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The Hunt For Red October
Special Collector's Edition

review by Zach B.

 

 

MPAA Rating: PG

Running Time: 135 minutes

Starring: Sean Connery, Alec Baldwin, Scott Glenn, James Earl Jones, Sam Neill

Screenplay by: Larry Ferguson and Donald Stewart
Based on the novel by: Tom Clancy

Directed by: John McTiernan

 

Studio: Paramount

Retail Price: $19.99

Features: Audio Commentary with Director John McTiernan, Beneath The Surface featurette, Theatrical Trailer

Specs: 2.35:1 Anamorphic Widescreen, English Dolby Digital 5.1, English DTS 5.1, French Stereo, English Subtitles, Spanish Subtitles, English Closed Captions, Scene Selection (13 Scenes)

Released: May 6th, 2003

 

 

In the first film featuring CIA analyst Jack Ryan (this - and the only time - played by Alec Baldwin), an incredible and ultimately superior Soviet nuclear submarine named Red October is headed for the United States coast. Under leadership from respected sub captain Marko Ramius (Sean Connery), Ramius plans to defect but the Soviet navy does not exactly approve. To make matters worse, the United States misunderstands the situation entirely and thinks Ramius is going to attack. However, Ryan sees what Ramius is planning to do and it's up to him to find him and prove his case. However, with Russia also on Ramius' tale, time is a critical factor here. What will happen in this hunt?

"The Hunt For Red October" is a very well regarded action film, and why not? The acting is superb, the script is quite good and the film is nicely crafted by action veteran John McTiernan. It is based on the Tom Clancy novel, and I believe this entry in the Jack Ryan franchise actually occurred after "Patriot Games" and before "Clear and Present Danger." What I enjoyed about Larry Ferguson and the late Donald Stewart's adaptation is the ambiance it created, almost based on what stereotypes that submarines are known for: isolated, enclosed, down under and under pressure. The pressure that Ryan faces in proving what he thinks he knows can be riveting, and there is certainly a lot on the line for many in the film. Themes of being alone are slightly covered and barely emphasized, but the implication is there (which makes it such a match for the whole sub thing). Yet the plot's structure in the characters and the assumptions that are created make it a very interesting, edge-of-your-seat cat and mouse game (especially since quite a few sides get involved). The viewer ends up feeling that they don't want things to go wrong and want everything to work out pitch perfectly, but alas, if that was the case, there would be no conflict and no movie. The dialogue the film features is strong and can be technical, but is understandable and not brought down to please the masses. There is logic in the characters' actions and motives, and that's what makes everything seem so strong. The story moves along well too, giving the audience a perfect sense of what happens and what they need to know.

John McTiernan may have faded a bit in the past few years (I don't think it's safe to forgive him for the "Rollerball" reimagining yet), but "The Hunt For Red October" still strikes many - myself included - as one of his best pieces of work. McTiernan seems to perfectly understand the nature of the script, and creates a fine balance of action and tense moments. He knows how to get someone instantly sucked into the story, really work up the characters and he can certainly put together fine action sequences. McTiernan creates a pretty even and buffed film, making it worthy of every minute and entertaining the whole time. There seems to be a lot of thought and fervor into this effort, and it shows all on screen and is a job well done - he is a guiding reason why this movie is still enjoyable and will be fondly remembered for a long time.

McTiernan, working with future action director and noteworthy cinematographer Jan De Bont, create lovely visuals for this movie that are visually engrossing and stylish, but do not distract from the overall story. The film is also well edited so we see enough of the action, while the production design from Terence Marsh is seemingly creative and looks pretty technical in a realistic sense (not that I'm incredibly familiar with submarines or anything like that, but they do look nice in the movie). Basil Poledouris (haven't heard that name in a long time) creates a great score that perfectly blends in with the movie.

The acting in the movie is also worth taking note of. Even though everyone has their own opinion and there have been quite a few rumors about why Alec Baldwin did not return as Jack Ryan, I did like him in the role. While I think Harrison Ford has been the best and most fitting Ryan, Baldwin does a pretty stellar job in this movie as our favorite CIA analyst. Yeah he has those pretty boy looks, and while I think he can be a bit subdued, he has his own charisma and brand of charm that suits the character nicely. While I'm sure he could have been a bit more serious and show some different feelings at times, Baldwin gives a strong delivery and is admirable. He can be tense, he can run around and he plays well off against every other actor he encounters in the film. He might be a bit "fluffy" but he is certainly enjoyable to watch as Baldwin brings his own, undescribable strength. There's some suave cool to his portrayal - basically playing an idealized action movie hero. He's the Ryan we don't necessarily think of, but what we imagine he should be like in these kind of movies (though that shifted in an another direction).

The other actors do fine jobs. I truly enjoyed Sean Connery. He can be gruff but these is some sensitivity to him, even if the presence is intimidating but always interesting to see and wonder about nonetheless. He's really great here and brings a lot of life to a pretty dynamic character who is quite integral in the film. Certainly, he's entertaining and really gives a lot to the movie. Scott Glenn has good acting chops here as does Sam Neill who can be pretty commanding and seems to fit well in the flick (I've enjoyed every piece of work I've seen him in though - he's a fantastic actor). Mr. Rooney himself Jeffrey Jones has a nice bit role that is well acted and James Earl Jones - there's no denying his mighty voice, warm smile and sense of authority here.

There's a line about twenty minutes into the movie where Ryan says "What, they got you playing with models now?" This line couldn't ring more true. If there's anything a bit distracting about the movie, and if it's the one thing where the film has suffered criticism over the years (especially now that we're all spoiled by such advances in special effects and computer technology), it's that some of the exteriors of the shots look pretty damn cheesy and really, really fake. It's not too much of a big deal, but at times it can throw you out of the film and ruin its credibility as being "believable" (well, maybe Sean Connery's "Russian" accent already did that - DISS!). Nonetheless and a good thirteen years after its original release, "The Hunt For Red October" remains an expertly crafted, well made submarine drama that does hold up after so long. It's not always conventional, but it certainly is memorable.

 

 

"The Hunt For Red October" is presented in 2.35:1 anamorphic widescreen (compared to the original non-anamorphic release), and it sure is a very picturesque transfer, but it is certainly not perfect. I might as well get the bad out of the way first, and it's that this transfer is pretty grainy and is certainly much softer than I would have like and it's only at times when it gleams of brilliant moments filled with sharpness and clarity. The print could also use some cleaning up, as I noticed quite a few blemishes, scratches and dirt pieces (often in abundance) which got annoying fast. Shimmering is featured here and there, there's a good load of noise and some slight edge haloing. Other than that, there's a lot to like here. Fleshtones appear accurate, detail is strong and color saturation - especially the whites, blues and underwater reds - is quite bold and very natural. Even if the transfer seems a bit mediocre at times, the good tends to outweigh the bad.

 

"The Hunt For Red October" and the other two Jack Ryan re-releases have gotten DVD fans excited, since these movies are the first from the studio to feature DTS tracks. So yes, you get an English DTS 5.1 track as well as an English Dolby Digital 5.1 track (plus if you're interested, a French stereo track). I must say each track really impressed me. Both feature an incredible wide range of dynamics across a broad sound stage as well as pretty high fidelity. Dialogue is firm, very clear and nicely centered in both tracks while the empowering Basil Poledouris score sweeps through the channels. Subwoofer use is very strong and quite deep in both tracks as well. However, when it comes to the surrounds, I think the DTS takes the cake. While the differences are pretty subtle most of the time, sometimes you can easily tell the tracks apart. For the action packed scenes aboard the subs, each track really encompasses some great surround use that sucks you in and makes you really feel the tension the film holds. These surrounds sound fitting and provide good blasts through the speakers as they really tend to overtake you at times. Even the smaller sounds such as submarines humming or sub crew members talking sound great. But I think the DTS is slightly superior to the Dolby Digital is that it feels more enclosed and there is slightly better imaging and transparency to the sound. I think that is very important, especially in a movie like this. I wanted to feel as closed in and isolated as much as possible, almost as if I was in under water with these guys during very tense times. Still, the Dolby Digital works quite well so if you listen to that there shouldn't be any complaints. I also must say that I hope Paramount includes DTS on future film releases. Also included are English subtitles, Spanish subtitles and English closed captions.

 

Out of the three Jack Ryan "Special Collector's Edition" re-releases, "The Hunt For Red October" is the most packed, but only by a hair thanks to the inclusion of an Audio Commentary with Director John McTiernan. At times the director is a bit silent (gathering up some thoughts perhaps?), and while his monotonous voice may not excite many, he does bring in good chunks of information throughout the movie that ends up making this track worth listening to. McTiernan talks about shooting locations, criticizes some aspects of the movie (very slightly), talks about some of the film's design, how he casted some actors and offers a few production stories in addition to some tidbits on submarines and Tom Clancy's original novel. I think for the most part this track can be enjoyed by everyone with a bit of patience since the gaps are annoying, but I really enjoyed McTiernan's comments about what he did and ended up accomplishing with this terrific movie. He offers worthwhile information and fine insights.

Then we have the near twenty-nine minute featurette Beneath The Surface. Presented in anamorphic widescreen (yes!) and like usual, Paramount provides supplements for their featurettes (here you can choose between English, Spanish AND French!). Filled with clips from the movie, stills and cool behind-the-scenes footage, this featurette seems to be a mix of old and new interviews, but you won't mind since it's all put together quite nicely. Mace Neufeld, the producer of the Clancy films, talks about obtaining the rights to the book and Clancy's mainstay character (beating McTiernan to the punch). McTiernan is also interviewed, as well as screenwriter Larry Ferguson, Alec Baldwin, Scott Glenn, director of photography Jan De Bont, James Earl Jones and Sean Connery (his footage is obviously old, but what he says corresponds remarkably well with the new interviews). There's also some more crew members, such as model makers Kim Smith and Keith London and cameramen at ILM Marty Rosenberg, Carl Miller, Vance Piper, Patrick Sweeney and Bob Hill.There are some interesting stories about the making of the movie here and the progress of the production in quite a few areas, with a good focus on how the cast and crew fell into getting into the movie. There's a lot of stuff here McTiernan did not focus on in his commentary as the information is quite plentiful and everyone here tells great stories - I particuarly enjoyed De Bont's stories about his work and the focus on the special effects and what was going on with that. There are lighthearted stories that are well and good but I'm sure the more technical stuff will turn some people off since they may not be interested in the more complex details that they aren't so familiar with (so if you don't like any of the the latter, the first half of the featurette is mainly the less technical aspects). Still, it must be respected how much is covered throughout this featurette and how well focused the segments are. Well edited and really well rounded, simply put, this is one of the absolute best featurettes I've seen on DVD in a very long time. Hopefull you'll enjoy every moment of it too.

Finally, we have the original Theatrical Trailer in English Dolby Digital 5.1 and non-anamorphic widescreen.

 

"The Hunt For The Red October" is certainly a terrific thriller that introduced filmgoers to Jack Ryan and remains a much beloved favorite among film fans. The film has excellent acting, is well shot, serves up an intriguing storyline and in all is a classy kind of action picture. This re-release from Paramount is by no means disappointing as the transfer is nice, the sound mixes (particularly the DTS) are great and the extras are certainly serviceable - all for a very nice retail price. This should be picked up if you enjoyed the movie or want some damn good entertainment.