concerns related to the quality of the audio. Speech seemed somewhat flat and lacked a real natural tone. The lines got buried under the mix at times, and that could affect intelligibility.
Effects were usually clean, though they occasionally betrayed a little distortion. They showed loud bass response that slightly overwhelmed the image on occasion. Music lacked much range. The score took on a choppy sound that didn’t present strong dynamics. The upper register was usually fine, but lows lacked presence.
At least the soundfield seemed positive. The music demonstrated good stereo imaging, and the movie took advantage of all its action sequences. All five speakers presented a lot of information, especially during the livelier scenes. Bullets zipped around the room and cars zoomed all over the place. At times I thought things could be a little too “speaker specific”, but the track usually blended well. The combination of good soundscape and lackluster audio quality meant a “B” grade.
On this two-disc release of Ronin, we get a mix of extras. DVD One starts with an audio commentary from director John Frankenheimer. He offers a running, screen-specific discussion. Recorded for the original 1999 DVD, Frankenheimer covers a mix of useful topics.
The director gets into the script and story, the actors’ training and performances, and the alternate endings. He also tells us a lot about filmmaking techniques. He details photographic choices as well as locations and sets.
For the best parts, Frankenheimer digs into the stunts and driving sequences. He gives us a very nice examination of those methods and provides a solid discussion of all the related challenges. Despite a little too much dead air, Frankenheimer ultimately makes this a satisfying commentary.
Disc One also includes an alternate ending. This 107-second clip adds a few shots of Natasha McElhone to the existing conclusion and shows what happens to her. It’s an interesting choice, but I think the more vague finale now in the film works better.
When we shift to DVD Two, we begin with a collection of Original Venice Film Festival Interviews. These fill 20 minutes, 40 seconds, and include comments from actors Robert De Niro, Jean Reno and Natasha McElhone. De Niro chats about his impressions of Frankenheimer, his character and other aspects of the story, and stunt driving. Reno chats about his character and the others, working with De Niro, Frankenheimer, the movie’s concept and filming in France. Finally, McElhone looks at her character and related issues, the flick’s theme, working in an action flick and shooting the driving scenes, and her impressions of Frankenheimer.
De Niro has always been a bad interview subject, and he remains uncomfortable here. He tosses out a couple of decent notes but not anything particularly useful. Reno seems more open and adds a few nice observations about the director. McElhone offers information on about the same level as Reno. She gives us a smattering of details but nothing memorable. That’s the main problem with these interviews; they were done for promotional reasons, so they lack much impact.
During Through the Lens, we get notes from director of photography Robert Fraisse. The 17-minute and 56-second featurette looks at Fraisse’s work. We learn about the challenges involved during Ronin as well as cooperating with Frankenheimer, shooting the driving, and various other cinematographic issues. Though “Lens” can be a bit dry, it offers a decent perspective on the movie’s camerawork and proves interesting.
The 17-minute and 44-second Ronin: Filming in the Fast Lane features Frankenheimer, De Niro, McElhone, Reno, producer Frank Mancuso Jr., stunt coordinator Joe Dunne, stunt car coordinator Jean-Claude Lagniez, and actors Skipp Sudduth, Jonathan Pryce, Stellan Skarsgard and Sean Bean. “Lane” covers Frankenheimer’s work on the set, the movie’s story, characters and actors, the flick’s driving scenes and stunts, filming in Paris, and a few production topics. Too many movie clips show up here and “Lane” takes a very general focus. It comes across as a promotional featurette that touts the movie but doesn’t tell us much.
Next comes Natasha McElhone: An Actor’s Process. This 13-minute and 56-second piece presents statements from McElhone as she chats about working with Frankenheimer and her co-stars, various challenges during the shoot, forms of training, and aspects of her performance. Like the other featurettes, this one never really excels. It tosses out a smattering of nice bits but doesn’t coalesce into something with a lot of value.
For the next featurette, we find the 18-minute and 55-second In the Cutting Room with Tony Gibbs. It presents editor Gibbs as he discusses his background and how he got into film as well as his training and prior experiences. Gibbs then goes over how he came to work with Frankenheimer and specifics of what he did on Ronin. I like the fact we get info about Gibbs’ history before he digs into the specifics. This combination of elements helps make “Cutting” a rich and informative piece.
As we progress, we move to Composing the Ronin Score. This 11-minute and 51-second show features composer Elia Cmiril as he chats about his start in film and his work on Ronin. He discusses specifics of his score and what he wanted to do with the music in this revealing little featurette.
We hear about The Driving of Ronin in a 15-minute and 29-second featurette. It offers notes from stunt car coordinator Lagniez. As one might guess, the program looks at the movie’s stunt driving. Lagniez relates his history with cars and speed and then goes over the details of how he worked on Ronin. Like the two featurettes that immediately precede it, “Driving” becomes useful and worthwhile.
A three-minute and 32-second Animated Photo Gallery appears next. It runs a series of publicity and production pictures accompanied by score from the film. Some decent images appear, though the format doesn’t please me.
Finally, we get a collection of Previews. This area includes ads for “The Ultimate James Bond Collection”, the Raging Bull Collector’s Edition, and the extended cut of Black Hawk Down.
Twice I’ve watched Ronin and twice I’ve wanted and expected to like it. Twice I’ve felt only moderately involved by it. The film includes many solid parts but they never coalesce to form a rich whole. The DVD offers mediocre picture with fairly good audio and a large but inconsistent package of extras. Neither the movie nor the DVD manage to become anything much above average.