Follow us on

Featured Blu-ray Review: K-19: The Widowmaker

May 3rd, 2010

K-19: The Widowmaker - Blu-ray - Buy from Amazon

Kathryn Bigelow recently became the first woman to win an Oscar for Best Director for her film The Hurt Locker. I'm reasonably sure that's the main reason K-19: The Widowmaker is coming out on Blu-ray now. It was an expensive movie to make and it was released during the middle of summer blockbuster season, so expectations must have been high, but it never came close to recouping its expenses. It was beaten by Stuart Little 2 during their opening weekend and it was crushed by that film at the worldwide box office. So was this a poorly timed release? Was it unfairly overlooked by moviegoers? Or was this just a bad movie that was doomed to fail?

Set in 1961, the heart of the Cold War, the film starts aboard a Russian nuclear submarine, the K-19, as it prepared to launch its nuclear warheads against the United States. With mere seconds till launch, the control panel shorts out and Captain Mikhail Polenin ends the drill. When the party leaders who were there to observe ask him who is to blame, he first says it is whoever it is in Moscow that sent inadequate parts and that the vessel's readiness is harmed by the corners being cut trying to get her ready in such short order. But when that is not acceptable, he tells them to blame him.

Back in Moscow, we meet Captain Alexi Vostrikov, who is being told he is to be given command of the K-19 and is to put it through its runs. Captain Vostrikov questions the timing of these exercises, as the ship will not be ready in time and this mission will be exceptionally dangerous, especially for a crew still trying to get used to their new vessel. However, there are global politics involved. The party leaders are worried that the United States will attack at any time and the only thing stopping them is mutually assured destruction. K-19 represents the tool the U.S.S.R. would use to retaliate if they are attacked, which means it is vital that the Americans see that it is ready as soon as possible.

Despite a few minor hiccups (including the champagne bottle failing to break) the ship is launched in time. Captain Vostrikov then puts his crew through a series of grueling drills, which results in a few minor injuries. Worse still, it puts the crew at odds with their new captain. Not only is he authoritarian and highly demanding, there are many onboard who feel he was given command over Captain Polenin due to political reasons. This fracture among the crew really comes into play after they complete their primary mission and a real accident happens and the reactor is in danger of going into meltdown. Now it will take all of their training to overcome their situation and get back home.

Currently K-19: The Widowmaker is earning a Tomatometer score of 61% positive, which is just a hair above the level needed to be considered overall positive. Sometimes the Tomatometer is deceptive, but in this case it is accurate. The movie really does fit right in-between a powerful film and one that misses its mark. The performances by the two lead actors are great, for the most part. There are definite problems with their accents, which waver in and out. There are a lot of dramatic moments, but perhaps one too many dramatic speeches given. It does balance the tension and the emotional sides well, but watching someone repair a leaky coolant system is hardly the most cinematic event, regardless of the circumstances surrounding it. It is worth checking out, but it is not a classic of the genre.

The Blu-ray is shovelware, but at least the original DVD did have plenty of extras. Things start off with an audio commentary track with the director, Kathryn Bigelow, and the cinematographer, Jeff Cronenwreth. The two have more than enough to say to keep the track moving and there's few dead spots. The Making of K-19: Widowmaker is a 20-minute featurette that combines talking heads, clips from the movie, behind-the-scenes featurettes, and a voiceover that is just a little too over-dramatic. Exploring the Craft: Make-up Techniques spends five and a half minutes looking at the make-up work in the movie (mainly the radiation burns, but also the aging make-up seen at the end of the movie). Breaching the Hull is a five-minute featurette on the special effects used to create shot the sub crashing through the ice. Finally, It's In the Details spends 12 minutes looking at how difficult it was to make the movie as realistic as possible. Sadly, there are no extras that are exclusive to the Blu-ray, nor are any of the extras in High Definition.

Speaking of High Definition, this Blu-ray sports a solid transfer with excellent detail and very strong black levels. The audio was key in setting the mood, as you want a lot of sounds from your surround speakers to help with the claustrophobic atmosphere of the movie. Fortunately, it is up to the task. In both aspects, this is a better than average catalog title. Of course, the price is also higher than average, which hurts.

The Verdict

K-19: The Widowmaker is much better than its box office performance would otherwise indicate, but there are still enough flaws here to prevent the film from becoming a classic. Likewise, the Blu-ray is better than many catalog titles in terms of extras and audio / video quality, but $23.49 is too much to ask for shovelware. I wish I could be more enthusiastic, but this rates a solid rental, maybe a purchase if you are a hardcore fan of the sub-genre. (Pun not intended, but welcomed.)

- Submitted by: