The Sum of All Fears

Director: Phil Alden Robinson
Screenplay: Paul Attanasio and Daniel Pyne (based on the novel by Tom Clancy)
Stars: Ben Affleck (Jack Ryan), Morgan Freeman (Bill Cabot), James Cromwell (President Fowler), Liev Schreiber (John Clark), Ciarán Hinds (Alexander Nemerov), Alan Bates (Richard Dressler), Philip Baker Hall (Defense Secretary Becker), Bruce McGill (National Security Advisor Revel), Jamie Harrold (Dillon), Bridget Moynahan (Cathy Muller)
MPAA Rating: PG-13
Year of Release: 2002
Country: U.S.
Jack Ryan 4K Box Set
The Sum of All Fears

Roughly halfway through The Sum of All Fears, the worst thing imaginable happens: A small nuclear weapon placed by terrorists explodes in a major American city, killing tens of thousands of people and decimating a mile-wide area. During the Cold War era, the fear was that a massive nuclear strike would be launched against the U.S. by the Soviet Union, resulting in an unwinnable war that would spell the demise of humanity. Now, in the post-9/11 world, that fear has been supplanted by paranoia about suitcase-size nuclear warheads that terrorists can deposit literally anywhere, thus turning what was once the mighty weapon of superpowers into something feasible for a small, disgruntled group of religious fanatics.

The key to the tension in The Sum of All Fears is that is gets to play it both ways, where nuclear weapons are both the tool of terrorism and the threat of superpower countries waging war on each other. Based on the 1991 novel by prolific political-thriller writer Tom Clancy (the fifth in his Jack Ryan series), the film replaces Arab terrorist with well-heeled neo-Nazi fascists working out of France and Syria, which allows for a more conventional movie villain with less disturbing connections to the real world (this choice was made, by the way, before September 11). It also, of course, avoids charges of racism, since no one is likely to care much if the Aryan Nation complains about being stereotyped as homicidal maniacs.

This change from Arabic to Aryan terrorists severely dilutes the film’s potential resonance with the horrors of reality, particularly because few will take seriously the idea that those who still proclaim the word of Hitler would be so well-financed and smooth, since they are generally associated with backwoods militia outfits. In this instance, realism was not the goal; rather, it was to make The Sum of All Fears a more palatable and entertaining ride, although, given its subject matter, there are elements of the film that border on the unbearable, their distanced thriller components made all-too-plausible by real-world events. Thus, there is a kind of schizophrenia to the film, in which its popcorn action-adventure urges are constantly escalated beyond what was intended by the audience’s frame of mind. We’re likely to read more into it than is there, and some may come out thinking they’ve seen something profoundly disturbing, even though the filmmakers try to clean it all up in the end with an almost impossibly idyllic conclusion on the White House lawn.

One of the smartest moves the film makes is reimagining Clancy’s intrepid hero, CIA agent Jack Ryan, who was played as an experienced pro by Harrison Ford in the last two Clancy adaptations (1992’s Patriot Games and 1994’s Clear and Present Danger), as a young CIA analyst who has never seen any real action. Portrayed this time around by Ben Affleck, Ryan is more brains than brawn, although he does have to take out a few bad guys now and then (in this genre, even the smartest must eventually resort to violence). Ryan is recast as an innocent, an eager and slightly naïve young go-getter who finds himself thrust into a situation that is above everyone’s head, not just his own. Recruited by CIA director Bill Cabot (Morgan Freeman), Ryan finds himself in a role of prominence because he happens to be an expert on Alexander Nemerov (Ciarán Hinds), a politician who suddenly and unexpectedly became the Russian president.

The narrative is divided into two halves, separated by the nuclear explosion. The first half follows the CIA as they try to discover why three Russian scientists are missing from a nuclear lab. It turns out that the neo-Nazis have hired them to refashion a nuclear missile that was dug out of the desert from the 1973 war between Israel and Egypt. The neo-Nazis are led by Richard Dressler (Alan Bates), who is maybe a little too conventional a movie baddie, with his wicked, polished demeanor making him more fit for the weightless thrills of a James Bond escapade. Dressler’s plan is to detonate a nuclear bomb on American soil, which the U.S. would then blame on the Russians, thus sparking an all-out nuclear war between the two countries, ultimately ending in their simultaneous decimation.

The attempt to stop that from happening fills the film’s second half, as Ryan stumbles through the burned-out wasteland of what used to be downtown Baltimore, feverishly tracking the source of the bomb while President Fowler (James Cromwell) and his advisers talk and argue and square off against Nemerov, who knows he isn’t responsible but has no choice but to retaliate if the U.S. strikes. Interestingly enough, this part of the film plays in many ways like Dr. Strangelove (1964) played straight, which was the original intention for that film before Kubrick realized the inherent absurdity of the material and turned it into a black comedy.

There is little to laugh about in The Sum of All Fears, even though watching this doomsday scenario evolve out of assumptions and mistruths is the height of absurdity—a game of one-upmanship that might result in total annihilation. But, given the climate in which the film was made and the manner in which director Phil Alden Robinson (Field of Dreams, Sneakers) stages the action, it takes on a gut-churning immediacy that is hard to deny. Had this movie been released prior to the events of September 11, 2001, it would have been just another political thriller with a mildly thought-provoking, but ultimately dismissable "what if" scenario. Now, it cuts all too close to the bone, intended or otherwise.

The Sum of All Fears 4K UHD + Blu-ray

Aspect Ratio2.35:1
Audio
  • English DTS-HD Master Audio 7.1 surround
  • German Dolby Digital 5.1 surround
  • Spanish Dolby Digital 5.1 surround
  • French Dolby Digital 5.1 surround
  • French (Canada) Dolby Digital 5.1 surround
  • Italian Dolby Digital 5.1 surround
  • Japanese Dolby Digital 5.1 surround
  • Portuguese Dolby Digital 5.1 surround
  • Russian Dolby Digital 5.1 surround
  • Subtitles English, English SDH, French, German, Italian, Portuguese, Spanish, Danish, Dutch, Finnish, Norwegian, Polish, Russian, Swedish
    SupplementsThe Hunt for Red October
  • Audio commentary by director John McTiernan
  • “Beneath the Surface” featurette
  • Trailer
  • Patriot Games
  • Patriot Games: Up Close” featurette
  • Trailer
  • Clear and Present Danger
  • Clear and Present Danger: Behind the Danger” featurette
  • Trailer
  • The Sum of All Fears
  • Audio commentary by director Phil Alden Robinson and cinematographer John Lindley
  • Audio commentary by director Phil Alden Robinson and novelist Tom Clancy
  • “The Making of The Sum of All Fears” featurette
  • “Creating Reality: The Visual Effects of The Sum of All Fears
  • Trailer
  • Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit
  • Audio commentary by director Kenneth Branagh and producer Lorenzo di Bonaventura
  • “Jack Ryan: The Smartest Guy in the Room” featurette
  • “Sir Kenneth Branagh: The Tsar of Shadow Recruit” featurette
  • “Jack Ryan: A Thinking Man of Action” featurette
  • “Old Enemies Return” featurette
  • Deleted and extended scenes
  • DistributorParamount Home Entertainment
    SRP$69.99 (box set)
    Release DateAugust 21, 2018

    COMMENTS
    All five films in the “Jack Ryan: 5-Film Collection” are presented in impressive new 4K UHD transfers that offer demonstrably stronger image quality than the previously available Blu-rays (which, I should mention, still look pretty good). The first four films in the series (The Hunt for Red October, Patriot Games, Clear and Present Danger, and The Sum of All Fears) were scanned in 4K Dolby Vision (with 12-bit color) from the original camera negatives and given a new color pass that was supervised and approved by each film’s respective director (except for Red October, which was supervised by cinematographer Jan De Bont). Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit is a direct digital port of the original HDR files. The images are sharper, clearer, and boast significantly better detail and stronger color, which is particularly evident in the older films. The new presentations really allow us to appreciate the development of the series’ visuals over time, from the definitive McTiernan style in The Hunt for Red October, which is heavy on shallow focus and lens flares, to Branagh’s sleek, metallic-hued Shadow Recruit. To Paramount’s credit, they don’t try to do anything unnecessary with the older films, allowing their celluloid origins to remain pleasingly noticeable. The first four films feature robust, lossless Dolby TrueHD 5.1-channel surround soundtracks, while Shadow Recruit boasts a 7.1-channel DTS-HD Master Audio mix. The underwater sonics of Red October are impressively mounted in the surround channels, while the various explosions that occur in all the films have an appropriately thundering quality. Shadow Recruit, being the newest of the five films and the only one presented in 7.1, has the most active and densest soundtrack, although I was duly impressed with the immersive qualities of the speedboat chase in Patriot Games and the climactic battle in Clear and Present Danger, not to mention Harrison Ford and Donald Moffat’s subsequent war of words in the Oval Office.

    All of the supplements have been recycled from the previous DVD and Blu-ray editions. On The Hunt for Red October, we have an audio commentary by director John McTiernan, a trailer, and the 30-minute retrospective featurette “Beneath the Surface,” which includes circa-2003 interviews with McTiernan, producer Mace Nuefeld, screenwriter Larry Ferguson, and actors Alec Baldwin, James Earl Jones, and Sean Connery (whose interview was recorded on-set during production). There is no commentary on Patriot Games, but it does include a trailer and the half-hour retrospective featurette “Patriot Games: A Closer Look,” which includes interviews with director Phillip Noyce, producer Mace Neufeld, screenwriter W. Peter Iliff, and stars Harrison Ford, Anne Archer, and James Earl Jones. Similarly, Clear and Present includes only a trailer and the retrospective featurette “Clear and Present Danger: Behind the Danger,” which runs close to half an hour and includes interviews with most of the same personnel that appeared in the Patriot Games featurette. The Sum of All Fears has a much heavier set of supplements, beginning with not one, but two audio commentaries, the first by director Phil Alden Robinson and cinematographer John Lindley and the second by Robinson and novelist Tom Clancy, which makes this the only commentary on a Jack Ryan film to feature the character’s creator talking about the film. There are also two half-hour featurettes—“The Making of The Sum of All Fears” and “Creating Reality: The Visual Effects of The Sum of All Fears—and a trailer. Similarly, there is quite a bit more supplementary material on the Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit disc, starting with an informative audio commentary by director Kenneth Branagh and producer Lorenzo di Bonaventura. We also get a quartet of featurettes: “Jack Ryan: The Smartest Guy in the Room” is a 14-minute look at how the character was reinvented for the new film that includes interviews with Branagh, actors Chris Pine and Kiera Knightley, and producer Mace Neufeld, among others; “Sir Kenneth Branagh: The Tsar of Shadow Recruit is a 10-minute love letter to Branagh as actor and director; “Jack Ryan: A Thinking Man of Action” is a 5-minute look at some of the film’s major action sequences; and “Old Enemies Return” is a surprisingly robust 21-minute look at the historical use of Russians as enemies in Hollywood films that includes interviews with several political scientists and historians. Finally, there are 5 minutes of deleted and extended scenes, including an alternate ending, all of which can be played with optional commentary by Branagh and di Bonaventura.

    Copyright © 2018 James Kendrick

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    All images copyright © Paramount Home Entertainment

    Overall Rating: (2.5)



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