The Hunt for Red October

Director: John McTiernan
Screenplay: Larry Ferguson and Donald Stewart (based on the novel by Tom Clancy)
Stars: Sean Connery (Marko Ramius),Alec Baldwin (Jack Ryan), Scott Glenn (Bart Mancuso), Sam Neill (Captain Borodin), James Earl Jones (Admiral Greer), Joss Ackland (Andrei Lysenko), Richard Jordan (Jeffrey Pelt), Peter Firth (Ivan Putin), Tim Curry(Dr. Petrov), Courtney B. Vance (Seaman Jones), Stellan Skarsgård (Captain Tupolev), Jeffrey Jones (Skip Tyler), Timothy Carhart (Bill Steiner)
MPAA Rating: PG
Year of Release: 1990
Country: U.S.
Jack Ryan 4K Box Set
The Hunt for Red October

Set during the mid-1980s and based on Tom Clancy’s debut novel, The Hunt for Red October is the kind of action thriller that is rarely made today—one that emphasizes intellect and logic, intuition and political maneuvering over might and brawn, which is somewhat ironic given that it was directed by John McTiernan, whose previous two films were Predator (1987) and Die Hard (1988), two uber-macho red-meat examples of the pure action film that hit its zenith during the Reagan era. However, despite a third act gun battle and some tense underwater battles between rival submarines, McTiernan keeps much of the conventional action at a low simmer, always threaten to boil over if cooler heads fail to prevail.

In his first leading role, Alec Baldwin plays Jack Ryan, a former Marine-turned-history professor and CIA analyst who is brought in by Admiral Greer (James Earl Jones), the CIA naval operations chief, to study images procured by British intelligence of a new Soviet ballistic submarine. Ryan determines that the sub, named the “Red October,” is equipped with a special silent propulsion system that makes it virtually undetectable. Thus, the Red October is a particularly threatening weapon of potential mass destruction, made all the more so because its captain, Marko Ramius (Sean Connery), is either trying to defect to the United States or is headed there in a fit of insanity to launch missiles at the American coastline. Ryan, who has studied Ramius from afar for years, believe it is the former, but the rest of the Navy, including Bart Mancuso (Scott Glenn), the captain of the U.S. submarine trailing the October, fears that it is the latter, especially after the Soviet ambassador says as much. Ryan believes it is just a ploy by the Soviets to get their adversaries to help them sink the Red October to keep it from falling into U.S. hands.

Thus, much of the film, which was admirably adapted from Clancy’s lengthy, techno-jargon-heavy novel by Larry Ferguson (Beverly Hills Cop II, The Presidio) and Donald Stewart (Missing), is essentially a chess match played hundreds of feet under the surface of the Atlantic Ocean, as the Red October makes its way toward North America with a U.S. sub and another Soviet sub in pursuit. Ramius’s intentions are left vague, as he is clearly capable of immense violence (watch as he snaps the neck of the nosy political officer stationed on his sub), but because he is played with such upright intensity by Connery (a recent Oscar winner for his role in Brian De Palma’s The Untouchables), it is hard to imagine that he is doing anything other than the “right” thing. Connery’s presence is something of a no-brainer, but the casting of Alec Baldwin as Jack Ryan is a bit dicey, especially since Baldwin had never anchored a film before or played any kind of hero. He is good at conveying Ryan’s intense intelligence and sense of conviction, but at other times he feels oddly misplaced. One can imagine that McTiernan, having so successfully cast Bruce Willis against the grain as a gritty, wise-cracking action hero in Die Hard, felt he could make anyone work in the role, and Baldwin almost does (not surprisingly, though, he never returned to the role he originated, as Jack Ryan has been played in subsequent films by Harrison Ford, Ben Affleck, and Chris Pine).

For his part, McTiernan steers his cinematic ship well, emphasizing the claustrophobic tensions inside the various submarines where most of the action transpires with his by-then familiar use of rack focus, intensely shallow depth of field, and refracting lights. Working again with cinematographer Jan De Bont, who had also shot Die Hard, McTiernan gives The Hunt for Red October a unique visual polish that, like the films noir of old, is long on compositional tension and short on outright violence. There are a few notable action sequences, including a daring attempt to lower Ryan onto a submarine from a helicopter in a driving storm and a tricky game of cat and mouse played by the three subs and several torpedoes, but where Red October really excels is in making us feel the constant heat of threat—that at any moment the wrong decision could unleash utter destruction.

The Hunt for Red October 4K UHD + Blu-ray

Aspect Ratio2.35:1
Audio
  • English Dolby TrueHD 5.1 surround
  • German Dolby Digital 5.1 surround
  • Spanish Dolby Digital 5.1 surround
  • French Dolby Digital 5.1 surround
  • Italian Dolby Digital 5.1 surround
  • Japanese Dolby Digital 2.0 surround
  • Portuguese Dolby Digital 1.0 monaural
  • Subtitles English, English SDH, French, German, Italian, Japanese, Portuguese, Spanish, Arabic, Cantonese, Czech, Danish, Dutch, Finnish, Icelandic, Korean, Mandarin (Simplified), Norwegian, Slovak, Swedish, Thai
    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: (3)



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