It’s no wonder that Kathryn Bigelow had a down-time of six years between films after the relative disappointment that K-19: The Widowmaker was. With a ballooned budget of over $100 million, the film went on to gross a meager $65 million worldwide, making it quite the box office failure. With tepid responses from critics and audiences alike (not to mention mixed feedback from the crew of the actual K-19 vessel of which this film is based on), K-19 seemed to disappear into relative obscurity after it bowed out of theaters. As we all know now, however, Bigelow’s next film, The Hurt Locker, was made for significantly less and although it too didn’t perform particularly well at the box office, it sure cleaned up at the Oscars. Perhaps due to this we’ll see a resurgence in the interest of her previous works as K-19 really isn’t all that bad of a film and worth checking out if only for the performances by Neeson and Ford.
Inspired by a true story, “K-19: The Widowmaker” follows Captain Alexei Vostrikov (Harrison Ford) who, at the height of the Cold War, is ordered to take over command of the nuclear missile submarine K-19, pride of the Soviet Navy. His assignment: prepare the K-19 for sea and take her out on patrol – no matter what the cost. But problems with K-19 arise that may lead to a core meltdown and explosion that will certainly kill all aboard, and possibly trigger a nuclear war. In a daring act of heroism, Vostrikov must choose between his orders from the Kremlin and the lives of his men.
In truth the film itself is relatively slow and boring; in fact it is a lot like The Hunt for Red October in that it’s the performances that drive your interest to watch it further. The film really just goes on for over two hours without much of an actual progression in the story; it starts out with Ford acting as a rather brash captain and Liam Neeson (as executive officer Mikhail Polenin) as the more level-headed of the two that the crew also seems to appreciate more. This obviously creates grounds for the eventual mutiny, although the resolution of that is really probably the greatest bit of the film itself.
Neeson and Ford certainly make for an interesting on-screen duo, although the Star Wars fanboy in me kept looking at it from a completely different angle (and subsequently pondering if they ever told stories to one another about their crazy days on the Star Wars sets…ok maybe not, but that was the level of distraction I had to put up with). It really was their acting that helped drive the whole movie; even though I didn’t recognize anyone but our leads, everyone really brought an excellent set of skills to the film. This does, of course, make the film sound very boring and quite honestly it is. That’s probably where it failed as even the most “exciting” elements of the film had more to do with the suspense of whether or not the nuclear sub would actually explode and trigger World War III or not.
Honestly I think the film works better as a character piece than anything; there just isn’t much substance or plot progression during the two hours. The crew deals with the same thing for most of the film and Ford’s character acts like kind of a jerk for the majority of it (up until the mutiny part, at least…he eases up a bit after that); it just really isn’t the type of film that grips you with its action or spectacular visuals (although the cramped sub interior definitely felt claustrophobic at times, so I guess that was some kind of enveloping feel).
Overall K-19: The Widowmaker is certainly a worthwhile film to see for the historical aspect of it (although there were some elements changed for the film, of course, but I believe it’s mostly accurate) as well as the performances by the actors. But know going in that you’ll hardly be on the edge of your seat as it’s quite a dry movie most of the time. Worth a Rental if you’ve never seen it.
At first I was like “why is Paramount releasing this on Blu-ray?” but then I saw Bigelow directed it and it all made sense. The disc itself arrives in a single Elite Blu-ray case with plain grey wash disc art and an easily navigable menu system. There’s really nothing new here to talk about as the extras are the same as the DVD release…as is the cover art.
Video is an AVC encoded effort and being only an eight-year old film it looks appropriately crisp and clean. There is an issue with grain and excessive darks, but it is shot inside of a nuclear submarine for the most part, so incredible hues and whites are not things you should expect (although there is a cool blue effect that happens about midway or so into the film…plus the shots of the crew playing soccer in the snow was nicely lit as well) to see anyway. There is plenty of detail to glean from the interior shots regardless, so it’s a solid transfer nonetheless.
Audio is a Dolby TrueHD 5.1 mix and as I found with U-571, submarine movies make for really interesting aural experiences. The amount of creaks, cracks, and bumps that go throughout a submarine is absolutely amazing and there is almost always something creaking to the left and right of you at any given moment; dialogue spits out of the front channels loud and clear and any sound effects that occur such as breaking and bursting pipes or the shattering of ice as the sub surfaces is heard with great clarity. Overall a solid A/V presentation for the film and I doubt you could ask for better.
• Commentary by director Kathryn Bigelow and cinematographer Jeff Cronenweth
• Featurette: The Making of K-19: The Widowmaker
• Featurette: Exploring the Craft: Make-Up Techniques
• Featurette: Breaching The Hull
• Featurette: It’s In The Details
• Trailers: Theatrical Trailer (HD)
The featurettes tally up to almost an hour’s worth of goodies, but it’s the commentary where you’ll find most of the information that Bigelow wants to share about the film. It’s certainly a healthy dosage of extras for a film that performed so poorly in theaters, but sadly there’s nothing here that we haven’t seen from the eight-year-old DVD release from 2002 already.
Unless you really like the movie there’s no real reason to bother picking it up on Blu-ray; it’s certainly a solid presentation in the technical department, but a Rental will most likely appease most viewers.
K-19: The Widowmaker is now available on Blu-ray.