UNDER SIEGE – Blu-ray review

Maybe I shouldn’t admit to this, but one of the very first DVDs I purchased was Steven Seagal’s “The Glimmer Man.” Back in 1997, Seagal still had a semblance of a movie career and was still considered a bad-assed dude, even with the woeful “The Glimmer Man” showing Seagal as an overweight and far slower version of his former self. That was a foot or two down the slippery slope to the direct-to-video bin where Seagal now reigns supreme. Before the martial artist/environmentalist actor became more of a household joke, he was a big box office draw and films such as “Under Siege” were the reasons why. Of course, some consider “Under Siege” the final film of his box office drawing power, but it followed the entertaining films “Above the Law,” “Hard to Kill,” “Marked for Death” and “Out for Justice.”

In “Under Siege,” Steven Seagal is Casey Ryback, a cook for a United States Navy battleship. A big celebration is underway and Ryback was personally selected by the ships Admiral to prepare the big feast for the celebration. Entertainment arrives in the form of a rock and roll band with frontman William Stranix (Tommy Lee Jones). Stranix isn’t exactly a rock and roller and the ships Commanding Officer, Cmdr. Krill (Gary Busey) isn’t the man his crew believes him to be. The two have concocted a plan to seize control of the battleship and launch nuclear missiles from the deck of the massive vessel. They plan to launch one missile as a show of might and then auction off their services to the highest bidder. What they didn’t expect was that Ryback is an ex-Navy SEAL that is legendary for his capabilities and that Ryback is a one man force that can easily usurp Stranix, Krill and their sizable squad of terrorists. They also didn’t expect the incredibly sexy Erika Eleniak to pop out of a cake topless, thrill male audiences and then act as the naïve sidekick for the action hero Seagal.

The plot is pretty over the top in nature and “Under Siege” was the start of bigger and more expensive films for Seagal. As Ryback, Seagal was easily believable as a Navy SEAL and his moves were sharp and precise. Tommy Lee Jones was far less convincing as a worthy opponent with a knife, but Jones is the sort of actor where is presence is a benefit for any film, regardless of how poorly he was miscast. Gary Busey was the quintessential madman in the late Eighties and early Nineties and he was perfectly cast for his role as Krill. He was meant to be hated, he was meant to be despicable and Busey nails his role. Erika Eleniak was the popular Playmate of choice when she starred in “Under Siege.” I’m certain that many teenage boys went to see Under Siege for the sole purpose of seeing the actress in motion. Being incredibly well built and gorgeous was all that was necessary for the Baywatch beauty.

Watching “Under Siege,” it is easy to remember when Steven Seagal was believable as a complete action hero. He had a wooden charisma that was more personable than either Stallone or Schwarzenegger, had good looks and an ability to convincingly deliver a good one liner. “Under Siege” was a cookie-cutter action film from the early Nineties, but with Tommy Lee Jones, Gary Busey, Colm Meaney and the luscious Erika Eleniak, the film had a solid cast and the pure concept of somebody as big and imposing as Seagal being passed off for a harmless cook was priceless. It was the perfect device to pass the time until the fists and bullets started to fly. Once the film let everybody in on the joke that Seagal’s character was more than a cook (which everybody really knew from the time the decided to watch the film or stumbled across the opening logos), then the action began and the film moved along swiftly and surely.

Steven Seagal has become a guilty pleasure of mine since the days of “The Glimmer Man,” “On Deadly Ground,” and “Under Siege 2.” The first “Under Siege” film was the turning point, but can be lumped in with his older and more classic action films. Down deep, I’m one of those people that hope Seagal can once again find a niche in Hollywood. However, with films such as “Once Upon a Time in the Hood” on his upcoming slate, that isn’t going to happen anytime soon. Maybe its time for the fifty six year old actor to realize that he should start to take roles in ensemble films, perhaps as a crime lord or something that may be against his personal beliefs, but return him to the attention of audiences. Seagal would make for an entertaining Army Colonel in a war movie, or as a grizzled old man who lives on a mountain and has a pet cougar. I may be grasping at straws, but “Under Siege” is a fun film that reminds me how once I looked forward to new Seagal films. After watching it, I’m hoping to once day get another.

“Under Siege” did not blow me out of the water with its next generation arrival on Blu-ray. The film is now fifteen years old, but on Blu-ray, it is a very grainy, soft and flawed looking film that looks older than it really is. The 1.85:1 VC-1/1080p transfer does not suffer from any flaws due to the digital mastering or compression of the title, but the source materials are certainly to blame. Much of the film takes place in dank and dark scenes and during these moments are when the film grain is a far deadlier foe to Steven Seagal than Tommy Lee Jones. I had some hopeful expectations that the scenes featuring the U.S. Navy battleship would be incredibly detailed. I do love battleships and hoped for the best. Fortunately, the outdoor scenes with low angle shots at the massive guns of the floating warrior were some of the best. This is a film in desperate need of a complete restoration, but from the looks of things, “Under Siege” was given a mediocre source print and slapped onto the high definition disc.

The film fares far better when it comes to sound quality. The English Dolby Digital 5.1 soundtrack is at times very powerful and aggressive. Part of the reason I had interest in viewing this title was for the battleship and the fact it fires its big guns. I am happy to report they sound quite impressive and the .1 LFE channel rumbles heavily when the massive guns erupt and fire onto the poor little submarine. The film features a nice assortment of other sound effects such as explosions, gunfire and helicopters. All six speakers are lively often times throughout the film and a few of the musical tracks in the film are also nicely rendered. Even Tommy Lee Jones sounds good when he gets to play Rock Star. Dialogue is clear and understandable through even the noisiest moments and one scene where the ships crew is herded together below deck allows for each individual plea for help to be heard. French 5.1 and Spanish 2.0 surround mixes are cooked in, as well as English, French and Spanish subtitles.

The only extra contained on the Blu-ray release is the Theatrical Trailer. It is presented in 480p standard definition video with a stereo soundtrack. Meh.

Closing Thoughts:
Steven Seagal kicking some serious bad guy hind-end on a powerful battleship back when he was a convincing action hero is something for a former fan of the brawler to not pass up on high definition. “Under Siege” is not the best film on Seagal’s resume and it could be said this was the turning point in his career, which was on the way up when the film was released. The Blu-ray title is a horribly grainy and soft transfer that steps up to the plate a couple times, but generally disappoints. The soundtrack is quite impressive, however. It doesn’t quite tackle the best of today’s releases, but can compete with many of the above average tracks released even today. Sadly, the only supplement contained is the theatrical trailer. This too was disappointing. “Under Siege” on Blu-ray is something that fans of the film or actor would want to purchase. It replaces my LaserDisc, but if I had owned the film on standard definition DVD, I would not be rushing out to replace that with the Blu-ray title at its full price point.