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— Gloria Stuart, Titanic

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Three new DVDs released this week feature some of the bigger thrillers from the Jerry Bruckheimer/Don Simpson machine. All of these have already been released on DVD, and it appears that many of the extra features are recycled from previous DVD or LaserDisc releases. All of them are called are “Unrated Extended Editions.”

Earlier this year Movie Habit asked “why now?” when Remember the Titans, also a Bruckheimer-produced movie, was re-released on DVD. The same question is valid for these three releases. Is it to get DVD reviewers like us to talk about them and to spur sales? Is it so that DVD buyers can see yet another preview for Pirates of the Caribbean 2? Or is Bruckheimer planning some sort of big retrospective? We don’t know, but we’ll play along and tell you about these three particular DVDs.

Testosterone

Testosterone galore on DVD re-releases
Testosterone galore on DVD re-releases

Con Air (1997) is heavy on the testosterone, even for a Bruckheimer movie. Nicolas Cage, looking buffer than ever, is a gold-hearted prisoner who can’t wait to see his daughter for the first time. A former Army Ranger, he killed a man while outnumbered and defending the honor of his wife. He’s been in prison for a decade and he’ll be paroled tomorrow. He’s catching a ride home on prison transport plane full of the worst criminals in the country. John Malkovich (!) plays Cyrus “the Virus,” the ringleader who masterminds a takeover of the airplane. Silly, aggressive, and macho Con Air represents everything that is wrong with Bruckheimer’s films.

Crimson Tide, by contrast, is Citizen Kane. It’s still loaded with testosterone, but instead of silly and aggressive, it’s contrived and tense. Gene Hackman is an old-school commander of a nuclear sub. An emergency inside the Russian border arises (this was 1995), and his boat is to be sent to the region as a precaution. His second-in-command is sick, so as his replacement he chooses Ron Hunter (Denzel Washington), a new-school college boy who is both Hackman’s opposite and his equal. The conflict centers around a message fragment that may or may not have repealed their order to launch nuclear weapons against Russia. Many of the minor conflicts are just as tense as the main conflict. And although it’s easy to fault Crimson Tide for being over-the-top and contrived, the tension in that sub is undeniable. (Crimson Tide has one of the most scavenged movie scores in recent history. Once you hear the sober orchestral march, it’ll be stuck in your head for days.)

Most timely is Enemy of the State (1998), a political thriller having to do with surveillance and sabotage in the high-tech United States. Will Smith makes a fine Hitchcockian protagonist, a man caught in a web of espionage outside of his understanding or control. His youth and paranoid energy is counterbalanced by the age and old-school wisdom of Gene Hackman (again), playing a version of his electronics-geek character in Francis Ford Coppola’s The Conversation. Together they work to outflank a rogue NSA chief played by Jon Voight.

Fly on the Wall

The most refreshing extra features among these three DVDs are on Crimson Tide and Enemy of the State. Each as a feature called All Access: On the Set of (blank), presented without narration. It may seem unpolished, but that’s exactly why these segments are so refreshing. They feel more honest and insightful than, say, well-lit interviews of cast and crew praising each other’s hard work. All Access makes us feel like a fly on the wall, and not a junket reporter.

Making of Crimson Tide is more polished and is more what we’re used to on modern DVDs. Nevertheless, it contains some interesting facts, for example, Crimson Tide was made without the cooperation of the Navy. The production had to scan the coast and film documentary shots of a real submarine diving for use in the film.

Making of Enemy of the State is surprisingly long and surprisingly substantive. It still features a lot of cast and crew interviews that are relatively shallow, but in the course of maybe 30 minutes, we learn a lot about the “real” technology (as it existed in 1998) presented in the film, about Tony Scott’s penchant for doing 30 takes, and about some of the specific scenes that required a little bit more preparation than usual.

Con Air doesn’t have any extra features. It’s the weakest of these three movies so I almost don’t miss the features. Still, it might have been interesting to see why John Malkovich decided to work for Bruckheimer, or how Cage buffed himself up for the role.

Picture and Sound

One thing you can say for big-budget action movies: they sound terrific. In each case, the sound of a serious score, a popular song, or a gigantic explosion will push your home theater to the limits. Picture quality is excellent on all three discs as well. Even though these movies are close to a decade old, the picture looks as good as new.