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Scott Ventura >> Movie Commentary >> November 1999 >> Crimson Tide

Crimson Tide

Movie Commentary by Scott Ventura


Scott's Rating:
4 / 5
Times Seen:
Viewing Date:
November 1999
IMDB Name:
Crimson Tide (1995)
Tony Scott
action, suspense
MPAA Rating:
R for strong language.

Ethics, or Morals?

Forgive the Election reference. Crimson Tide is an intelligently-made movie. It delivers credible dialogue and good performances by actors that know how to show you something is bubbling beneath the surface. For an early-summer action movie, it's a little heavy on the philosophy. The central conflict of the movie is Captain Ramsey's decision to follow protocol when Executive Officer Hunter knows that doing so marks the irrevocable start of World War III. Ramsey is played by Gene Hackman and Hunter by Denzel Washington, both of whom are perfect for their roles. They have excellent exchanges that overshadow every other performance in a movie filled with good acting. The movie's biggest flaw is insufficient screen time given to the supporting cast to try to understand their motivations. In particular, why are Dougherty, Zimmer and Westergaurd so loyal to Ramsey and so closed-minded about it?

The movie is usually pretty good about keeping things realistic. From Hunt for Red October, I already knew why distance is crucial when it comes to torpedo launches. When a crew member asks, largely for the benefit of the audience, he receives an answer, along with appropriate incredulity for not already knowing. This wink at the audience members that already knew this was a welcome touch. It almost saved me from adding a Nitpicking section to this commentary.


Dariusz Wolski was the director of photography for Crimson Tide. His work here demonstrates the talent that he'd also use to make Dark City look so wonderful. In particular, the lighting in Crimson Tide leans heavily towards saturated primary colors, sometimes more than one at a time. When Viggo Mortensen's face is lit in all three simultaneously, it's a marvelous visual showing the inner conflict of the character at the moment.

I would like to add that the red-lighting frequently used in submarines serves a purpose: keeping the human visual system dark-adapted for improved acuity when looking through a periscope. Since the Alabama spends most of its time well below periscope depth, it's not an issue here.

Smooth Operator

Did anyone else recognize Vladimir Radchenko? Daniel von Bargen went on to become famous as Kruger of Kruger Industrial Smoothing on "Seinfeld". Two of the characters have slightly funny names. George Dzundza plays Chief of the Boat Cob. C.O.B. Cob, get it? Elsewhere in the trivia department, James Gandolfini plays a character loyal to Ramsey. Ramsey has a dog named "Bear". Gandolfini's character in Get Shorty, released five months after Crimson Tide, was named Bear.


Hunter leaves his television on and tuned to CNN during his daughter's birthday party. I know it sets up a nice moment when a pager and a phone beep and ring almost simultaneously, but it feels like a cheat. If that man is the loving father he's later shown to be, I think he can turn the TV off. Thinking on it further, is CNN really so far ahead of the game that they can report on the situation before the military can act on the same knowledge? I hope the CNN publicist that landed that kind of plug was rewarded.

DVD Comments

When a DVD offers me little in the way of interesting information, I draw on the critic within to give me text. In the case of Crimson Tide, the critic appears quickly. The movie is available with English 5.1 and French 2.0 audio. Subtitles are available in English and Spanish. The subtitles can be switched without interrupting the movie, but the audio requires a pass through the setup menu to substitute French-language title cards that mark the passage of time. The menus are easy to navigate with only one exception: the current screen of scene selections is not disabled. When I accidentally requested the screen I was already on, there was no feedback to let me know I had made a mistake. I would praise the design for expediency if selecting another screen left the selector in the screen list, preferably either on the same screen or the next one, but instead it always defaults to the top-left scene.

I am not usually one to notice image quality oddities, but one really stuck out. A scene in a briefing room has the camera subtly off-kilter. The frames around several boards in the background suffer from "jaggies" that only get worse when the camera moves. Granted, this could be one of those things that can't be done well on a pixel-based display like a CRT. Maybe the slightly fuzzier picture of VHS would cover this up.

See the IMDB information on Crimson Tide's DVD or compare prices at DVD Price Search.

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Copyright 1999-2001 by Scott Ventura. All rights reserved.