“Greed, lust, and individualism,” states a Russian propagandist onboard submarine K-19, showing Russians an array of American film clips depicting Civil Rights protests and Klan meetings. Some barely 20-ish year-old kids look on in both awe and fear. Soon, individualism will be the least of their worries.

K-19: The Widowmaker locks itself into a Soviet-commanded nuclear sub deep in the Cold War, with Harrison Ford barking aggressive orders to an often reluctant (if obedient) crew. It’s a tense thriller, one that’s too long, but shows the potential wonder of nuclear energy as much as the fear it instills.

Submarine films come and go, some great, some turgid, and K-19 falls somewhere in the middle

“Fear is contagious,” says Ford, playing Capt. Alexei Vostrikov, a phrase stated without irony, as if international Cold War fears didn’t put him and his men in this situation. Submarine films come and go, some great, some turgid, and K-19 falls somewhere in the middle thanks to its Soviet perspective. While it makes these men out to be heroes for stopping a potentially catastrophic nuclear event, K-19 keeps its focus there as to not invite bias. Russian military leaders are seen only in passing; K-19 remains locked on the crew, without bias. All that matters is preventing a historic disaster.

While the score drifts toward weepy Russian violins to suggest eye-rolling lost romance, K-19 details military order at its most desperate and extreme. Men give their lives to keep a reactor cooled, their nationality irrelevant. The greater political crisis is driven by nationalist ideals, of which Ford’s Vostrikov refuses to relent. Lower-ranking crew members fall in line because they have no other choice.

It’s an interesting dynamic, and in a war film without physical conflict, the script must juggle countless key characters to keep K-19 pushing forward. It does. Under Vostrikov’s command, men endure endless, tiring training drills, few of which factor into the crisis they’ll soon face, but build loyalty when disaster strikes.

Upon seeing pictures of real radiation burns, the creative team chose to dial back the gruesome burns seen on the affected men. It’s a PG-13 film that demands greater clarity and honesty to show the folly of nuclear conflict, even outside of historical context. In truth, K-19 doesn’t accurately depict how these crew members suffered, but only suggests it. K-19 lacks bite in this sanitized form, but the message and theme doesn’t change. Fear contaminated an entire planet, leading to this brutal slice of real world history.


A fantastic Dolby Vision pass is the highlight of this advertised fresh 4K master. Inside the submarine, various dials, displays, and warning lights produce intense brightness. Against the black recesses of the ship, they’re better still. However, there is some crush, notable crush too. Shadows thicken and drop to pure black, creating visually claustrophobic interiors. That’s effective rather than a fault. Elsewhere, on land, it’s an issue.

The source material creates a challenge for this master. K-19 is thick with grain, well resolved by the encoding, and adding plentiful grit. Behind this, detail can flourish, if not to the usual standards of a fresh 4K scan on this format. Especially in medium/wide shots (not that many happen once inside the ship), fidelity and resolution falter. This doesn’t look true 4K, but like an upscale. K-19 can best be described as visually rugged, if suited to the Russian-based material.

Color takes a muted aesthetic overall, flattened at times to near gray, including flat flesh tones. Primaries rarely show any zest unless a warning light pings with a deep red. However, saturation increases depending on tone. After the missile launch, flesh tones begin to take on color. Overall, this disc lacks pop or wow factor, if by design. Mostly…


Sticking with DTS-HD 5.1, K-19 sounds wonderful. Sub movies provide ambiance galore. Creaking metal, pinging indicators, voices, interior echoes, and exterior water all rush the soundstage. It’s wide and consistently active, which is all you can ask for.

Sub engines creating a droning low-end presence. It’s enough to rattle a room. A break in Arctic ice becomes a reference-worthy scene. Soon after, so is a missile launch.


On the UHD, Kathryn Bigelow and cinematographer Jeff Cronenweth provide a commentary. That’s copied on the included Blu-ray, which also includes a making of and three featurettes ported from the prior Blu-ray.

Full disclosure: This Blu-ray was provided to us for review. This has not affected the editorial process. For information on how we handle review material, please visit our about us page to learn more.

K-19: The Widowmaker
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Gripping and paced well, K-19: The Widowmaker displays the Cold War’s folly from the seas.

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The following six screen shots serve as samples for our subscription-exclusive set of 39 full resolution uncompressed 4K screen shots grabbed directly from the UHD:

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